Clause 190

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 2 Gorffennaf 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn


Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 190, page 135, line 23, at end insert—

‘(5) An order under subsection (1) may only be made if the Minister can demonstrate that persons of a specified age are being discriminated against for no legitimate reason.’.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr. Benton.

This is my first opportunity to speak in Committee on this particular issue, and I start by making it clear that the intention behind the amendment has changed since it was tabled. When my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean and I first tabled amendment 30, it was intended to be the first in a series of substantive amendments to explore what then looked like a rather knotty and thorny problem posed by clause 190, whereby the Government seemed potentially to make many hitherto legitimate business models illegal, but say, “We’ll come back later and work out which ones are okay in due course.” There was a great deal of concern—about which I know that the Minister is aware because she commented on it in Committee—in the House and outside that that was not the right way to proceed. People were very nervous about the potential chilling and destabilising effect on some hitherto entirely legitimate businesses.

However, since we tabled the first amendment—we are preparing to table the rest of our slew of substantive amendments, helped by organisations such as Saga—two important things have happened. First, the Minister has already put some comments on the record in Committee, in an earlier debate on age discrimination. She was kind  and clear enough to say to the Committee and the world outside that the Government did not intend to make that part of the Bill operative and put it into law unless and until they had completed a proper consultation process, and that they had worked out what the resulting secondary legislation might be. She said that it would all be clear in advance and that everyone whose businesses are potentially at risk would have a chance to make a case and explain why they thought that their particular versions of age differentiation were legitimate and should be allowed to continue without fear or favour from the law. That was tremendously reassuring.

The second reassuring thing was that, hard on the heels of the Minister’s comment, the Government published—the Minister also made this clear to the Committee—the consultation document. I have a copy here. In the introduction, it has the happy face of the other Minister on the Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office, smiling out from the start of the ministerial foreword. That further reassures not just Members of my own party, but hopefully several people outside, that the Government are very serious, not only in their commitment on the timing—they restate that commitment in the document—but in the questions that they are asking. They are clearly trying to ensure that they give due weight to hitherto legitimate sources of business.

As a result, instead of being the first of a series of substantive amendments, we have decided to make amendment 30 a solitary probing amendment. Quite a lot of the questions and issues that we wanted to raise have already been, if not answered, asked in the Government’s consultation document. Therefore, it is appropriate that we have a chance to put on record our support and approval for much of the Government’s approach in the consultation.

The Minister, I am sure, would not expect us to give a blank cheque to the Government on the proposals that they make when they have the results of the consultation. However, the way that the matter has been phrased so far, the approach that has been taken and the assumptions that have been made are, in many cases, reassuring to many people outside. As I said, we will have to wait and see what the final version is and how the Government respond to the submissions that they receive during the consultation, but that is the reason for the change of intention behind amendment 30.

I would like briefly to pick out several matters from the Government’s consultation, which I think go to the heart of the points that we were seeking to raise as part of the amendment. Most reassuring, I think, is the first part of the executive summary on page 5, where the Government say:

“Age is a valid criterion in the provision of many services and interfering unnecessarily would not be in the general public interest.”

It will be tremendously reassuring to many businesses that differentiate on the basis of age that the Government accept that in theory. I appreciate that there may be those that do not qualify, but it is a pretty good starting place. Speaking for my party, the second half of that sentence, which annunciates a clear conservative—with a small “c”—principle that interfering unnecessarily would not be in the general public interest is particularly  good. It implies that businesses that already have well-established business models and are well-used by many members of the public should have little or nothing to fear—we hope.

There are several examples of, in the phrase that my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean used, good age discrimination—I shall call it age differentiation—as opposed to genuinely bad age discrimination. The Government devoted an entire chapter in the consultation document to health and social care, on which they had commissioned a special report. I congratulate them on getting a heavyweight couple of people to lead the report, one of whom is Sir Ian Carruthers, the leader of the South West strategic health authority, which covers my the constituency of Weston-super-Mare. He is an extremely able individual of high calibre, so the Government clearly put in place high-class leadership. We await the results of the report.

The consultation began on Monday and is due to finish during September. I think that Sir Ian’s team is due to report in October, so perhaps the Solicitor-General can confirm the details of the Government’s expected timetable thereafter because clearly they will need time to examine and digest the recommendations and evidence that are submitted. Given the Bill’s passage through the House, Conservative Members would be grateful if the hon. and learned Lady considered whether it would be possible to include the provisions that might otherwise be expressed in secondary legislation in a separate schedule. I am conscious that the Government have already done that for other issues, such as in part 6 of schedule 3 relating to sex discrimination.

If time allowed, and it were possible to put the Government’s analysis of the consultation into a similar schedule, that would reassure many people outside because they would know that they would be less likely to be hit with other stuff coming in later under secondary legislation. Will the hon. and learned Lady let us know whether the Government’s envisaged timetable would allow that to be done? I appreciate that time might be tight and that it would depend on decisions made by the usual channels about when the Bill will come back in the autumn.

I have already mentioned health and social care, but other areas will also be affected. Although obviously related, financial services and insurance are different and will be especially affected by the provision. Many organisations are involved in insurance for people of different age groups, the classic example being car and travel insurance. It is clear that age is an important factor in assessing risk. Both the Government and others have already said that the risk incurred by drivers is pretty high for those who are under 24. It drops dramatically after that and, after the ages of 65 or 70, starts to do two different things. The risk per mile travelled might start to rise, as age inevitably starts to take its toll, and the number of miles travelled frequently drops so the aggregate level of risk that has to be reflected in the premium price might have unexpected results. Not all insurers are comfortable with that, and they do not necessarily understand all the details when, clearly, accurate pricing is crucial.

It is vital that such matters are understood and that the Government accept that it is possible for risk to vary, as I have described. The Minister is nodding and, to be fair, the Government mentioned that in the consultation document, which is welcome. Equally, in  other financial services, such as savings products, it is legitimate for different types of financial advice to be given to savers depending on their time of life. The type of financial instrument that a person might legitimately be sold or offered, and which may be in the person’s best interests, would be different if that person was approaching retirement age, for example, compared with someone at the start of their working career.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

To embellish my hon. Friend’s point, would it not be a dereliction of duty by a financial adviser if he or she were not to differentiate the advice according to the age and circumstances of the client?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 2:30, 2 Gorffennaf 2009

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and there are a number of factors that a reputable and professional financial adviser would take into account.

Other sectors are heavily affected. I have already mentioned travel insurance but holiday provision as a whole is important. The two examples most often cited are Club 18-30 and Saga, both of which the Government expressly mentioned in the consultation document. Their starting point for the consultation—the “ingoing” assumption—was that those business models are entirely legitimate and sensible and should be allowed to continue in future.

Interestingly, the Government are less happy with organisations that have a blanket ban on, for example, people under 21. I would be interested to see if I have divined the underlying purpose of the Government’s thinking and would like the Minister to address that. The Government seem to be saying that they are minded to accept things that are of positive benefit to a minority—a particular band of the age range—such as cheaper discounts on food for people over 60, and I am trying to divine a common thread here, but something that is in some way derogatory or negative about a minority group, such as “We don’t like people under 21”, is an example with which the Government are generally much less happy. I would be interested to see whether that is the underlying thread and logic of the Government’s thinking, or whether they are trying to introduce a different kind of principle. It would be helpful to understand that.

I have one additional question, which is to do with enforcement. The range of different areas that have to be covered in the consultation document, which the Government will have to enact in a schedule or secondary legislation, means that the enforcement of the duties might have to take a different form. I expect the Government to say that their approach to enforcement and to preventing age discrimination, once they have defined what is and is not allowable, in the health service is likely to be different from their expectations of financial services firms, which will be different again from their expectations of insurance firms—financial services firms and insurance firms are regulated, but not public sector.

The way in which the Government expect to regulate the hospitality and catering or holiday trade will again be different. I would be interested to know whether the Government envisage this being done, for example, through the tribunal system, which we have already addressed when considering other aspects of the Bill—I suspect that that will not be satisfactory for the matters  that I have just described—or whether some of it will be done via the existing regulators. I am not sure that that is a sensible approach, but it would be interesting to understand what the Government are planning, and how they expect to deal with the services provided entirely or primarily through the public sector, such as health and social care.

With those points, I hope that the Minister will accept the different intention behind amendment 30 and the fact that we are trying only to probe the Government’s intentions, which have already been outlined in the consultation document. I hope that she will also accept that we are broadly supportive of much of the approach in that document. Clearly, we will have to wait and see what the results of it are, and perhaps the Minister can answer the questions that I have raised.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Ceidwadwyr, Henley

I want to pick up on a point that stems from a remark that my hon. Friend made about interfering unnecessarily. I want to probe where the boundaries lie and try to get a feel for the extent to which the Government are prepared to consider what one might call an additional granularity. I suppose it becomes apparent in the financial services sector, particularly in the insurance part.

I am conscious of the discussion that we had in the fourth sitting of the Committee, particularly the discussion that the Minister and I had, when we looked at the current business model for the insurance industry, which tends to have broad bands. She made the valid point that if we had a band between 65 and 75, the risk lay at the 75 end rather than at 65 plus one day. I would like to get a feel for how “interfering”—if I may use that word; I do not mean it pejoratively—the Government are prepared to be as a result of that, and whether they would look for a different risk model that was more finely tuned.

I know that that prejudges the consultation to a certain extent, but the Government have already prejudged some aspects of it. Page 11 of the consultation report gives an indication of the changes that might come out of such a measure, one of which is that it will be easier to find travel and car insurance. There is be much to be welcomed in that, but there is also a question about whether travel and car insurance will be easier to find at a better and more differentiated cost. In that context, it would be nice to know where the Government see the boundaries—and the boundaries of their actions—starting and stopping.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

I suppose that, in a sense, we all have an age, and therefore any of us could potentially benefit from relief from discrimination under the clause. It is probably appropriate for me formally to declare my interest as a pensioner before we start. I welcome what the Government have done so far, as well as the endorsement of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare. We are edging towards something that looks like a sensible conclusion and, not for the first time, I think that the consultation document is good and workmanlike. It exposes the issues and provides a chance to take us further forward.

Beyond that, two things are welcome. First—a subject touched on by my hon. Friend—is that there is a clear wish to avoid issues of age differentiation that are seen  as beneficial to the service user. That seems entirely sensible and to encapsulate it, we could call it the Saga Holidays problem. That is now on the way to being sorted, although I might come back to it in a moment.

Within the rubric of the Bill, or at least in the practice of Ministers when looking for exemptions after the consultation process, perhaps we should say that anything that is of positive benefit to the service user is all right. The concerns are about avoiding actions that are discriminatory or derogatory to anyone else who is not able to avail themselves of something, or is excluded from the service. A paradox of the situation is that it has tended to focus on the non-availability of Saga Holidays to the over 50s, rather than the fact that there might be other services that are more appropriate for other people.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Ceidwadwyr, Henley

In the spirit of making an open statement, my hon. Friend pointed towards me when referring to the under 50s. I must tell him that regrettably I am eligible for a Saga holiday.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

We must not turn this into a commercial and we shall not do so. I will not ask the Committee collectively to declare eligibility, as that could even amount to harassment. Let us say that if something helps people and widens the market or the range of choice, that is fine.

Speaking as an older person for the purposes of the argument, there will be occasions on which people hear something that may be a little disturbing, such as when someone at the age of 65 has to ring up their insurer and say, “I’m going to Tuscany next week. Am I still covered or is there a loading?” I have had no difficulty with that yet, but I realise that it could become a problem. The consultation paper touches on some of those issues.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

To encourage my hon. Friend, if he finds that his existing insurer ramps up the price to what he suspects is too much, research shows that there are other providers out there. The range is narrower, but in most cases people can find themselves insurance in most sectors, although not all, if they look further and provided they refer to other providers in due course.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

I will use that opportunity to alter the order of my remarks. A few years ago, the Government introduced a rather good concept, which, like some of their other initiatives, seems to have petered out. It is the concept of no wrong door, which is usually considered in the context of public service. It says, “If we are not the people to deal with the issue, we know someone who is.”

In the same way, one of the areas that is touched on in the consultation paper that is quite important is where individuals find that their particular insurer is getting pricey, maybe just because they do not have particular experience of the market for older people, for instance. The insurer might have some obligation—perhaps built in through the great financial regulation system—to say, “We are no longer economic in this area, but you ought to go and see the following six people.” A fit, older person who wishes to travel does not want to have a row about the particular underwriter. They want the insurance, and they want to get it reasonably simply, without a great deal of hassle.

We are genuinely feeling in the right direction on this. However, I sense a tension and I do not wish to contribute on the next amendment. I feel that there is a genuine concern here, because I have obviously read what I take to be the import of the next amendment. Among those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, there is a wish not to sit back and let the whole thing take a huge amount of time. The benefit of a proper consultation, whether or not the Solicitor-General can bring it to the House before we conclude the consideration of the Bill, or perhaps even after its consideration by another place, I will not debate now, but we need to take our time.

There is one specific that the Minister needs to do concomitantly now, which is to make it clear that the consultation is happening. I have reason to think that Saga will be aware of it. Having reread its earlier briefing, one realises, as it said, “If something is not done, or we do not get clear assurances, we will be illegal and be in potential difficulties.” I am using shorthand here, but it is important that the word go out that there is reinsurance.

People do not have to rewrite their, in my view, reasonable business models now. They must first, of course, contribute to the consultation exercise. They will then have a perfectly reasonable time to restructure their activities. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office, is nodding. The point is understood: if we are to do this properly, which clearly we are setting out to do, we need to do it in good faith and get it right.

Moving on, I want to make two points, which, in a way, are designed to inform my view of the consultation exercise. The first is something I touched on in earlier exchanges with the Solicitor-General. If one is looking at the negative side of discrimination, one should keep that to the minimum by trying wherever possible—I do not mean in an artificial way—to unbundle and segment the particular sets of business decision being taken.

The case that I was most struck by in the consultation document was that of vehicle rentals. It is well-known that young people have a difficult insurance experience. The question is, should the cost be tailored according to the age at which they take hire of a vehicle? Should it be for service providers to seek objectively to justify age-based pricing or to provide a specific exemption? That is the sort of issue that was set out in the document.

My view is that it is a lot easier to deal with those issues if the particular services are broken down—the car rental and the insurance accompanying a car rental. It may be that people will want to bundle those off. However, if we are concerned to deal with the discrimination, we should look at whether, for example, it is possible to say, “Renting a car has the same kinds of cost per kilometre whether someone is 21, 71 or 51, and that should be a flat rate, although of course we take into account your insurance and driving experience, which might affect the total net you have to pay.” That may sound like a slightly logic-chopping argument in terms of how we get there, but it is designed to expose the fact that there could be covert discrimination, which may or may not be justified in getting to the process.

We come to the final point, and I would value the Solicitor-General’s comment on the merits. I continue to have an interest in people of the younger generation, too. Let us consider rentals for persons under the age of 21. Having been a Minister with responsibility for  students, I know that occasionally young people are not the best of tenants and that things happen. I can understand why landlords might need to be fairly cautious in their lettings. If that is objectively justified in respect of a particular age group, there is justification for reflecting it in the law.

It is also possible that people will go from the significant age signature to a proxy, such as students. They are not a protected characteristic in the context that we are discussing. “No students here” or “I don’t let to students” might be an undesirable statement. I personally think that it is, but it might be an understandable variant, although it might amount to indirect discrimination in which case it would not be covered. The Solicitor-General will remind us about that.

If age-related discrimination is helpful to the individual services, we should as far as possible accommodate it. In fairness, the Government are trying to do that. If the age signature can be used as a vehicle for covert discrimination to reduce the choices for an individual, we need to be cautious about it. One of the ways to deal with that is maximum transparency and the pricing structure, so that people know what is going on, as well as the wider issue of what can be caught under other discrimination law if it is taken on the specific age signature.

Given that it would have been great to have got the consultation document out earlier and into the debate before Second Reading, some of the hares have started. That is understandable because people have to be responsible in drawing up their business models and looking at the potential downside of the Bill. It is important that Ministers should now explain to people what is going on and invite them to take an active part in the consultation process. We should not allow ourselves to be unduly rushed or railroaded by disinformation about what will be a constructive process.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office 2:45, 2 Gorffennaf 2009

On the face of it, the amendment would restrict the circumstances in which a Minister should allow specific exemptions from the ban on age discrimination under the Bill. I am sure that that is not at all what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare intended because we want to be free to make distinctions on the basis of age and to allow good age discrimination—if I can put it that way. The purpose of the amendment has almost moved away from the amendment itself, but let me reassure him about matters that remain his concern. Perhaps in final reference to the wording of the amendment, we would not want to legislate for problems that do not exist. That is not how we propose to use the power.

I reiterate that we shall exercise the power so that exemptions from age discrimination are in place from the moment that the ban is in place, and the things that are good can carry on happening without interruption. We therefore need to get all the provisions right and frame the exemptions as precisely as we can. That is why we are consulting and providing, in particular, service providers with details of the emerging policy. They can then have the opportunity to consider their own business and help us to get the impact correct and frame the exemptions correctly.

About 750 representations with evidence of harmful age discrimination were presented to us in the original representation, so we had to move on the issue. We hope that on the one hand those representations coming largely from age lobbies—the representors—will be satisfied with the way in which we have started the consultation and how we have set out how we see it. We hope, too, that business will also feel that we have approached it in a satisfactory way.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Daventry that because the consultation document did not come out early, as it could have done, as the policy change was announced, it has probably already caused some false hares to start running. That is very difficult and a shame. I hope we can all work now to correct those false hares from being incorrect false hares—mixing my metaphors here. If we can stop the idea that political correctness gone mad is somehow going to stamp out the entire insurance industry, it would be a good thing.

Some specifics were raised. I will come to the timetable in a minute, in the perhaps forlorn hope that it might help with the next amendment. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare asked how the age discrimination provisions would be enforced. Since it is about goods, facilities and services, it would be through the county court, not the tribunal system. That was one specific question that he raised. He talked about the timetable and I will come to that in a minute.

The hon. Member for Henley talked about age bands and the width, as it were. On pages 135 to 137 of the consultation document we specifically ask for representations about age bands. We do not at this stage see great advantage in prohibiting them for simple things such as travel insurance, but we need to see what comes out of the consultation. In different ways, Conservative Members have made the same point, which is that we want to ensure that, while there is no unjustified age discrimination, we do not make the provisions so complex that insurance companies leave the sector altogether. We do not think that that is likely to follow. We are also interested in the proposal, which I think features in the consultation document and has come from the industry itself, that where a provider might not economically be able to cover a particular risk, it would seek to signpost on to someone who can, so that we have the advantage of choice being available and adequate coverage as well.

The hon. Member for Daventry gave examples—the unbundling one and the one about young renters. He makes the salient point that we have to be careful and go into the whole issue in as detailed a way as we can, so that we do not allow discrimination in any disguised way, and that is what we will seek to do. The hon. Gentleman put his finger on the reason why we should not rush, because, unlike discrimination under the other strands, sometimes discrimination for age is good and sometimes it is bad. It is potentially a vast area and it is a new area, so we need to take our time to ensure that we get it right.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare referred to the national health service inquiry, run by Sir Ian Carruthers. It has started and will report in October. The Government will then have to respond. Prior to that, in actual chronology, the age consultation will finish in September. In October is the Department of Health review, followed by the Government response. In 2010 is consultation on  the draft secondary legislation, which will be laid before Parliament in 2011, and in 2012 the ban will be in force in respect of financial and other services. However, for health and social care, we cannot really pre-empt the Department of Health review, because part of the purpose of doing a pilot in one authority—how, at what expense, at what rate and where age discrimination exists—is to give us an idea of how long it will take to drive age discrimination out of the health service as a whole. Without getting the results of that review, it is hard to estimate when we can do things across the health service.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

The Solicitor-General has just used an interesting phrase, which I think makes the point that I am going to make. She was talking about discrimination being driven out of the health service. I did not want to interrupt her on account of the timetable, and I accept her explanation of why it will take some time. However, it is worth remarking to the Committee that whereas, as she has rightly said, age discrimination is good in certain contexts and bad in others, in my dealings with Age Concern and Help the Aged and with the interests of older people, it would be seen almost universally as a negative in the health service. In that area, although the issues are complex and sometimes expensive, it is very important that public policy moves on.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I agree that it is very important that policy moves on. Just because I cannot give a definite date by which we can say, “It’s gone” does not mean that we are not starting now. Obviously the inquiry in the south-west is intended to be painstaking and careful and is designed to look at where the problems are, with a view to being able to drive them out more systematically. Even though the date for the ban coming into force is 2012, that does not mean that we are not starting. Public authorities are concerned to drive age discrimination right out from now. We hope that in business, too, the consultation process can throw light where light needs to be thrown. It may be that there is discrimination going on now that no one intends and that has no real purpose. We would hope that, even before the legislation comes into force, merely throwing light on its presence might help to persuade business to drive it out, again on the ethical model of how consumerism works these days, rather as I cited when we were talking about gender pay—they would want to look better for discriminating purchasers.

The discussion was interesting. I hope that I have been able to give the hon. Gentleman the answer to his new questions, which were slightly different from the ones posited in the amendment. If I have not, I am sure that he will tell me.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I am happy to say that the Minister has, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

I beg to move amendment 206, in clause 190, page 135, line 23, at end add—

‘(5) All orders under this section shall be made within six months of Royal Assent.’.

The purpose of this amendment would be to limit the time available to Ministers of the Crown to make orders detailing the exemptions to the general principle of non-discrimination on the basis of age in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

We have touched on some of the issues that I am about to raise. The problem is that although I can see exactly what the Government are trying to do, that does not necessarily assuage the fears of older people that, should the strong powers be unlimited in terms of time, if the amendment does not pass then it is possible that some of the good things intended in the Bill will never come to pass. Governments of a different hue might put off the implementation of this brave and welcome step by the Government to end health discrimination in terms of age.

The fear is that any Minister at a future date could come to Parliament and ask for an exemption to the general and very good rule on non-discrimination on the basis of age. The problem with that is that, whatever the current hue, the Opposition are unlikely to be able to challenge the Government successfully, meaning that an order would pass. Clarity on the timing is not yet there, although the Government have gone a long way with their consultation paper in trying to reassure older people. I seem to be representing the fears of older people—Age Concern supplied the briefing and thinking behind this measure—as opposed to the business community and the arguments that we heard regarding the first amendment to the clause. Older people are fearful about the sort of discrimination that they have suffered from—as the Solicitor-General said, there have been 750 representations from that one sector. They are right to be concerned and they fear that without a commencement date, that discrimination will be brought back in through the back door, and this might all have been for naught.

I hope that the Solicitor-General will clarify how the provision could be used for some of the issues that might warrant exemption, as it is hard to think of a legitimate aim other than that of saving money—that is the big elephant in the room, particularly regarding health. There are already powers in the Bill that allow justifications and exemptions to the general provision of non-discrimination on the grounds of age. Clause 13(2) says that direct age discrimination could be justified if it is

“a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

I should have thought that that covered many of those cases that, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said, are good age discrimination rather than bad. Clause 153 allows for more favourable treatment relating to age that increases participation, where that more favourable treatment is proportionate—again, that is good age discrimination.

It is obvious why we tabled the amendment. The first use of such a power would have to take place within a reasonable period of time from the commencement of the Bill, and we thought that six months was reasonable. In effect, that would be a commencement date.

How can the Solicitor-General reassure older people about ending discrimination? People can come to Parliament and lobby me—and hon. Members from all sides, I am sure—whether that is about insurance or health provision. I hope to be able to reassure older people that their fears are unwarranted and I look forward to the Solicitor-General’s response.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office 3:00, 2 Gorffennaf 2009

With great respect to the hon. Lady, we will not be relying on her to reassure people at all. We regularly meet Age Concern and the age lobby. I think that they are on our stakeholder body for this matter and have been closely involved. I have met them at least twice during my involvement with the Bill.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

I know how closely the Government have been working with all the older groups. They have listened carefully to those groups and have taken the brave and bold step of bringing age into the anti-discrimination law. Nevertheless, I would be remiss if I did not raise the sort of concerns that remain outstanding among that body.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I am not being in the slightest bit critical. The hon. Lady was saying that she would reassure those people, and I wanted to make the point that they are in pretty permanent communication with us already, and we will seek to reassure them. She makes the all-conquering point that what she calls a “brave and bold step” has been taken. There is the political will to stamp out age discrimination, but we must not do haste at the cost of accuracy. It would not suit Age Concern either if we did that. Therefore, I have set out the timetable.

The hon. Lady’s timetable is, frankly, unrealistic, and I invite her to consider that since we have made this step and declared our political will to ensure that the measure is passed, age bodies can be reassured. If it was said that we could only ever regulate once within six months of Royal Assent—we may need to amend things later anyway—that would be a foolish amendment for me to accept. She will have to be satisfied—the age bodies probably are—with our clear declaration that we will make this happen as quickly as we can.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

I thank the Minister. The intention and political will are there, but we fear that the same political will may not always be driving the measure. That is what lies behind my amendment.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare made it clear that we support the principle of eliminating age discrimination. We welcome the approach that the Government have taken in the consultation document. The timetable that the Minister has laid out is sensible. The important thing is that she has made it clear that the commencement of the outlawing of the discrimination is tied with the exemption, so that both of those come into force at the same time. That is reassuring, not only to businesses but to those who will benefit from those exceptions. I see nothing that would stop any other Government from following a similar programme.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

It is heartening if a member of the Conservative party is saying that there will be no resiling from anything, and that they will support the measure regardless of whether there is a change of Government. Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Yes. The Minister’s timetable is sensible: it allows proper consultation. The danger with the hon. Lady’s amendment is that it is rather tied and does not  allow for that proper consultation to take place. The timetable outlined is a workable, sensible one, and will give us a proper chance—both outside this place and within it—to consult and debate the detail, which is eminently achievable.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

My anxiety was that such a proposal might never come to fruition, but both sides of the House have reassured me about that. I am therefore happy to take the Minister’s reassurance, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 190 ordered to stand part of the Bill.