Age Level of Employment Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th May 1973.

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3.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it illegal for employers to refuse employment, or for employment agencies to refuse to entertain an application for employment, on the sole ground that the person concerned is aged 45 years or over On a past occasion when a similar Bill was brought before the House, it received a sympathetic response for its proposals but the Government Departments concerned and what are described as the "usual channels" failed to act in the matter.

In the rapidly changing world of today, when mergers, takeovers and the development of modern technologies increasingly make it necessary for people to prepare themselves for three or four changes in the main direction of their job or career, a Bill of this kind becomes an essential part of legislation. The Bill is designed for three or four main purposes. Its main intention is to prevent employers and employment agencies from refusing to employ applicants solely on ground of age, and specifically persons aged 45 and over.

It does not require a number of charts or graphs and a long series of learned articles in top journals to find out that the older redundant workers find it harder to get jobs than anyone else. The experiences of the last decade have also shown that redundancy and unemployment does not affect only the industrial workers of Britain—badly though many of our major industries have been hit over the last eight to 10 years. Indeed, it was the wholesale closing of pits in my constituency and throughout the Northumberland coalfield which first prompted me to introduce a Bill of this kind into the House.

The agony of a sudden break with normal employment is best expressed by the words of one person so affected, reflecting the experience of thousands. He said to me: When they told me —that he was redundant— I didn't do anything. I mean I didn't shout or lose my temper. No. Do you know all I could think was 'What on earth do I tell my wife?'". When one adds to that the endless days spent in seeking alternative employment, to be repeatedly told, "You are too old at 50", or, "You are too old at 45", many people wonder when it is all going to end. How are we as a society facing the problem?

One letter sent to me when I raised this matter on a past occasion contained this comment from a redundant miner who is a constituent of mine: Ours is a sick society and the discarding of able men merely because they are 50 is a distressing symptom of this sickness. Of course the problem has widened. Redundant miners, shipyard workers and other industrial workers are joined by job-hunting executives, managerial and supervisory staffs, employees of nationalised industries, civil servants—indeed, from every sector of our economy.

The Bill would have value in a number of ways. This is not a plea for the over 45s—not a cry from the heart for the middle-aged. It is a vital necessity in the world of today, for from a Bill of this kind will come the understanding that it is not only the age group mentioned who suffer but the nation as well. We are failing to use a valuable part of our manpower assets.

We are lagging behind many other nations in the facilities and measures available for retraining and re-equipping redundant people for new skills and new tasks. Germany, France and Sweden, in particular, have systems of entitlement to retraining or further training, and in the case of Sweden the training facilities offered are carefully co-ordinated to meet the changing needs of the economy and to enable manpower to keep up to date with new developments in all sectors. As far back as 1967, the United States introduced legislation of the kind envisaged in the Bill. President Lyndon Johnson said of it in his Message to Congress that year: In our nation there are thousands of people who possess skills which the country badly needs Hundreds of thousands not yet old. not yet voluntarily retired, find themselves jobless because of arbitrary age discrimination. That is the nature of the problem we should be seeking to solve in this country. In contrast with the statement by President Johnson, it was with some surprise that we read in The Times a few days ago an advertisement stating that the European Parliament was accepting applications for administrative appointments from persons of 35 or under.

My Bill seeks to end age discrimination at 45. In the United States, it is 40. In the EEC, it appears to be 35. The EEC attitude may make it necessary for us to lower our sights in this Bill and in future legislation.

So difficult is it to obtain employment because of age discrimination that many instances have been quoted to me of people being given unemployment notes for periods of three months because their chances of getting employment were nil in areas such as Glasgow, Wales and the North-East. I consider, as I am sure the House will, that this Bill is urgent, necessary and long overdue. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Milne, Mr. Frank McElhone, Mr. E. Fernyhough, Mr. Edwin Wainwright, Mr. Adam Hunter, Mr. David Watkins, Mr. Robert Edwards and Mr. Hugh D. Brown.