`It shall he unlawful for any person to offer employment at an establishment in the United Kingdom which may discriminate against any person on the grounds that he is older or younger than any other person or persons in:
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I point out to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that, as his name is not among those associated with new clause 12, it must be moved formally by an hon. Member who is.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to debate new clause 13—Discrimination on grounds of unemployment— 58`It shall be unlawful for any person to offer employment at an establishment in the United Kingdom which may discriminate against any person because of current or previous periods of unemployment by:
- (a) the methods of determining who should be offered employment, or
- (b) the terms and conditions on which employment is offered, or
- (c) refusing to offer employment.'.
§ Mr. Meacher
Age discrimination, which is the topic of new clause 12, is potentially the most wide-ranging form of discrimination in employment. It could affect everyone at some time in their lives. It is obviously in direct defiance of the principle of equality of opportunity which was defined by the Equal Opportunities Commission as follows:individuals should be judged as individuals according to their merits and not on the basis of a characteristic ascribed to them arbitrarily because they are members of a group".That definition would commend itself to both sides of the House and it is clearly breached by discrimination on grounds of age.
There have been two private Members' Bills in Parliament this year to outlaw age discrimination. The Employment (Age Limits) Bill was introduced in the other place and the Employment Age Discrimination Bill was presented to the House by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field). Neither is likely to succeed without Government support.
The Government seem to have a schizophrenic view of the matter. On one hand, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment said:It is both irresponsible and unfair to discriminate without justification on the grounds of age."—[Official Report, 15 March 1989; Vol. 149, c. 250.]The Opposition very much support that view. On the other hand, in their evidence to the Employment Select Committee on 7 December 1988, the Government refused to take action, stating as their reason:it would be neither practical nor beneficial to legislate to prevent age discrimination in employment".Yet other countries do not take that view and have legislation to prohibit age discrimination.
The United States Age Discrimination in Employment Act has existed for 22 years. That Act, as amended, prohibits age-based employment discrimination against individuals aged 40 and above. Under the Act., it is unlawful for employers to fail or refuse to hire, to dismiss or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of such an individual's age It is also unlawful for employers to limit, segregate or classify an employee in any way that would deprive the employee of job opportunities or adversely affect employment status because of age. If that can be done in the United States, why can it not be done here?
In Canada, since 1978, when the Canadian Human Rights Act came into effect, it has been unlawful to discriminate in employment on grounds of age. Unlike the American Act, there is no minimum age requirement—the Act prohibits discrimination against all ages.
Furthermore, Britain is a founder member and signatory to the International Labour Organisation—I am well aware that the Government take a fairly flippant and nonchalant view of the ILO, but it is an important international authority. Its older workers recommendation states:each member should, with the framework of national policy to promote equality of opportunity and treatment for 59 workers, whatever their age … take measures for the prevention of discrimination in employment and occupation with regard to older workers".The problem of age discrimination is not a minor one. In its 1988 study, the EOC found that 27 per cent. of employers specified an age requirement or bar in their vacancy advertisements. In The Sunday Times, an average of one third—varying between 17 per cent. and 59 per cent. of all employers—made an age requirement during the sample period. In the Institute of Personnel Management's magazine, 24 per cent. specified an age requirement, although the institute's equal opportunities code specifically advises against age discrimination in employment.
The most frequent age requirement is as low as 25 to 35 years. That is why it is so serious for older workers. Not many right hon. and hon. Members present in the House would qualify. The EOC found that one quarter of advertisements specified under 45 years while one fifth specified under 35 years and no fewer than 96 per cent. of all job advertisements which specified an age required a person under 45, while nearly two thirds of advertisements required someone under 35. In The Sunday Times, half of all advertisements specifying ages required someone under 35. In Nine to Five, a London magazine specialising in clerical, secretarial and administrative jobs, almost all advertisements were for people under 35. That is quite serious and arresting for job opportunities for older people.
There are two other disturbing findings in current practice. First, the EOC found that even those employers who claim to be "equal opportunity employers" specified age bars in their advertisements. Secondly, after studying 150 equal opportunity statements, the EOC found that only one third covered age discrimination, although many included other non-statutory forms of discrimination such as class, employment status or sex. Therefore, age discrimination in job recruitment is extensive and unfair. There are many strong age stereotypes which, as we get older, it will no doubt give us some comfort to refute. MORI found that personnel directors and recruitment specialists believe that drive, ambition and health all decline with age, but the empirical evidence does not support those beliefs or other myths about older workers.
A famous study by a researcher called Dr. Gee that was published last year found, first, that age-related declines in productivity, mental efficiency and reaction times are all small. Secondly, many of the small mental losses which occur can be and are compensated by experience. Thirdly, older workers are more satisfied with their job, are less likely to leave an organisation for another job, and have lower rates of absenteeism and accidents at work. Fourthly, there is considerable individual variation in age-related losses which implies that employers should look at differences in individuals rather than age groups. Research has again pointed strongly to the need for action to be taken.
For those reasons, age discrimination, which is so unfair, creates angry and frustrated individuals who find overwhelming difficulty in getting job interviews because of age, and often despite successful interviews, have their applications ruled out on grounds of age. Once 60 unemployed, people's chance of getting a job decline with age, however unfair that might be. That is why it is so important to help them.
Decreases in unemployment in the past two years show that the younger one is, the more likely one is to find a job. Although unemployment fell by 27 per cent. among the under-25s and by just over II per cent. among those aged 25 to 44 who had been unemployed for five years or more, it actually increased by 3 per cent. among those aged 45 or over in the past two years. That is very disturbing.
Therefore, there are strong personal and individual reasons for supporting new clause 12. But there are other reasons.Because of demographic trends, it is irresponsible to ignore the talents which older workers can contribute to the economy".I am glad that the Minister was nodding as I was quoting from his Department's evidence to the Employment Select Committee. I strongly agree with those words. As they come from his Department and he agrees with them, I hope that today he will state that he is prepared to take action. Perhaps not surprisingly, strong attempts are being made to use indirect means to prohibit age discrimination when direct means are not available. According to the code of practice of the Equal Opportunities Commission,an unjustifiable age limit could constitute unlawful indirect discriminationon the ground of sex.
I shall give a further example from a number that have occurred recently to illustrate the problem. In Price v. the Civil Service Commission, Ms. Price, who was 36, claimed indirect sex discrimination because the executive officer's post that she had applied for was open only to people under 28. She argued that a considerably smaller proportion of women than men could comply with the age limit because more women were out of the labour market in their twenties having children. Significantly, the tribunal upheld her case.
The statutory authorities are highly sympathetic to complaints about age discrimination in job recruitment. They are prepared to accept arguments based, if necessary, on other criteria to achieve that end. It would clearly be much better if the law openly and directly prohibited discrimination on the grounds of age, which is the purpose of new clause 12, which I strongly commend to the House.
New clause 13 is designed to prevent discrimination against job applicants on the ground of long-term unemployment. I shall cite two surveys that illustrate the problem. The first was of 64 employers, which suggested that while only one in 10 employers would screen out newly unemployed people when recruiting, half would screen out those who had been out of work for a year or more. The second was a postal survey of 456 employers in four different local markets, which was followed up by case studies of 31 employers. It revealed that applicants were likely to be rejected simply because they were long-term unemployed people at least 50 per cent. of the time. The second survey meshes in closely with the conclusion of the first one. Smaller firms were significantly more likely to discriminate than larger ones. Interestingly, there was less discrimination against long-term unemployed people in Preston and Glasgow, where unemployment was more serious and many more jobless people had been out of work for a long time, than in Peterborough and Bournemouth, where unemployment was lower.
61 A further important finding was that people who had been out of work for a long time tended to use jobcentres or look in newspapers for vacancies and did not have access to specialised or informal job networks, whereby news of vacancies is spread by word of mouth, special notices or journals. We believe that this puts the focus for policy on the quality of information available to the employment service, which receives only about one third of all vacancies. In Sweden, employers are required by law to report nearly all vacancies to the employment services, which allows unemployed people a fairer crack of the whip at all the jobs going and gives the employment services better information about the pattern of vacancies in each local labour market so that it can plan more appropriate training programmes. We believe that that sensible system should be adopted here. The Labour party is committed to a high-quality employment service, and we intend to introduce such a system in Britain.
With or without that change, we are deeply concerned that unemployment has reduced least in the past three years among those who have been unemployed the longest. We strongly believe that there is a role for the law in countering discrimination as well as a role for advice and training of employers to counter prejudice before the problem is overcome and long-term unemployed people, who, we all surely agree, are among the most disadvantaged people in this country, are able to break out of the social and economic trap. That is why new clause 13 is so important, and I strongly urge the Government to accept it.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
I give general support to the two new clauses.
The recent report of the Select Committee on Employment about employment of the over-50s is useful. Its attention was drawn to the many disadvantages facing the over-50s, not least discrimination against them by people over 50. The report said that many people in public life and companies do not take on jobs of considerable responsibility until they are over 50. Paragraph 10 of the report graphically summed up the problem. It said:Age discrimination could quickly wither away if those who have the power to determine employment policies in the private and public sectors bothered to look in the mirror. If they are not too old at 50 neither are others.There is a home truth in that graphic point.
Hon. Members receive a number of applications for the posts that they advertise. With the best will in the world, it is difficult to overcome certain prejudices when one receives an application from someone aged 45 or 50. One wonders why the applicant is not developing a career structure with the firm that may have been employing him for a number of years. Such prejudice must be overcome.
The suggestion involving employment services being required to ask employers whether an age limit is strictly necessary would go only so far in dealing with the problem. In reply, the Minister may find some technical problem with the drafting of the new clause. Nevertheless, the thrust behind it is appropriate, and only through some form of legislation will age discrimination be tackled.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made a telling point when he said that people find out about many jobs only by word of mouth or by a notice being placed on a staff room, works canteen or company notice board. Many jobs are never brought to the attention of people who have been unemployed for a long time.
62 Long-term unemployed people are discriminated against by the attitudes of many employers when sifting through job applications. They think that if a person has been unemployed a long time he is by definition unemployable and do not offer him the opportunity to present himself at interview and prove his worth. A report of the Campaign for Work said:To quote just one study of 250 long term unemployed people in Hull, 80 per cent. of the sample were actively looking for work; nearly half said they were willing to leave Hull if work was offered elsewhere and of those able to take full-time work more than half would be satisfied with take-home pay of less than £100 per week".It said that that was evidence of considerable motivation among those people.
The fact that people have been unemployed for a long time does not mean that they have lost their motivation. Community programme managers, when there were such people, reported that long-term unemployed people were quickly motivated after only a short time at work. Tragically, many of them never get the opportunity to show their motivation and ability to work. Perhaps employers need to be educated about such innate prejudice by a campaign drawing to their attention the merit and worth of people who are older or have been unemployed for a long time. If such a campaign failed, the fall-back of some statutory powers is equally necessary.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
I did not expect to be called so early in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are very kind.
The Government have created the situation in which we find ourselves and that is why I support new clause 12. The Government have destroyed industry, and, in the wake of that, they have destroyed jobs. I come from a coal-mining area where pits have been closed willy-nilly and people have been put on the dole at the age of 40 and younger, yet job advertisements in the newspapers often have an age limit. That is a shocking state of affairs and the Government must wake up to the fact that they have a responsibility to such people.
I can see that the Minister is listening to what I am saying, just as he listened in Committee when I told him about the situation that the Government had created.. We come here to represent our constituents and to tell the Government about the position in our constituencies. What is happening in my constituency is also happening elsewhere, yet the Government try to create jobs by means of low wages.
Many of my constituents want a job but cannot get one. The pits have been closed and they have not been replaced with industry to create new jobs. We have appealed to the Secretaries of State for Energy and for Trade and Industry to use the land that results from a pit closure to give an incentive to industrialists to replace the jobs lost, but they do not want to know. Instead, they blame British Coal, saying that it wants to sell the land for something else. It is time that they put their heads together—or time that we knocked them together—and did something.
The Government should tell British Coal in no uncertain terms what to do with such land to create jobs for people who need them, having been thrown on the dole by the closure of industries resulting from the Government's policies. It is time that the Government woke up and did something. That is why the Opposition have tabled new clause 12. There should be no 63 discrimination against any person on the ground of age. The Government have created this position and it is time that they put things right in the interests of those whom they too are supposed to be representing.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is the best possible living argument for the fact that nobody should be discriminated against on the ground of age. It is only in the past few years, in the flowering of his youth, that his voice has developed to its full extent and he has been able to put forward his case with such restraint.
My late father, who some of my hon. Friends will remember, reached his maturity only when he gave up his seat at the age of 78 and went to another place so that I might succeed him. Now that I too am beginning to reach maturity, I recognise the usefulness and importance of the new clause.
I notice that hon. Members on the Government Front Benches have visibly aged since the time that they took up their monstrous task of destroying the employment security of the British people and, in particular, of ruining the law that protects people at work. When they took office they were bright, young and fresh and they were brought in for that reason. We are told that in the coming reshuffle they will be replaced by younger people.
I respectfully suggest that, as we grow older, there are fewer and fewer grounds for accepting discrimination. People should be accepted for what they are and for what they can do, irrespective of sex, race or trade union affiliation, all of which are protected in the sense that it is unlawful to discriminate on those grounds. They should also be protected here, as they are in the United States and Canada, from discrimination on the ground of age.
Discrimination is essential to all those who select for employment or promotion, for training or even for dismissal, but it must be discrimination lawfully exercised. I sit on the Select Committee for Employment and the report, which has been rightly referred to, shows how widespread sex discrimination has become in Britain. It also shows that it is not based on logic or sense. New clause 12 would enable us to get rid of that discrimination as and when we should.
The Select Committee heard evidence of what is happening in Britain. People are retiring earlier and acquiring what one witness called a portfolio of jobs, some paid and some unpaid. In many cases, they are working harder after they have retired than they did before, but it is difficult for them to be accepted for what they are when they are forced out of their jobs by early redundancy when they are older than 35. Today, early retirement in some jobs is beginning at 45 or 52.
It is wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of age and I ask Ministers, in their own interests as well as in the interests of others, to reconsider any opposition to the new clause. The present system is daft. Men are forced to remain at work until they are 65 to obtain a state pension. People are forced out of work when they should not be and they are not permitted to compete on an equal basis because of their age. Discrimination on the grounds of age should be unlawful and this excellent new clause will ban it. I hope that the Government will support it.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
Those hon. Members who have spoken have correctly stated that the problem is one of discrimination against older people on the ground of age. However new clause 12 says that there should not be discrimination against any person on the grounds that he is older or younger. In some cases young people could be discriminated against because of a particular age bar. That element of new clause 12 may hold some appeal for the Government with their particular philosophy and the idea that there are natural whizz kids around.
However, the serious problem is the one that exists for older people. I am particularly aware of that problem, having acted as a director for access courses. People who study part-time on access courses and then enter full-time education might be out of the job market for a long time. They might spend at least two or three years in part-time education and then, depending which avenue they choose, they might go to university for three years or for five years if they have to attend a preparatory college course.
There are masses of people with great talent and the Government are supposed to be interested in assisting access courses. However, the student loan scheme does nothing to assist them. After such training many people will be able to come back into the job market having acquired new skills in a society that is increasingly subject to technological change which requires new skills. Those people will be older and should not be discriminated against for their own sakes and for the sake of society generally.
Clause 8 will lead to even more discrimination, giving us further grounds for saying that new clauses 12 and 13 are important. They cannot prevent the harmful consequences of the Bill, they can make some minor adjustments to try to improve a desperate situation. For example, measures in clause 8 will lead to more young people being employed and exploited which will in turn affect older people. If we remove the protections which prevent young people from working more than 48 hours a week and allow them to work on Sundays without a day in lieu and to be pushed on to night shifts and remove statutory meal breaks, young people can be considerably exploited by ruthless employers and can be used instead of older skilled people. That can result in youngsters being used to undermine the conditions and wages of older workers.
The Government hold the peculiar view that the decline in the birth rate, leading to fewer youngsters being in the employment market in years to come, will result in young workers having a fantastic bargaining position which will enable them to secure good wages and conditions. Were that to happen, it would have an impact on older workers, because younger workers would be given jobs in preference, especially in view of the changed conditions of which I spoke.
The way in which the YTS has operated makes it clear that schemes of that kind can be used by the Government to exploit young people and thereby undermine the negotiating power of older workers. For all those reasons, the proposed new clauses should be adopted, because they would at least slightly improve an otherwise terrible Bill.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Lee)
I and—the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) will be pleased to hear—my youthful ministerial colleagues, have some 65 sympathy with the Opposition's intention in tabling the new clauses, which seek to outlaw discrimination by potential employers on the grounds of a person's age or because he or she is unemployed. The Government firmly believe that employers should recognise the valuable resource represented by applicants, whatever their age or history of unemployment.
It can clearly be wasteful for employers to refuse to consider applicants solely because they have or have not reached a certain age, or because they are unemployed. This is a message we have frequently sought to get across to employers—for example, in our Department's recent White Paper "Employment for the 1990s".
There are barriers of both prejudice and lack of knowledge to overcome. We believe that the best way to overcome these barriers is not by legislation but by encouraging and persuading employers to amend their personnel policies where necessary.
When taking details of vacancies, jobcentres try to persuade employers not to impose often arbitrary and usually unnecessary and pointless age restrictions. That has been longstanding policy, but instructions were strengthened in January of this year to ensure that where an employer insists on an age restriction, the employment service seeks to persuade him to treat it as a preference rather than an absolute requirement. The service will also contact an employer if a recruit becomes available who is suitable in all respects other than age.
§ Mr. Janner
Is the Minister aware that the efforts which the Department makes in those respects have been failing, are failing and that there is no reason to suppose that they will not continue to fail?
§ Mr. Lee
I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. As I shall show, increasingly employers who discriminate are realising the error of their ways, and the changing labour market profile and demographic changes will push them even more in the direction that we wish them to go.
Employers are showing increasing flexibility in this area. For example, Tesco's is already actively recruiting older workers to fill vacancies, and British Telecom is considering taking on and training older recruits to meet its need for skilled engineering staff. A substantial investment is also being made to help older unemployed people get jobs. Longer-term unemployed people up to the age of 60 are able to obtain guidance on ways back to work through the restart programme.
The employment training programme is open to people up to the age of 60 and offers unemployed older workers with out-of-date skills the opportunity to retrain through training packages tailored to their individual needs. Through offering work experience, it also allows them to show prospective employers their abilities.
The job club programme can also offer help to unemployed older workers through training them in how best to present themselves to prospective employers and how to make effective speculative approaches to employers who have not advertised vacancies.
For unemployed people who wish to become self-employed, the enterprise allowance scheme is available up to the age of 64. We have recently announced that a new part-time jobstart scheme for the over 50s is to be piloted in four areas. This will help unemployed older 66 people to get back into the job market by offering them an allowance of £20 a week if they take a part-time job earning up to £2.57 a hour.
The employment service is also taking practical steps through several initiatives to encourage employers to give more consideration to unemployed people in general. For example, in Greenwich the service is carrying out preliminary interviews for vacancies with Texas Homecare. In exchange, Texas has guaranteed to fill half of its vacancies from people who have been unemployed for six months or more. In other areas, companies have run mock interviews at jobclubs which have resulted in members finding jobs with the companies.
We are taking further positive steps in that area. As hon. Members will know, our Department has recently announced the introduction of the job interview guarantee scheme for unemployed inner-city residents. It will initially be offered in 20 inner-city areas and will be available later this month. It will help not only to prepare long-term unemployed people to re-enter work and increase their opportunities to do so, but to break down employer reticence in considering longer-term unemployed people for such vacancies. It will link the assistance already offered by job clubs and the employment service with new measures. These will include a job preparation course, similar to the current restart course model, but with employers involved in tailoring the course content to meet their specific needs.
"Work trials" will offer unemployed people the chance to demonstrate for a short period their ability to undertake a job with a potential employer while they remain on benefit, allowing employers to reassure themselves about employing people who have been out of work for some time. In return for those services, employers will agree to interview all long-term unemployed people submitted in that way.
It is clear—and ultimately this is far more effective than the new clauses—that demographic trends will put real pressure on employers to consider a much wider range of applicants than they might do at present. Employers will need to give greater consideration to older workers and to unemployed people for their vacancies.
As I have explained, some employers are already taking a sensible lead in doing that. Indeed, it is obvious that that is already happening, as the record falls in unemployment over the last 33 months testify. Employers who fail to improve their personnel practices will learn the hard way that it is in their own economic interests to ensure that they heed the messages that the Government are putting over on these issues.
Question put and negatived.