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Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What guidance they have given to employers and employees on their rights and responsibilities under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006.

My Lords, ACAS good practice guidance for employers and employees and DTI guidance on the occupational pensions aspects of the regulations were published in April. The DTI website contains additional guidance, including the Explanatory Notes on regulations. The Directgov and Business Link sites also provide information and an interactive tool for individuals and employers. The Department for Work and Pensions “Be Ready” campaign has provided1.4 million employers with information about the legislation and good-practice guidance, and a quarter of a million further guidance materials have been ordered.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but is he aware of the grave concern expressed by the Employers Forum on Age and others—experts in the field who positively want the legislation to improve the lot of older workers—that the regulations in their present form will seriously upset the provision of a wide range of insured employee benefits that are currently available? Will he assure the House that the Government will consider sympathetically the amendments proposed by the EFA, which are designed to prevent that unintended but certainly perverse result?

My Lords, we issued the regulations and the guidance after a great deal of consultation. With the exception of pensions, where further aspects need to be looked at, we should see how the measures work in practice. Further work is being done on pensions, and amendments will be made.

My Lords, in view of what my noble friend has just said on pensions, will the Government do anything to encourage employers to offer employment opportunities to older women? Many older women would welcome access to light part-time employment as they approach retirement age. Is anything being done to encourage them to do that?

My Lords, as far as I am aware, the regulations are entirely concerned with discrimination and preventing discrimination. Other issues involve encouraging employers to take certain steps, but the matter that we are discussing is different and is a much more difficult task.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that to remove age discrimination at work there needs to be real and equal opportunities for older workers in training and vocational education? That is certainly not the case, particularly regarding NVQs and modern apprenticeships. Have the Government considered the problems that may well arise with regard to employers who want to continue rewarding employees for seniority or long-term service in a job? Will the Government clarify those points?

My Lords, it is clear that the regulations cover discrimination on the ground of age in all aspects—recruitment, promotion, transfer, training, or terms and conditions of employment. They very much cover training, although there are obviously specific issues concerned there.

My Lords, I have sympathy with the Government, because age discrimination raises more complicated issues than many other kinds of discrimination. Is the Minister aware, following what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that the specific issues raised by the Employers Forum on Age are really quite serious? They include the lack of guidance or sensible policy on redundancy, insured benefits, pension-related matters and government-funded training schemes. It seeks not just policy changes but further guidance to clarify those issues. Would the Government be prepared to look again at the lack of proper guidance, as the forum says, on those issues, and in particular consider giving guidance on what is meant by an “objective justification” for refusing to continue employing workers beyond the age of 65? That seems a particularly important practical question.

My Lords, if there is serious concern on those issues—I have not been made aware of it—I will certainly look at it. If there are real doubts about what the regulations say, we will of course have a further look at them and issue any clarification necessary.

My Lords, the Minister described an incredible amount of guidance that had had to be issued. Does not the need for so much guidance reflect rather badly on the clarity of the regulations?

My Lords, this is a case where the House normally has it both ways. If there is little guidance, it objects that there is not enough guidance and clarity. If there is a lot of guidance, people say, “That must show that the regulations are not clear”. It looks to me as though there is perfectly sensible guidance, that it has been distributed very widely and as a whole has had a good response.

My Lords, I will ask a broader question if I may. Very many people want to continue to work full time past the age of 65, but I suspect that very many more would like the opportunity to combine part-time work with a part-time pension. How are the Government progressing their initiatives on that front?

My Lords, the Department for Work and Pensions covers the pension part of the age discrimination legislation, but I will make certain that the noble Baroness has an answer to that question.

My Lords, will my noble friend also look at the possibility of removing discriminatory upper age limits for appointments to public bodies?

My Lords, if the House would like a briefing on the regulations that is tailored to its particular needs, I am sure DTI officials can provide one.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the regulations are being interpreted by many employers, on legal advice, as having the effect that it is not permissible to request dates such as the start and finish of former employments, let alone of education? Does he appreciate that this is making the process of deciding whether a candidate is suitable for many jobs almost impossible, despite having nothing to do with discrimination on the ground of age?

My Lords, I do not think that there is a question about whether the guidance is right. If there is a question about what the legislation says or if the guidance is misleading, ifthe noble Lord will write to me I will find out the answer.

My Lords, is it the case, as is anecdotally stated, that not only can those dates not be stated but the date of birth cannot be given in a CV or be asked for by employers? That surely must be mad.

My Lords, I think the guidance states that it should not be on the application form, but it can be asked for alongside this for the purpose of monitoring diversification.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the employment of Clerks in this House is subject to the new legislation?

My Lords, I cannot. The two Houses are almost always removed from this legislation for reasons that are slightly obscure to me, but I will look into that and let the noble Baroness know.