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Unfair Dismissal (Age)

Volume 521: debated on Monday 10 January 2011

We are moving in that direction. Our changes will abolish the default retirement age, and we will make sure that people can no longer be kicked out of work because they have reached a certain age. By getting rid of that, we will improve the economy and help older people find work for a longer period, which is beneficial to the economy and beneficial for those people.

In the recession redundancies have been higher among the over-50s than any other age group, including in Harlow. Many people, like my constituent, Kevin Forbes, who applied for more than 4,500 jobs, are worried that employment law is biased against older people. What are the Government doing, apart from what my right hon. Friend has just described, to make work fairer for the over-50s?

The reality for companies and for those who are seeking work is that, because of the need for employment over the next few years, we will need more and more of the skills that are present in the age group to which my hon. Friend refers. Therefore, companies have to reach the sensible solution, which is that people who have those skills and ways of doing their jobs can stay in work much longer. The Work programme will be set up so that they can be helped back into work if they become unemployed. My concern is that companies should recognise that older workers have huge value, well beyond the cost of paying their wages.

Constituents in Northampton have raised with me the fact that they have been forced to retire because of their age before they were ready to do so. As I know my right hon. Friend accepts, older people offer a wealth of experience and skill. What progress have the Government made on the consultation on the default retirement age?

The consultation has gone very well. We are sifting through the responses. There have been more responses than we anticipated. The vast majority have been positive, although there are some, in some areas of business, that were not as positive as we had hoped. We will publish those results and press on. I can guarantee to my hon. Friend and the rest of the House that we will press on with the issue.

I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State is keen to extend fairness to workers. It is important that people are not discriminated against, regardless of their age. Does he agree that unfair dismissal is unfair dismissal whenever it takes place, and that any steps that the Government take that make it easier for unscrupulous employers to sack people without the right of appeal will be a retrograde step?

I am not aware of any plans to change that. I agree that it is important that older workers in particular are recognised for the skills and benefits that they bring to the company concerned. Whatever changes are made, we must recognise that it should not be easier to get rid of somebody for the wrong reasons. If an employer has the right reason for getting rid of somebody, that is one thing, but people who are working hard should not lose their jobs just because they are older.

Will the Secretary of State assure older people that he will not make it more difficult for them to pursue unfair dismissal claims by lengthening the qualification period for claims?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he asks a question that is a direct concern of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. However, from our point of view I have no such plans. It is a matter that he might wish to raise with the relevant Department.