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Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): It is a pleasure to support the Bill that has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton), who I congratulate on her speech and on leading a campaign that has massive support both inside the House and outside.
As always, I am struck by the arguments deployed by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). When the case was put for legislation to address discrimination on the ground of race, it is interesting that we were told to leave the matter to the free market, to education and to persuasion. When the argument was advanced that legislation should be introduced to prevent discrimination on the ground of gender, again we were told to leave the matter to the free market, to education and to persuasion. More recently, I recall clearly the argument about discrimination on the ground of disability. We were told by the hon. Gentleman that we should leave the matter to the free market, to education and to persuasion.
We cannot leave everything to the free market if we wish seriously to represent our constituents in this place. If the free market solved all the problems to which I have referred, there would never be a successful legal challenge to discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and disability. If the free market is so wonderful, why is it that there are successful legal challenges under the legislation that the House has put on to the statute book?
It is also said, "All right, drop the argument about the free market. Education and persuasion will prevail." That means that we cannot legislate and we must try merely to persuade people. The House has spent many years trying to change things merely by education and persuasion, initially in terms of race, gender and disability. We came to the conclusion that that was not enough. Therefore, the House decided to legislate.
I tell the hon. Member for Gainsborough that legislation on disability has been the major impetus for further education and persuasion throughout the country. Anyone who believes that the progress that has been made in recent years to tackle discrimination on the ground of disability could have come about without legislation, which a Conservative Government were forced to introduce, is seriously misled.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we are trying to achieve change? The codes of practice that were introduced in 1999 represented an attempt to create change. The following evidence was given to the Employment Sub-Committee when it conducted an inquiry:
Mr. Berry: I entirely agree that such measures are helpful and have been helpful. That is in stark contrast to leaving things to the free market, which the hon. Member for Gainsborough was talking about. However, I shall argue that we need to go further.
The House has legislated to tackle discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and disability, and I am convinced that it will legislate to address discrimination on the ground of age. It is no more justifiable to deny someone a job, for which they have the necessary skills and experience, on the ground of age rather than on the basis of race, gender and disability.
When we talk of equal opportunities, we are not saying that people should be given unfair advantages. We are saying that unfair disadvantages should be removed. The argument is as powerful in terms of age as it is in relation to race, gender and disability.
There is overwhelming support for the Bill in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) has campaigned effectively on the issue for many years. She said that there have been 14 previous attempts to introduce a private Member's Bill to deal with it, one of which was her own. Last year, there was a vote on the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) introduced the Age Discrimination Bill, to which the Bill before us bears a remarkable resemblance. Only a few words differ. The Bill is an important improvement on its predecessor but essentially the proposal is the same. On 12 July 2000, the House divided on Second Reading of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby, with 190 Members voting in favour and seven against.
Mr. Berry: The two Members who were Tellers for the Noes were in the Chamber this morning, and I think that it is legitimate to refer to them. The first Teller against was the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who is not in his place. The other Teller for the Noes wassurprise, surprisethe hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) who intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne at the beginning of our debate. Those Tellers counted the votes of the seven Conservative Members who voted against the Bill that was introduced last year. However, 190 Members voted for it.
I checked the names of Members who sponsored that Bill 12 months ago. I am heartened because, of the seven Labour Members who did so, six are now Ministers or Parliamentary Private Secretaries. That is an extremely good omen, although not necessarily, I suspect, for those of us who are sponsoring my hon. Friend's Bill. I am sure that the Government want to give the Bill a fair wind, given the strength of support for similar proposals in the past. Early-day motion 178 has been tabled on the issue; it is one of the most popular early-day motions before the House in this Session, and was signed by 157 Members, 118 of whom are Government Members.
The Bill has cross-party support, and I pay tribute to the Conservative Members who back its proposals, notwithstanding the opposition of the hon. Member for Gainsborough, the shadow Leader of the House and the hon. Member for New Forest, West. I acknowledge and welcome Opposition support, but I draw the Minister's attention to the substantial support of Government Members, of which he is well aware.
The Bill also enjoys substantial support from organisations and individuals outside the House. Reference has been made to Age Concern, which supports the Bill, as does the Association of Retired and Persons over 50, Help the Aged and the National Pensioners Convention. Not surprisingly, the Lobby to End Age Discrimination supports the Bill. Clearly, such an
The Bill is popular because it is necessary. Like every other Member, I have constituents over 50 who have difficulty finding or retaining a job, and find it hard to hire a car and access credit and other services. It is not just that they have difficulties; they believe that those difficulties arise because they suffer discrimination on the ground of age. They are right; the evidence is plain for all to see. In March this year, as has been said, the Education Sub-Committee produced a report on age discrimination. The submission from the then Department for Education and Employment drew attention to a survey conducted six months after the code of practice was issued, which found that one in five older people believed that they had suffered discrimination in their current job or a job application because of age.
If one in five people believed that they had suffered discrimination at work on the grounds of race, gender or disability, we would not be having further debate on the matter in the House. When one in five people believe that they are suffering discrimination on the ground of age, the House must respond seriously and effectively. In their submission to the Select Committee, the Government pointed out that in the past 20 years employment of the over-50s has fallen dramaticallya point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne in her excellent opening speech.
Few of the over-50s who find themselves out of work say, "This is good; I think I'll retire." The evidence is that many people are leaving work involuntarily before the state pension age. In 1979, 84 per cent. of men aged between 50 and the state pension age were in employment; by 1997, that figure had fallen to 67 per cent. Did people have a sudden urge to retire early? Did they suddenly find themselves with riches and opportunities beyond their wildest dreams so that millions of them left employment early? No, that was certainly not the case for the majority of people. Last year, the proportion of men aged between 50 and the state pension age in employment rose to 69 per cent. because employment is rising and, thanks to Government policy, there is a favourable environment. The situation has improved a little, but the trend over the past 20 years is plain for all to see. Notwithstanding the fact that the economy is now performing well, older people who wish to work are being denied that opportunity.
Discrimination is morally wrong, and is bad economics as well. Discrimination on the ground of age robs us all of the enormous economic and social benefits of age diversity. Reference has been made to the Employers Forum on Age, an independent network. As my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, it estimates that we could be losing about £30 billion-worth of output and income as the result of age discrimination. I must advise the House that the forum is not a small, little-known, ineffective and unrepresentative organisation. I see that our free marketeer is no longer with us.