Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument escapes me. Surely if he is saying that that is a clear case of discrimination and that the commission would point it out, he should support a commission that would stop such discrimination. If the discrimination were against younger people, it should end, just as though it were against older people.
Mr. Leigh: With respect to the hon. GentlemanI do hold him in very great respecthe does not understand what the Bill would achieve. Surely if the Bill were to achieve anything, we would have to introduce more rigorous legislation to end discrimination against people on the ground of age. If we introduced such legislation, young people would inevitably bring test cases to argue that they were discriminated against precisely for the reasons that I have given: many cut-price deals, especially for tourist venues, are available only to older people.
To counter the inevitable absurdity created by age equality legislation, it would no doubt be proposed that positive discrimination should be required. No one could deny that, and it would create the very serious difficulties that I have mentioned. That leads me to question whether the cure offered by the Bill would end up being worse than the disease.
Saga is a holiday company that provides services exclusively to those over 50a marvellous arrangementyet legislation that outlawed age discrimination in the provision of goods and service could catch that company. No one has instructed those who run our historic houses to offer reduced admission for OAPs; they have decided to do so themselves. A commission was not needed to instruct them to reduce admission charges for older people.
The marketplaceI hesitate to use that wordhas acted in a way that benefits older people. Over the years, Saga has decided to reduce the age limit for those who can benefit from its holidaysat one time it was over 60;
I am very concerned about the idea of the commission leaning on the Secretary of State and urging him to pass new laws on age discrimination, especially if its mandate is as wide as that suggested in the Bill. Such a commission would be a statutory busybody, looking for ways to interfere. It would spend its time telling the Secretary of State how to make new laws on age discrimination. It would tell him how any new laws that he proposed might affect age discrimination. It would write endless guidelines for him to foist on business, voluntary organisations and the public sector. It would meddle with the market in the kind of draconian ways thatdare I say?only well-meaning liberals can dream up.
In my view that heavy-handed, top-down approach to delicate social issues just will not work, especially when it involves new legislation. Such a law would be a clumsy instrument, which could not cope with all the particulars of life. The law can never be drafted to take account of the possible exceptions and qualifications that accompany the basic principle of respecting age. That is my point. We have the basic principle that we should respect age. We cannot devise legislation, however well meaning, to take account of all life's complexities to implement that respect properly.
Ms Drown: Is the hon. Gentleman perhaps implying that the House should never pass any legislation? [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman laughs, but perhaps that brings into question why he is here in the first place. No one would argue that those discounts should end, and I hope that no hon. Member would argue that children should be allowed to become soldiers, for example. Age barriers are not the issue. Is not the distinction one between good legislation and bad legislation? Should it not be within our capacity to produce legislation that is not top heavy? The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that legislation is not too burdensome or top heavy, but is it not right that if we could create the right remit for the commission we would serve our constituents well?
Mr. Leigh: There always has to be a balance. Of course, sometimes the House has to legislate, but dare I say that the House legislates too much? One of the things I have tried to do, especially on Friday mornings since I have been a Member of Parliament, is to try to stop the House regulating so much that it defeats its laudable aims.
Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I have listened to the hon. Gentleman developing his argument and he is doing the House a service by providing a clear and stark difference between the Bill's proponents and those who do not support it. He referred specifically to relying on the good common sense of employers to employ older people, but can he tell us over what period he would seek to evaluate whether that common sense had made a difference and at what point legislation would be necessary?
Mr. Leigh: That is an unanswerable question, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman has made a very skilful intervention. I do not know the answer, but we have to take a common-sense point of view. Clearly, if there were
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): The hon. Gentleman suggests that generalised burdensome legislation would be introduced. However, surely the purpose of the Bill is to advise the Government on specific legislation on specific problems. Each problem will be considered carefully and our Government would certainly not introduce legislation that had not been fully thought through and that was not carefully targeted. [Interruption.]
Mr. Leigh: The hon. Gentleman has a lot of faith in government, but the House has already given its reaction to his view. Let us consider what the commission would do. Clause 1(3) offers the prospect of its inventing lengthy, costly and time-wasting consultations, and clause 1(5) would enable the Secretary of State to spend taxpayers' money on staffing the commission. The powers that would be given to the commission are wide ranging and vague.
There is another problem with the Bill. Its drafting is unclear and imprecise. Even the definitions of equality and discrimination are confusing and do not appear to draw on any existing definitions of the concepts.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): There is another problem and I would be interested to learn how my hon. Friend would tackle it. My constituency is in south London where there is full employment. Many elderly people want to work, but some employers have a mindset that means they do not employ elderly people. If we stick to the principles that my hon. Friend has enunciated, that mindset will never be addressed. How does he think that it could best be addressed?
My personal philosophy is to approach society's problems by arguing that we must eventually rely on people's innate good sense to come to the fore to address any evils that exist. I do not believe that one cures evils in societyparticularly those that are difficult to identifyspecifically by legislation. It is not the right vehicle. If my hon. Friend disagrees with me, I am sorry.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): The hon. Gentleman has made great play of the need to use common sense and practical experience to deal with discrimination. I invite him to consider the gender balance as represented by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members present and to compare it with the gender balance among Labour Members. Can he then say that it
Mr. Leigh: It is a matter of great sadness to many of us that more women are not selected as Conservative candidates. Unfortunately, the women who dominate selection procedures often discriminate against women candidates. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but it is perfectly true. My personal viewI do not want to expand on this because you would rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speakeris that the use of quotas is the wrong way to deal with the problem. I believe in equality of opportunity, not in enforcing quotas on selection committees or anyone else.
Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) made a serious point about the employment of elderly people. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) agree that perhaps a better way of approaching that problem is to use the tax system to price older people back into work by allowing them to pay reduced taxes? That would price people back into work rather than allowing discrimination to continue.