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Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): No one envies the Prime Minister the decision he must make. Does he accept, however, that evidence from Hanoi to Grozny suggests that bombing alone strengthens the resolve of a people, rather than weakening it--especially when those people, like the Serbs, have hundreds of years of memories of what they perceive as resisting the bullying of larger powers?

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Does the Prime Minister really believe that bombing alone will reduce the atrocities being perpetrated against the Kosovar Albanians? If he is not willing to follow up bombing with the use of ground forces--and he has explained very clearly why we should not do that--I put it to him that it would be better not to bomb at all.

The Prime Minister: That, of course, is the conclusion of the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends--that we should not do this at all. I disagree entirely. If the hon. Gentleman wants an example of bombing achieving our objective, he should consider Iraq, where it certainly achieved the objective that we set ourselves. Let me give him another example. I do not believe that under the last Government, before the Dayton accords, we would ever have got the process under way had not military action been taken by allied forces. It is possible to give examples even from the region itself that show this to be a realistic objective.

I have explained the difficulty with ground forces. The hon. Gentleman had the courtesy to say at the outset that this is a difficult decision to make. I can only say that if we do not make that decision, and take no military action--let us be clear: we are not going to send in 100,000 or 200,000 ground forces with the consent of other countries, for no such consent exists--the repression in Kosovo will continue, and Serbia will know that there is absolutely no restraint or inhibition on its action. The consequences of that would be devastating.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) said that the Macedonian people were not in favour of the action, but the Macedonian Government have supported our position. People in that area know the consequences of letting the whole region slip back into total chaos.

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): The Prime Minister has set out very clearly the consequences of non-action, and the possibility of a wider Balkan conflict. He also referred to dialogue. Is he aware that, while Holbrooke was in dialogue with Milosevic yesterday and today, the bombing and burning of villages continued? Does he agree that the time for appeasement has plainly ended?

Will the Prime Minister consider again whether Serbia has forfeited any right that it may have claimed to govern the people of Kosovo? Will he also give further consideration to the declaration of a United Nations protectorate of Kosovo, to shield it from further Serbian aggression?

The Prime Minister: I entirely share my hon. Friend's sentiments about the bombing and burning that continue. As for the declaration of a UN protectorate, I have said what I have said.

The Kosovar Albanians have indicated that they can accept the accords negotiated at Rambouillet. If the Serbs would only accept them too, we could put the process of agreement back on track. As my hon. Friend rightly said, however, our immediate aim must be to stop the unacceptable repression of the people.

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Age (Prevention of Discrimination)

4.24 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I beg to move,

We serve as Members of the House of Commons without limit of age; our capacity to do so is measured by other yardsticks. That is an unusual position in Britain today. Increasingly, older workers are being forced out of their jobs well before they reach the official retirement ages of 60 and 65, and they are unlikely to find new employment once they are into their 50s. All parties in the House recognise the need to prevent discrimination in employment against older people.

Today, people in the United Kingdom understand that to refuse someone a job because they are black or a woman is wrong. Tomorrow, they must see that it is wrong to refuse an applicant a job merely because of his or her age. Such discrimination can be devastating and humiliating to those who suffer from it. After half a lifetime of work and achievement, they are told that they are good for nothing.

What are the facts? The Employers Forum on Age estimates that, today, of 9.3 million people aged between 50 and 65 in the United Kingdom, some 3.7 million are not in work. Most of them--3.4 million people--are classified as economically inactive, which is to say that they are neither available for nor seeking work.

Men aged between 50 and 65 are disappearing from businesses in Britain. In 1976, only 11 per cent. of men of that age were inactive; today, the figure is 27 per cent. That is causing huge damage to our country's economy in lost output of goods and services. Costly training, acquired skills and valuable experience are all being wasted. Taxpayers are becoming tax takers. It is a shocking waste of energy and talent, and it is getting worse. In the past 20 years, the figures for unemployed older people have doubled. In a society in which the proportion of older people is steadily rising, that must cause great concern.

Some economic simpletons fantasise that if we give work to the old, we take it away from the young. The idea is false. It is nonsense to say that there is a finite apple pie of work, and that if we give a larger slice of it to older people, there will be a smaller slice for the young. As economies grow, so do the number of jobs. From 1975 to 1995, employment in the United States, Canada and Australia has risen by more than 40 per cent., and the jobs in those places have not all gone to younger people.

The House must take up both the carrot and the cudgel of persuasion. We have, so far, preferred the carrot. The Conservative Administration relied on road shows and pamphlets to chivvy employers into taking on older workers. The current Government are publishing a non-statutory code of practice. Equal Rights on Age--the umbrella campaigning group, which includes Members of Parliament and charities--points out that the code will be without teeth. John Monks, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, has also predicted that a voluntary code will be largely ineffective.

Exhortation has certainly not proved itself. The Government's pilot scheme is called new deal for older workers, and it may be shown to be helpful. The approach, however, will not eliminate the problem of discrimination.

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I listened with mixed feelings to the passage in the Chancellor's Budget speech on helping older citizens back to work. I am pleased that the Government are aware of the problem, and "£9,000 guaranteed" has a nice ring to it. However, what if one cannot get a job? What if, even after the £750 towards retraining, no employer is willing to let one prove one's worth? The £9,000 will remain beyond reach.

The Government's incorporation of the European convention on human rights will help to cut out the cancer of discrimination from public bodies, but age is not specifically mentioned in the relevant article--article 14. It is true that article 6a of the treaty of Amsterdam condemns discrimination on grounds of age. Nevertheless, the convention and the treaty make no demands on the private sector--which is why we need legislation.

Although we have legislation outlawing discrimination, it may be pointed out that women and ethnic minorities are still fighting to secure the same chances of employment as white men. However, such laws do provide remedies for the victims. They edge forward compliance with society's accepted standards and contribute to changing perceptions of what is appropriate practice by employers. The United States has had an Act preventing discrimination against older workers since 1967, and amendments have widened it to cover both private and public sector workers over the age of 40.

The House will understand that we cannot directly and easily use the experience of other countries to illuminate conditions here, but research shows that job losses in the United States from the delayering of businesses--as it was called in the 1980s--were more evenly spread across age groups than in this country. Research cited in the Employment Gazette shows that legislation can get

The Bill would introduce a framework law to prevent discrimination in employment, redundancy and promotion on the ground of age. The civil law would enable instances of discrimination to be brought to court and made subject to civil penalties, or taken to an industrial tribunal if preferred. A commission would be appointed to help older citizens to know and secure their rights. When the time was right, it would merge into a single equality commission, similar to the body being created in Northern Ireland.

If we are to create a society in which the potential and energy of all our citizens can bear fruit, we must outlaw discrimination against older citizens now.

4.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): We have just heard a seductive argument--such arguments usually are--but before accepting it, we should pause for a moment to explore the possible implications. I thought that we were going to hear that because something happened in the United States, it must be rather good and we should copy it. I often find that argument seductive and persuasive, but the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) held back from that, although the fact that he cited the United States as a precedent gives me pause for thought.

While the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, I was wondering how such a measure would work in practice. Open and honest as ever, he gave the answer, which gave

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me pause for thought. Leaving aside whether legislation against discrimination succeeds in changing attitudes, it inevitably involves all the factors that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned: a commission, a framework law, civil law, the courts and civil penalties. Now we know what we are talking about--the familiar phenomenon of a bureaucracy. The discrimination industry was set up with the best of intentions, but it has burgeoned into large bureaucratic bodies that are a burden on the taxpayer and eventually a burden on business.

Let us make no mistake about the fact that we are talking about a burden on business. As business knows to its cost--though not necessarily to the cost of us in this House--whenever such proposals are brought forward by well-intentioned politicians, they immediately involve others in the bureaucracy, paid for by taxpayers' money, then the framework law, the civil law, the courts and civil penalties. Then there is mention of resort to tribunals. That is a controversial subject. How far are we prepared to introduce the possibility of resort to tribunals in addition to the courts and legal action, with the taxpayer-funded bureaucracy behind it?

The Bill would add yet another layer to the bureaucracy that exists in an attempt to overcome racial or gender prejudice. Another prejudice has been identified that must be tackled by the bureaucracy, paid for by the taxpayer, and pursued through tribunals or courts of law. That ends up as a penalty on business.

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