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Madam Speaker: Thank you, Mrs. Beckett. We now proceed to our normal business.

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Business of the House

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): With permission, I would like to make a short business statement.

The House will recall that I made it plain on Thursday last that, dependent on discussions through the usual channels, the House might be asked to sit on Friday this week. I can now tell the House that it is proposed that the business for Thursday 13 July will now be an Opposition day, the 17th allotted day, followed by the Second Reading of the Football (Disorder) Bill, and that the House will not be sitting on Friday 14 July.

The House may also like to know that a further text of the Bill, as revised, following the recent discussions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, will be made available from the Vote Office later today.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for her statement. We have no objection to sitting after normal hours to deal with important business such as the Football (Disorder) Bill. Can the right hon. Lady confirm that the Government will not be tabling a guillotine motion to cover tomorrow's proceedings? Will she tell the House when we shall be taking the remaining stages of this important piece of legislation? Finally, as the House will now be dealing with additional business, does she plan to postpone the date of the recess or abandon some Government business to make up for the extra business?

Mrs. Beckett: It is not intended to do anything tomorrow other than take the business that I have described. I will be making the ordinary business statement tomorrow, and that will lay plain the course of further discussions. As for the notion that we should change the dates of the recess or abandon some Government business, I was under the impression that I heard co-operation being offered from the Opposition Benches. It does not sound much like it to me.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I must say, Madam Speaker, that you have taken our breath away.

We, too, are willing to co-operate with the legislation that is coming forward. However, will the Leader of the House assure us that everything will be done to avoid the mistakes of previous legislation that was brought forward at short notice and with limited time to discuss it? Whether it is guns, dogs or yobs, we quite often make a mess of it.

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that tomorrow's debate will be without limit and will allow proper time for discussion? Will she undertake that any further programming of the Bill will be on the basis of co-operation across the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman knows that we always seek co-operation on these matters. Although the proposed legislation is new, he will know also that many of the proposals within it have been discussed extensively over a substantial period. There have been considerable discussions already and some changes proposed as a result

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of them over recent days. The Government are doing their best in somewhat unusual circumstances to meet all the concerns that might be raised.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Does the Leader of the House understand that there is considerable concern that we do not know when the Bill will be considered in Committee? Will the right hon. Lady please tell us whether consideration in Committee will take place on the Floor of the House or along the Committee Corridor, and when we will learn of the date? Does she understand that many hon. Members would bitterly resent a guillotine motion?

Mrs. Beckett: I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that when we last discussed this matter, he pressed me not to take all stages of the Bill's consideration in one day. Of course, the Government will not be doing so. I anticipate being able to give a little more news when Members have had an opportunity to read the further proposals later today. I hope to be able to say something during the ordinary business statement tomorrow.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): As the Leader of the House is re-examining business for the next few days, will she make sure that there is time and opportunity available to cross-examine the relevant Minister on the fly-on-the-wall documentary about to be shown on Mr. Alastair Campbell, and how--

Madam Speaker: Order. This is a limited business statement. I have the statement in front of me, and it is extremely narrow. It concerns only the business for Thursday 13 July. If the right hon. Gentleman can put his question within the terms of the statement, I will take it. It cannot go wider than the business statement.

Mr. Redwood: I quite understand. The important point is that this event will take place on 13 July, and many people outside the House will want to be reassured that, within the crammed day that the Leader of the House is now suggesting, there will be an opportunity to raise the issue of how a man can be both politically committed and a career civil servant, which is a matter of great interest to the press and the wider audience--

Madam Speaker: Order. I do not require the Leader of the House to respond to an unrelated question.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): As the Bill, certainly in its present draft form, and presumably even in the form that we hope to see later today, may well, and almost certainly will, involve a possible encroachment on traditional civil liberties and a significant increase in police powers, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that there will be a proper interval between Second Reading and Committee, and between Committee and Report, not only to allow hon. Members time to consider their approach to the Bill, but, as importantly, for hon. Members to listen to what people outside the House have to say about the Bill as it may change between Second Reading, Committee and Report? The Leader of the House, respecting, as I know she does, the proceedings of the House, surely does not assume that the

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Bill will somehow sail through in its original form without necessarily being changed between Second Reading, Committee and Report.

Mrs. Beckett: As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has held a number of open meetings and remains available to discuss the Bill with hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I remind him, and all those on the Opposition Benches, that the Opposition called for such a measure and undertook to co-operate with it. Of course the Government are doing their utmost within the time constraints to provide as much time and as measured an examination as is possible. Either the Opposition wish to see such legislation facilitated, or they do not. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but those on the Opposition Front Bench say something different.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be more than three hours' debate on the Bill tomorrow, which will mean that it will go beyond 10 o'clock? Will she also confirm that, had the Bill been taken under the proposals put forward by the Modernisation Committee, there would not be a vote tomorrow at midnight, as I suspect will happen, but a vote next Wednesday, when we would simply have to sign our book in one of the Division Lobbies? The Leader of the House smiles, but I suspect that she does so because the Bill effectively demonstrates the nonsense of the Modernisation Committee's proposals.

Mrs. Beckett: No, I fear that it demonstrates the hon. Gentleman's ignorance of them. No change is proposed in the handling of Second Reading.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Will my right hon. Friend confirm, that, when the previous Government were in office, there were occasions when we had more accelerated business than we will have under the timetable that she has announced for tomorrow?

Mrs. Beckett: I can certainly confirm that. There were many precedents under the previous Government, but, as we have noticed, it is a matter not of do as we did, but do as we now say.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Despite the right hon. Lady's desire to expedite the Bill's passage, will she confirm that the Government Whips will not be encouraged to hand-pick Government Back Benchers to sit on the Standing Committee, and that there is a remote prospect that the Government will show some glasnost on the matter?

Mrs. Beckett: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has always made it plain that he strongly believes in glasnost.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will the Leader of the House clarify from what date we shall be able to table amendments?

Mrs. Beckett: From tomorrow.

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Age Equality Commission

3.43 pm

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): I beg to move,

In moving this ten-minute Bill on such an historic day as today, Madam Speaker, it would be remiss of me not to say that I hope that the age discrimination faced by many in Britain today will not affect you in your long and happy retirement.

Since arriving in the House in May 1997, my weekly constituency surgeries have introduced me to the experiences of hundreds of constituents who feel that they have met the barriers of age in their daily lives. It is my judgment from those interviews that age discrimination is a persistent and disturbing problem which faces far too many in our community.

Like many of our finest seaside communities, my constituency has a higher than average proportion of older citizens. I am grateful for recent research undertaken at the university of Sheffield by Professor Paul Whiteley, who ranked Scarborough and Whitby 37th out of all English and Welsh constituencies in terms of population over the age of 40.

With one in four of my local community of formal pensionable age, compared to a national average of around two out of 11, and seven out of 10 adults in Scarborough and Whitby aged over 40, it is perhaps not surprising that many of my constituents bring their concerns about ageism to my offices in Whitby and Scarborough.

The important work undertaken by Professor Whiteley was commissioned by Age Concern England and published on 4 July this year. It amplifies the demographic patterns that will frame policy-making decisions in the House, and serves as a useful statistical benchmark for the anecdotal evidence presented to many right hon. and hon. Members, including myself, by thousands of ordinary British people who imagined that they had every right to expect a fair deal as they got older. I also commend the excellent work co-ordinated by Age Concern and its partners throughout last year, which is appropriately entitled "The Debate of the Age."

The experiences of people in Scarborough and Whitby have given me the opportunity to work alongside local members of ARPO50--the Association of Retired Persons over Fifty. Through that dialogue, which rapidly developed a national dimension, the principles behind my proposed legislation became focused on the need for urgent action. My Bill therefore seeks to encourage and support the Government in their fight against age discrimination.

Every hon. Member has first-hand experience or anecdotal evidence of discrimination in the workplace, but the evidence presented to me is more wide-ranging and covers almost every aspect of modern life, such as access to financial services, the national health service, educational opportunity, the voluntary sector, and even everyday occurrences such as attempting to hire a motor car.

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A well-known bank has a policy of not lending to people over the age of 65. The reason is the unspoken fear of having to fight the estate if the person dies before the loan is repaid. A certain well-known bank has an age restriction of 65 for telephone banking. The justification is that people over 65 have a problem remembering their PIN number, which is essential for all telephone banking procedures. I could cite many other examples from the financial sector.

A national survey on age discrimination in 1998 found that almost 8 million people had experienced discrimination in employment, and 33 per cent. of over-50s say that they have experienced age discrimination. Studies suggest that the age at which discrimination is experienced is falling. Age discrimination is perceived to start at 42, according to a survey conducted in 1998.

Back in 1975, 95 per cent. of men aged 55 to 65 were in employment. The proportion is now closer to 60 per cent. It is estimated that only one in three people over 40 will be working by the end of this year. A man made redundant in his 50s is 50 per cent. more likely than a working man to die within five years of stopping work.

Age Concern's on-going health campaign has gathered evidence from 2,000 people and their families which shows that, across the board, older people experience discrimination in the NHS. A survey earlier this year found that one in 20 people over 65 feel that they have been refused treatment in the NHS. Almost 2 million--one in 10--say that they have received different treatment since their 50th birthday. I could give much more anecdotal information, but in proposing the Bill, I want to go beyond the anecdotal and the objective by offering a more analytical approach to inform the Government and policy makers of the problems that face every community in the land.

Last weekend, I attended a community fair in Whitby where I was surprised by further first-hand experience of age discrimination. The local scouting group displayed its excellent range of youth activities, but was attempting to recruit a new adult leader. The current leader thanked me for the action that I intended to take today and for raising the issue. When he turns 65 in a few months time, he will be forced to retire from the scouting movement. He is fit, motivated and enthusiastic about working with the younger generation. Seeing him forced out of his voluntary position in a respected, people-focused organisation has left me wondering why that organisation is practising such discrimination, which I am sure the House would wish to reject.

I want the commission to deal with such issues as it attempts to influence policy makers and voluntary organisations. Discrimination in any form disfigures and blights our society. With an increasing number of people approaching the formal age of retirement, it is essential that the size of the problem should be measured so that appropriate community-inspired solutions can be introduced to limit its effects.

My proposal has received wide support across the House. That mirrors feeling across the nation. I hope that my proposal finds favour with the House as it exemplifies what this place should be all about--offering solutions to problems rather than simply presiding over them.

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3.52 pm

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