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Dr. Pugh: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as I understand it, Age Concerns supports the establishment of the commission as proposed in the Bill? If the hon. Gentleman is quoting Age Concern as an authority in one case, why does he not accept its views on other matters?

Mr. Rosindell: It is absurd to think that every Member would agree with every point made by every outside organisation. Age Concern may support the creation of a commission, but I question whether that would solve the problems that Age Concern wants to be solved. However, Age Concern makes many sensible, relevant and logical points, and I agree with it on this issue.

Surveys have revealed that elderly people suffering from serious conditions wait longer than 24 hours to be given a bed. Of course, under this Government that scenario is not unique to older people, but even if the health service really cannot cope with every case, it must surely be accepted that the elderly, who are undeniably more frail than younger people, deserve a quick admission when seriously ill. Yet time after time they are treated as if the wait will make no difference.

This is a disgraceful state of affairs that demonstrates the inherent ageism in the national health service's attitude. Such ageism prevents and blocks those who have dutifully paid their taxes and national insurance contributions all their life from gaining access to the quality of care they so rightly deserve. But the question must be what a commission would do to solve that problem. Surely the treatment of elderly patients by the NHS is a matter for the Department of Health and the NHS to resolve, and for us as Members of Parliament to take up. Of course the commission could come up with new ideas and strategies, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the running of the health service.

Travel is another area in which we can help the older generation in a practical way. In London, the freedom pass allows pensioners to travel free on London buses, underground and trains. That scheme is superb and should be extended beyond the boundaries of Greater London into Essex—indeed, why not to the whole country? That is something practical that we can do to enhance the lives of the older generation.

Job market issues are relevant to what we are discussing today. With 2.8 million people between 50 and the state pension age not in work, the public purse is clearly suffering. Older people are a magnificent resource, with experience and years of knowledge. We should encourage them and give them opportunities that they are currently denied. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) alluded to that.

When people reach the age of 50 they are blatantly not ready to be placed on the scrapheap and branded unsuitable for work. Many of my constituents of pensionable age or, indeed, over 50 say they feel that they have been placed on the scrapheap. That is wrong. We should use the power that we have in this place to encourage and help the older generation back into work. They are a tremendous resource of which we should make use.

However, I challenge the basis on which supporters of the Bill think that the scenario should be changed. All the regulations, directives and campaigns in the world can

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focus on encouraging employers to take on people over 50, but there is only a limited pool of jobs. If the sort of campaigns and regulations that a commission would predictably propose were implemented—regulations that simply focused on the status quo—we might end up with lower unemployment in the older age categories and higher unemployment across other age groups.

Dr. Starkey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rosindell: I would like to make a bit more progress. I will give way in a moment.

The problem will not be solved through regulation. No market is helped by regulations. The problem is one of long-term unemployment, which can be solved through competent economic policies that leave the market free to grow. In order to become more prosperous, businesses look to expand and take on more staff. A better way to help the older generation into work is to use the tax system. Reducing taxes for older people is surely a better way to encourage them and price them back into the job market.

Dr. Starkey: The point that I wanted to make was relevant several sentences back. The hon. Gentleman said that if more older people were employed, there would inevitably be unemployment for younger people. How does he reconcile the scenario outlined by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) and which exists in my constituency, where we have essentially full employment and labour shortages, with his notion that that is a zero sum gain and one cannot help the elderly without creating a disbenefit for the young?

Mr. Rosindell: I am suggesting that we would disadvantage certain groups of people by implementing the Bill. There are other mechanisms that we could use to allow older people greater opportunities to work. I have already cited the tax system as an example, and I hope that proposal will be considered.

The Bill identifies undesirable practices—especially the problems in the treatment of elderly people by the NHS. However, the Bill would be enormously costly to implement and the establishment of yet another bureaucratic commission—a quango—might not yield any tangible results. A commission sounds most impressive, but I urge Members to think about what it would actually do that could not already be undertaken by our civil servants on a case-by-case basis.

The Bill would be a blank cheque for endless reports, with no guarantee of real change and no recognition of the different issues that affect older people. If we are to treat our old folk with the respect and dignity that they deserve, we must accept that a single commission will never solve all their problems. Each case must be dealt with individually, in the most appropriate manner.

12.11 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): It is a great pleasure to support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton), which is in the best tradition of private Members' Bills. It addresses the type of social issue that

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Governments rarely have the time to get round to, but is rightly discussed in this place. There is a remarkable degree of cross-party unity on this issue—with certain less than honourable exceptions.

If hon. Members were to propose that discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion or even age was reasonable, everybody would howl them down. We all know that such discrimination is unacceptable. Age discrimination touches all our lives—whether we are young or old and whatever our creed, race or sexuality.

Only one thing in life is as certain as getting a bit older and that is getting even older—if death does not get to us first—so we all have a distinctly vested interest in the measure, even if it is only self-interest. I shall thus declare my interest, because I seem to be on the Saga mailing list as well. We all have a strong interest in the topic.

Other countries and cultures respect and treasure older people and look to them for wisdom and for the benefit of their experience, but in this country we are all too ready to treat older people as dotards, or perhaps even to categorise them as "older folk"—as they apparently do in Romford. As a result, we get many things wrong. We set arbitrary ages for retirement from work, paying no heed to people's ability to perform their jobs.

Individuals differ enormously in the way that they age. Some people are perfectly capable of carrying on their job or profession well past an arbitrary retirement age of 60 or 65—although it was probably right to draw the line under the working lives of some judges as they approached the age of 100. By and large, competence and ability should determine when people stop work. If they want to carry on working and are capable of doing so, and if there is work for them to do, it is in their interest and in society's interest that they should, so we need to be much more flexible, as that would be of vast benefit to the nation.

An obvious example is the health service, where we have critical recruitment and retention problems with nursing staff and related professions. Those problems will not get any easier, because a very large percentage of those who are in service at the moment are nearing their arbitrary retirement age, but many of them might want to continue to work. It would be very much in the interests of their service if they were able to do so; otherwise, we shall continuously run to stand still in trying to staff the health service.

Health services are also notorious for discriminating against older people. Labelling a patient with the words, "Do not resuscitate" should be a criminal offence. Human life is uniquely valuable whatever our age—young or old. No one should think himself able to decide whether to take a life or death decision such as that. That is playing God, just a little, and it should be outlawed.

In fact, in the examples that I have given, a commission would be cost-effective. It would cost a little to run—a trivial amount in terms of administrative expenses—but the possible economic return to the nation would justify its cost probably several hundred times over.

Of course, ageism or age discrimination goes on in this place. A large percentage of Members were elected for the first time after they had reached the age of 50, but I cannot think of anyone—I am open to correction—from that category who has been appointed to a Government post under either party, yet this group of people must, by definition, contain a great many very talented individuals,

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with a wealth of experience, who could fill ministerial posts with distinction, but they will never get the opportunity. So we need to look at ourselves and the ageism and age discrimination in our own institution.

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