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House of Lords

Monday, 5th March 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Age Discrimination and the Civil Service

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take steps to end age discrimination in the Civil Service.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Government have taken steps to end unfair discrimination in the Civil Service on the basis of age. The Cabinet Office has issued age diversity guidance to all departments and agencies and monitors implementation each year and is also working with departments and agencies to review their policies in the light of the recommendations of the Performance and Innovation Unit's report, Winning the Generation Game. It is considering a scheme for the flexible deployment of senior civil servants aged over 50 aimed at offering a wide range of career and retirement options. These will include increased opportunities for some civil servants more easily to extend their careers beyond the age of 60. Departments and agencies are also considering the feasibility of change in their retirement policies for staff at more junior level.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer. But does he not think that the ages of 50 and 60 to which he has referred are extremely junior for him to be looking at? Has not the time come for Her Majesty's Government to say that where there is a job that needs to be done

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and there is a person who is ready, anxious, willing, fit and well taught to do it, that person should not be ruled out because of age at any age? Having regard to the excellent advice and guidance which the Government are now giving, can he tell the House whether there is even one government department that he knows of that has started taking advantage of that advice to change the system?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree that people should be judged on the basis of their ability to do the job rather than on the basis of their age. The Government signed up to an anti-age discrimination directive and worked within the Government to try to make that a reality within the Civil Service. As regards whether individual departments have signed up to that, in the junior Civil Service something like 27 per cent of civil servants are now covered by a compulsory retirement age above 60. As I indicated in my initial Answer, as regards the senior Civil Service, we are considering a scheme whereby from 50 plus a career path which does not necessarily end at 60 can be mapped out. Therefore, we are putting our money where our mouth is.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is age discrimination in professions other than the Civil Service, one of them being the Bar? Although there is no fixed retirement age in many parts of the legal profession, the Bar stands accused of age discriminatory practices. Is he aware that it is difficult to get a pupilage even if one is a mature student of about 35? Can the Bar learn a thing or two from the Government's attempts to tackle age discrimination as the Minister has just expressed?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I cannot for one moment claim to speak on behalf of the Bar. As regards the Civil Service, as the Civil Service itself recognises, there is a need for change and steps are in process to make that change. If, and in so far as, other professions need to learn from that, I hope that they do.

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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does the Minister think that it is a sign of increasing age that both questions and answers elongate?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I apologise for the length of my answers: I am trying to deal as fully as possible with all the questions raised.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that while age discrimination extends to many other areas apart from the Civil Service, there is one example of progressive views on age discrimination; that is, in your Lordships' House?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not sure whether there is age discrimination upwards or downwards but as one looks around your Lordships' House one sees everywhere the benefit of great experience.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I was glad to hear that the Government have set up the advisory service to help to find alternative employment for civil servants over the age of 50 or 60. Can the Minster indicate the extent to which it has been able to place those who have applied for assistance?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not sure to what the noble Lord refers when he mentions the advisory service. We are considering a scheme whereby from the age of 50 onwards in the senior Civil Service a career path is mapped out which does not necessarily end at 60.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, as regards discrimination in the Home Office, when I was a young detective inspector I sported a full beard when I was a member of the drugs squad. I applied for a job at the Home Office as a superintendent and I was required to shave it off. Will the Minister assure me that "beardism" does not still exist in the Home Office?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Question is about age discrimination rather than facial hair discrimination. I see that the noble Lord still sports a last vestige of facial hair.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, while being in complete agreement with the noble and learned Lord's answers, I ask him how he will deal with the many members of the clan Buggins.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not sure what the question means. The approach to age discrimination is based on the proposition put forward by my noble friend Lord Janner: that people able to do a job should not be ruled out because of age.

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German Beef Imports

2.42 p.m.

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether German beef imported as carcasses may lawfully be described as British produce after it has been processed into minced beef, pies, beefburgers or other prepared foods.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I shall try to be brief! No. Minced beef may be lawfully described as "British" only if it has been slaughtered in the United Kingdom. More general rules apply to beef products like pies. These prohibit food labelling likely to mislead consumers about a food's true nature, substance or quality.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that most helpful reply. Does that rule apply also to sides of Danish bacon cut into rashers in this country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I should have preferred to have some notice of that very good question. In my Answer I referred to beef products. With regard to meat such as lamb and pork or bacon, the situation is different. There is no requirement to give the details to which I referred in relation to beef. The Government want to see an extension to other meats of the beef labelling regime. The chairman of the Food Standards Agency has communicated with the commissioner within the EU who is concerned with these matters to urge that that is done. I agree with the implication of the noble Lord's question. We need implementation as fully as possible. The rules should not relate only to beef products.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, should carcasses be asked which cricket team they support?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I imagine that they would all support Warwickshire.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question which is in the minds of many people. During the past week or so we have heard that five carcasses containing spinal materials have been imported from Germany. Can the Minister explain why the Germans are allowed to refuse to import British beef, which is now clean and healthy, whereas we continue to import German beef?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I think that it is France, not Germany, which has refused to import British beef. In relation to France, we have complained to the European Union and action is being taken against the French Government.

We have taken vigorous action as regards the SRM contamination found on consignments of beef imported from Germany since New Year's Day. It is the responsibility of the authorities in Germany and the Netherlands to ensure that SRM is properly

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removed. We have taken up matters with the European Commission and the German national authorities. The Meat Hygiene Service was instructed to check all consignments of German carcass beef arriving at licensed British meat plants. We have asked local authorities to step up their own inspection duties.

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