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Mr. Winterton: As, the right hon. Lady says, such decisions are indeed a matter for the House. However, when will the recommendations be put to the House so that it can take a decision? Members in all parts of the House believe that the recommendations should be considered, and that such consideration should take place in this Parliament and not the next.
Mrs. Beckett: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and I know that his view is shared in other parts of the House. He asks me when the recommendations will be debated. All I can say, as I would characteristically for a business question, is that it will not, I fear, be next week.
Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
Early estimates of the damage to the Scarborough economy indicate that £50 million each year will be lost as a result of one in every 20 workers losing their jobs. At a stroke, Scarborough is becoming the worst unemployment black spot in Yorkshire and the Humber. The decision leaves us 42 miles from any potential alternative employment.
On Thursday evening, our confidence was broken and the community felt on the edge of bankruptcy. By Friday afternoon, however, thanks to the rapid response of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and my hon. Friend the Minister for Competitiveness, we had a glimmer of hope.
I believe that this matter deserves urgent attention in the House now, to ensure that the fullest attention of Parliament can be given to this important regional and national matter. The voice of Parliament needs to be heard. The matter is specific to the national debate on Britain's economic performance, as the likelihood is that foreign competitors will steal the important contribution that Plaxton has made to supplying coaches for Britain and the world.
Mr. Speaker: I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member has said and I must give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider the matter that he has raised appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot, therefore, submit the application to the House.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister has just announced that the date of the general election will be 7 June. Given the grave events in Northern Ireland today, have you received any requests from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the opportunity to speak to us? You will be aware that it has been stated that the leader of the Ulster Unionist party will resign if decommissioning does not start by July. No. 10 Downing street has already said that that would be a grave move with regard to the peace process. Have you received any request from the Secretary of State to come and speak to us today?
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to the announcement made outside the House by the Prime Minister about a quarter of an hour ago--as it happens, it was made in my constituency--I have two questions. First, have you requested that either the Prime Minister or anybody else should make a formal announcement to Parliament about the Government's intentions? Is it not more appropriate that the announcement should be made here, rather than in any school, however good it or the constituency in which it is situated may be? Secondly, do you have any indication of when the Leader of the House will inform us of the statement's implications for our business? Should she not make such a statement at the first available opportunity?
Mr. Speaker: It is a matter for the Prime Minister to decide where he makes the statement regarding the general election. The hon. Gentleman is a very fortunate man; it was 1964 when I last had a Prime Minister in my constituency. On his other question, I can tell him that I understand that the Leader of the House is coming to the House at approximately 7 o'clock this evening to make a statement. I hope that that is helpful to him.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the general election has been announced and the Leader of the House is coming to the Dispatch Box to make a statement, and in light of the fact that many businesses in our constituencies have been blighted by foot and mouth, whether they are involved in farming or in tourism, will you encourage the Leader of the House to make time before Parliament is dissolved for a statement to be made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Minister in charge of the rural affairs taskforce? Such a statement is needed to ensure that constituents who have been directly affected by the foot and mouth blight may know during the election period about the assistance that they can get. They cannot wait another four weeks until the election is over.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I stress that every report in this Parliament has been unanimous. That was not the case in the previous Parliament.
Tomorrow, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) will seek leave to bring in a Bill to make some provisions with regard to age discrimination. I do not know what they are, but taken with other initiatives, that suggests that there is substantial support in the House for further action on the subject. Perhaps that is not surprising given the age diversity in this place, where hon. Members' ages range from the early 20s to the 80s. I am sure that we all agree that that diversity is welcome.
Most hon. Members' minds are currently on the forthcoming general election. Nowadays, national campaigning organisations tend to produce manifestos. I should briefly like to draw hon. Members' attention to Age Concern's manifesto, entitled, "Dignity, Security, Opportunity". It is an excellent document both for its clarity and the strength of its arguments. It expresses one of its five priorities in the following words:
Many other organisations also campaign on age discrimination. LEAD--the Lobby to End Age Discrimination--held a seminar in the Palace of Westminster in November last year. Like many hon. Members, I was pleased to sponsor and participate in it. Representatives from the three Front Benches contributed productively to it. Another organisation, the Association of Retired and Persons over 50, drafted the Bill that I want to introduce today.
What would the Bill do? It would make discrimination against older people unlawful, for example, in employment, access to health care, education and training, credit and other goods and services. It would set up an age discrimination council to advise the Government on detailed codes of practice. The provisions are similar to those in existing anti-discrimination legislation.
Why is it necessary? Many people over 50 have difficulties in finding a job, even when they have extensive qualifications and enormous experience. Some, because of their age, have difficulty in obtaining credit, hiring a car or gaining access to other services on fair terms.
Many of my constituents are convinced that they are discriminated against because they are older. They stress that point whenever I meet the local branch of Age Concern, the South Gloucestershire Senior Citizens Forum, or other pensioners' groups, as I frequently do.
Age discrimination has moved up the political agenda and it is not difficult to understand why. First, the population of our country is growing older. There are approximately 20 million people aged 50 and over in the United Kingdom, representing 40 per cent. of the adult population. Consequently, older people realise that they have growing political influence and they rightly want their opinions to be taken into account.
Secondly, there is growing evidence of widespread age discrimination. In its recent evidence to the Education and Employment Committee--which I congratulate on producing a very good report on age discrimination in employment--the Department for Education and Employment drew attention to a survey conducted six months after the code of practice on age diversity had been introduced. The survey found that one in five older people believed that they had been discriminated against in their current job or in a job application simply because of their age. Discrimination was most likely to be reported in the area of recruitment, in which 12 per cent. of older people felt that their age was the key factor militating against them when applying for jobs.
The Department for Education and Employment has also pointed out that many people leaving work before reaching the state pension age have not done so voluntarily, and in the past 20 years the employment rate among those over 50 has fallen dramatically. In 1979, 84 per cent. of men between 50 years old and retirement age were in employment. By 1997, that figure had fallen to 67 per cent. By last year, it had risen modestly to 69 per cent., owing to the substantial increase in employment under the present Government. Nevertheless, it is clear from the trend over the past 20 years that older people who wish to work are increasingly being denied that opportunity.
The Government have, of course, taken some action to address this problem, and are, indeed, the first Government to take the issue seriously. In 1999, a voluntary code of practice on age diversity in employment was introduced, and last year the Government welcomed the EU directive on equal treatment in employment that will introduce legislation to outlaw this kind of discrimination in employment by 2006. Legislation to tackle age discrimination in employment within five years is better than no commitment at all, but five years is a long time to wait--and what about discrimination in areas other than employment?
Discrimination on the ground of age, like any other form of discrimination, is wrong. To deny people employment or access to services for no reason other than their age is unacceptable and robs us of the enormous economic and social benefits of age diversity. In my view, legislation to tackle age discrimination is required as soon as possible. I hope that the House will support that view this afternoon.