Default retirement age could be ditched in the Equality Bill

Pressure is mounting on the government to use the Equality Bill to ditch the default retirement age (DRA).

Personnel Today has learned that an amendment to the Equality Bill has been tabled in the House of Lords by Anthony Lester, which seeks to remove enforced retirement from the new equality legislation.

The proposal is expected to be debated imminently as the Bill continues to be scrutinised during the House of Lords committee stage.

Lester, a human rights lawyer and Liberal Democrat peer, told Personnel Today his Equality Bill amendment had been “tabled for debate and I shall push” it through. If passed, the Bill would need to go back to the House of Commons for agreement.

The news comes just days after women’s minister Harriet Harman gave the biggest indication yet that the government intends to scrap mandatory retirement, by referring to the cut-off age of 65 as “arbitrary”.

Supporting Lester’s amendment, Andrew Harrop, head of public policy for Age UK, said: “Omitting the discriminatory DRA in the Equality Bill was a huge missed opportunity in a Bill that is designed to outlaw all forms of discrimination.

“As the Equality Bill reaches its final parliamentary stages, this is one of the last chances to scrap this legislation. We hope any amendment will be supported by the Lords, and increase pressure on the government to allow people to carry on working as long as they want to or need to.”

Chris Ball, chief executive of The Age and Employment Network, added that the government should “stop faffing around” with its review of the DRA, brought forward to this year, and make use of the convenient timing of the Equality Bill to fast-track its removal.

He said: “It’s convenient to ditch the DRA with the Equality Bill. It’s the one opportunity the government has got to guarantee this change before the election.”

The government aims to get the Bill onto the statute books before the general election this year so it can be implemented in October 2010.

Rachel Krys, director of the Employers Forum on Age, confirmed there was still enough time to add a “workable” amendment to the Bill scrapping the DRA, without rushing the legislation and causing problems for employers in the long term.

Susie Munro, employment law editor at XpertHR, warned Lester’s amendment would have to seek the agreement of the House of Commons before passing to Royal Assent.

She said: “If the Lords agreed to an amendment, the Bill would have to go back to the House of Commons and could not be passed before agreement between both Houses is reached.

“It would go back and forth between the Houses, and in the event that neither backs down and no agreement is reached, it would be impossible for the government to pass the Equality Bill in this session of parliament, and therefore it wouldn’t be passed before the general election.”

A Government Equalities Office spokesman refused to rule out the possibility that the DRA could be scrapped through the Equality Bill, as the amendment was subject to a parliamentary vote.

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