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Equality Bill (Age Discrimination)

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

4. When she plans to publish the draft regulations on age discrimination as provided for in the Equality Bill. (313704)

We aim to consult in the autumn on a draft order under the Equality Bill, which will specify the exceptions to the otherwise full ban on age discrimination against adults in services and public functions.

I thank the Minister for that response, and I am pleased to see that the Government have accepted the concerns of those of us who served on the Bill Committee about the need to retain good age discrimination. Can she confirm that the exemption for companies such as Saga will be in the regulations, and not just in the guidelines?

Yes, I can, and I am sorry that I could not do so earlier when I was asked to make that clear on Report. There will be a number of specific exceptions. There has been a very good consultation process on this. We had 106 responses from businesses, the age lobby and local authorities—indeed, everyone we could have wished to feed in did so. There will certainly be specific exemptions for financial services, and for age-related group holidays, which are obviously advantageous.

Does my young ministerial colleague not agree that it is totally unacceptable that anyone should be discriminated against because of their age, and that there is no justification for forcing someone out of work when they reach 65 if they want to continue in employment? If it is good enough for us, it should be good enough for the people outside the House.

I volunteer to be the young Minister who responds to my equally youthful colleague’s question. Obviously, we are looking as closely as we practically can, and as quickly as we can, at the question of the future of the default retirement age, which frankly seems unpromising. It is probably older than both my hon. Friend and me, and past its sell-by date.

Following on from the question from the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), and given that the Equality Commission now agrees that a mandatory retirement age is discriminatory and should be outlawed, I should like to inform the Minister that there is an opportunity in the Lords at the moment to table an amendment on this matter. Will the Government table such an amendment to end the mandatory retirement age?

It is prudent, when something has been a fact in a given piece of law in our system for a very long time, not simply to click one’s fingers and remove it, but to consult and to find out what any unintended consequences might be, so that it can be done—if it is to be done—in a sensible way, after all the input has been considered. We have recently mentioned a date by which we expect to complete that process, and I hope that the hon. Lady will curb her impatience at least until then.

I have seen as an employer, and personally as the years roll on, the value of experience. I hope that the good voters of Ochil and South Perthshire see that too. Does the Minister agree that valuable experience will be a building brick to get the economy growing as we move out of recession, and that it should be seen as a significant asset?

Yes, I do—I am equally prepared to volunteer to be an experienced Minister. A number of employers are now seeing the benefits of having older people working for them, which is marked in places such as B&Q. They see enormous benefits in terms of good customer relations and general wisdom. I agree with my hon. Friend 100 per cent.

Is the Minister aware that a golf club in my constituency proposes to stop offering reduced membership to its pensioner members, on the basis of its understanding of the Equality Bill? Has it got it right?

No, it has not. I can write to the hon. Gentleman to set out, step by step, how it has got it wrong. But take it from me—it has got it wrong.