My Lords, no one in the Civil Service is compelled to retire on age grounds before the age of 65. For the senior Civil Service the retirement age is 65. That is in line with the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations default retirement age. Departments set the retirement age for their staff below the senior Civil Service, but the Cabinet Office encourages them to adopt a no-retirement policy or to have plans to do so.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer, which is fine as far as it goes. However, there seems to be a laissez-faire attitude as regards government departments. Would it not be better for the Government to give a lead to all departments, and by inference to staff in this House as well, that there should be no retirement age for people in these positions? Why leave it to the whim of each department?
My Lords, we have sought to decentralise decision-taking in the Civil Service as its tasks vary enormously and the departments are best able to judge their own requirements. However, my noble friend is in danger of underestimating the progress made. There is no compulsory retirement age for more than half the civil servants below the senior civil servant grade.
My Lords, in view of the Government's sensible policy that there should be a regular flow between the public and private sectors and the fact that retired senior civil servants frequently find remunerative employment in senior corporate positions, is there not a case for making even more effort to retain such expertise regardless of age?
My Lords, the noble Lord has a point, and these issues are still very much under consideration. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will review all these issues in 2011 and the whole of the Civil Service will come within the framework at that stage. As he will recognise, however, it is important for the authorities to be able to retain control over employment policy for those in senior Civil Service positions. But of course I recognise the validity of his point that some senior civil servants—not all but some—go on to posts elsewhere.
My Lords, is it not clear that medical progress has been expanding at a very great rate and that, over the next 10 years, it is likely that very large numbers of people will be well into their 90s and even older than that? As there will be such a big expansion in the number of people in this position, should the Government not be thinking about dealing with these aspects accordingly?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right: those are the trends, and the Government are thinking very much along those lines. He will recognise the progress already being made, and we expect that progress to continue. As I indicated, 2011 is a significant date. It is when the department will look at the whole question of regulations on retirement age. We are moving in line with the trend that my noble friend rightly identified.
My Lords, did the Minister see the article in Monday's Guardian which suggested that despite the Government's proposals to introduce a single equality Bill that covers the existing nine areas of discrimination, age discrimination was still not being taken as seriously as the other issues? Would he like to take this opportunity to deny that and to confirm what I think he has already indicated—that as all of us are living a lot longer, it is in all our interests, when we are healthy and so forth, for employers to keep our skills and expertise in practice for as long as both sides think it makes sense?
My Lords, I did have the benefit of seeing that article, which made a powerful case that age discrimination was the last area in which legislation did not obtain to control its impact. This House has a great interest in these issues, and I am pleased to reflect the obvious fact that the Government intend to introduce legislation to examine these issues in the near future. Work is being done on it. I have not the slightest doubt at all that this House will be a powerful voice for radical change in this area in recognition of this growing trend.
My Lords, in considering these issues the Liberal Party is showing the same farsightedness that we expect from it. If the rest of us are in the first decade of the 21st century, it may be that it is still in the last decade of the 20th.
My Lords, I indicated that at least half the people employed in the Civil Service are not governed by a compulsory retirement age. We are gradually moving towards that degree of freedom of choice for older civil servants coming up to retirement age and that process is bound to continue. As I indicated, there is a significant date in 2011 when the Government will take a definitive stance on this question of retirement age.