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8.46 pm

Norman Baker: I, too, welcome the position in which we now find ourselves and look forward to Royal Assent being forthcoming before very much longer. I very much hope that it happens within the next couple of days. I also welcome the starring role of the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin), who made his contribution from the Treasury Bench between Committee and Third Reading. He used to make much larger contributions when he was leader of Hove borough council. He is now constrained to make much more formal contributions to the House in a much more limited fashion. No doubt his constituents will reflect on that famously at the next election.

As hon. Members have said, the Bill is not a panacea. It is a good Bill; it will go a long way to deal with the problem, and I shall not repeat the arguments and points that have been made. However, I want to raise one substantive issue with the Minister on Third Reading. It is important to try to monitor how effective the legislation is when it comes into force to find out whether it has had the effect that we all hope it will have, or whether it has not because of the international dimension or for other reasons. I sometimes think that we are very good at passing legislation, but not very good at measuring it subsequently to find out how effective it is.

I wish to refer to the reasons why someone might want to steal a mobile phone. When we began to consider the Bill, I certainly thought that the reason for stealing a mobile phone was simply to acquire it for use. That may seem rather obvious; but, on Second Reading, we were given three other reasons why such a theft might be reported. The obvious reason is to acquire it for use. The second reason is that someone might want to steal a mobile phone for the accessories around it—a point made on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson). The third reason is to prevent someone who was subject to an attack from using it to call the police; in those circumstances, the mobile

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phone itself is not wanted and is subsequently discarded. The fourth reason is that the phone was not actually stolen at all but is part of a fraudulent insurance claim.

I do not know whether this would be practical, but it would be useful to try to analyse the reasons why allegations of mobile phone thefts are made. That would be helpful in analysing how effective the Bill is when it becomes law, as it will very shortly. It would also be helpful in identifying whether any further measures are necessary subsequently to plug any loophole that may transpire.

This is a short but useful Bill. I very much hope that it will be as effective as the Government wish it to be, and I wish it well on its way.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.

8.49 pm

Sitting suspended pursuant to Order [1 July].

9.45 pm

On resuming—


Ancient Forests

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): In the final minutes before Parliament closes for the summer recess, and on the day when the Environmental Audit Committee has published its report on timber and the Government have published their response to the Select Committee report on preparations for the world summit on sustainable development, I am pleased to present this petition from Stephen Tindale on behalf of Greenpeace.

It is vital that our Prime Minister leads the way at the world summit in Johannesburg next month. We wish him well. The petition declares:

The petitioner therefore requests that the House of Commons urge the Prime Minister to push for strong international action to end the trade in illegal and destructively logged timber.

To lie upon the Table.

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EU Age Discrimination Legislation

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

9.48 pm

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage): It is agreeable to have the penultimate word before the summer recess begins in this Session of Parliament.

A humorous story was current in my youth at Oxford about the attempts of his colleagues some time in the late 1950s to persuade the last of Oxford's professors with life tenure to retire from his chair. That was Canon Claude Jenkins, Professor of Ecclesiastical History. He was a self-confident nonagenarian, well known for his donnish wit. A great dinner was organised in his honour, at which lavish valedictory encomia were pronounced. But when the great man rose to his feet, he dashed the hopes of his friends with the opening phrase of his speech. He said he was

I have sought an Adjournment debate because I fear that if the Government and Parliament are not careful, scenes of that kind, entertaining but also a bit disturbing, will be a feature not just of the past but of the future.

The Government are consulting on the implementation of a directive adopted by the European Union in November 2000

That directive requires national legislation in each of the member states to give effect to its objectives, which include the imposition of legal penalties against discrimination in employment on a number of grounds, including age. The Government have said that they intend to proceed by way of regulations and guidance to give effect to that portion of the directive at some point before the end of 2006.

As I hope to show, the directive has potentially profound and wide-ramifying implications for an important sector of our national life—our universities. It also has serious implications in many other areas such as the judiciary, the civil service, the military, and the medical profession. In these circumstances, the Government should think again about the way in which they propose to handle this legislation.

There is a serious case, which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench, for its being treated as primary legislation. Certainly, it should be considered by the relevant Select Committees, and I shall write in that sense to their Chairmen. If it is to be treated as secondary legislation, to attempt to pass it by way of the negative resolution procedure would be an abuse of Parliament. Assurances from the Minister on those points would be very welcome at this stage.

My purpose in seeking this Adjournment debate is to draw the attention of the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education, at this very early stage to the serious implications that the regulations and guidance will have for the universities of the United Kingdom. My standpoint is not one of outright opposition to the abolition of mandatory retirement ages in academe, or to other age-based mechanisms that have been evolved in

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our universities to try to manage the process of academic succession. These are arrangements that it may be right and proper to review, but I want the Minister and her officials in the Department for Education and Skills to take the seriousness of this issue on board;, to reflect on the problems which may arise; to listen to the universities, and to ensure that their interests are properly taken into account alongside the myriad of other interests that will be affected by this far-reaching legislation, which will of course be handled by another Department with its own agenda.

My anecdote about Canon Claude Jenkins should remind us that this question has a long history. Mandatory retirement ages in the universities were a 20th-century phenomenon; Canon Claude's leaving dinner in the late 1950s was necessary because his appointment to his chair preceded their introduction.

At the beginning of this discussion, I want to make a fundamental point. The introduction of mandatory retirement was, I believe, closely bound up with the professionalisation of university life. In the early 20th century, professionalism and corporatism—a word that is somewhat discredited nowadays—went hand in hand. Professionals were understood, by themselves and by wider society, as having a shared responsibility for the future of their disciplines, and for the institutions in which they worked. They accepted that those wider collective or corporate interests might give rise to constraints on their personal interests. For example, they could be expected to retire at a time not of their choosing, in order to assist the timely renewal of the personnel of their profession.

Mandatory retirement was made possible by the introduction early in the 20th century of pensions for retired academics. In the United States, the first academic pension schemes were a private initiative. The great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who was responsible for this initiative, explained his purpose in these important words. In the absence of a mandatory retirement age,

Thus there is at stake in this debate not only the question of whether a mandatory retirement age and other age-related discriminations are still necessary for the proper management of academic succession, but the more fundamental question of the future of the corporate professional ethos in university life.

Over the past couple of decades, the corporatism of professional life in general—in the universities and elsewhere—has been challenged from many different directions. Thatcherism might be said to have been one such challenge. One other is the spread and intensification of the philosophy of individual human rights. This is the ideology which underlies the European directive whose effects we are considering tonight, which is aimed at protecting the right of individuals not to be discriminated against, inter alia, on the ground of age.

Let me say in passing that I believe that this directive ought to have raised questions of subsidiarity which the Government should have pressed harder in the Council of Ministers. But having made this point, I want to stress that the issue here is not essentially one of European intrusiveness. Legislation to protect the right of

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individuals not to be discriminated against on the ground of age is not a supposedly alien "continental" phenomenon. It originates in our Anglo-Saxon culture of fundamental rights. Germany and France have mandatory retirement policies which, like ours, will have to be modified as a result of this directive.

The true origin of this directive is to be found in the United States, in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act 1986. Similar legislation followed in Canada, and in Australia and New Zealand in the late 1990s. I want to urge the Minister to ensure that the experience of these other English-speaking countries is carefully evaluated as the Government proceed to implement this directive. In 1990, the Canadian Supreme Court found that it was constitutional in Canada to retain mandatory retirement for the university faculty. The arguments there repay closer study.

Above all, the Minister should reflect on the experience of the United States. There, a temporary exemption from the provisions of the 1986 anti-discrimination law was granted to post-secondary institutions so that a mandatory retirement age, raised to 70, was permitted. This exemption was reviewed by Congress in the early 1990s, and the exemption was dropped in 1994.

I have a copy of an important study published in November 2001 by Ashenfelter and Card—I would be happy to give it to the Minister—addressing the question,

Among other findings, this study concluded that there has been a marked increase in the fraction of faculty who continue working into their seventies.

The Minister should look at this study, and others. They will not, of course, tell us precisely how legislation of this kind might impact upon the particular circumstances of British universities. But she might like to reflect on the implications of this sentence in the study I have been quoting:

As it developed in the 20th century, the regime of mandatory retirement ages was associated with the development of salary scales that rewarded older workers to help them prepare for retirement. When there was no mandatory retirement, academic pay was typically a fixed value emolument, or an entitlement to a variable dividend. I do not suppose that the universities or their staff would want to go back to those arrangements, but the fact is that under our current arrangements—developed as a consequence of mandatory retirement—older staff are more expensive and, if the American experience applies, will accordingly have a greater financial disincentive to retire if they have a free choice. This is a general point, applicable to both the UK and the US.

More particularly, in the UK, the academic profession is less well paid and endowed with less generous pension schemes than in the US. The disincentive here to retire will therefore be greater, and the incentives to carry on, in terms of pension access, will be less.

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I want briefly now to draw attention to the possible consequences for the Government, some way into the future, if this legislation and the current structure of economic incentives result in many more academics staying in post for rather longer. In my own time as Minister for Higher Education in the late 1980s I saw at close hand the expensive and painful consequences of trying to put right imbalances in the age structure of university employment. The financial rigours of the early 1980s impacted on universities which had recruited a large cohort of young staff in the early 1960s. Those were men and women who were growing older together and also becoming more and more expensive to employ. The result was a series of early retirement programmes, funded by the state. Those were clumsy in their application and perverse in their effects—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

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