Equality Bill amendment to scrap the default retirement age to be debated next week

An Equality Bill amendment calling for enforced retirement to be scrapped by the end of 2011 is due to be debated in the House of Lords next week, Personnel Today has learned.

Anthony Lester, a human rights lawyer and Liberal Democrat peer, told the magazine his amendment would call for a “sunset clause” to be added to the Bill so that if the government failed to remove the default retirement age (DRA) of 65 by 2011, it would be abolished through the equality legislation.

The amendment is due to be debated during the House of Lords report stage of the Bill on 2 March.

Lester said: “The government has said they would like to get rid of the DRA sometime in 2011. My amendment is designed to make sure they do so by [the end of] 2011.”

Lester was forced to withdraw a previous amendment to the Bill calling for the DRA to be removed immediately, because the Lords ruled they should wait for the government review on its usage, due this summer.

Rachel Krys, director of the Employers Forum on Age, supported Lester’s new amendment, saying she was concerned the government’s review of the DRA “could get lost” post-election, so removal of the regulation should be written into the Bill.

She said: “It would be great to get a decision before the election and the Equality Bill is a great way to do that.”

Lester has also tabled an amendment for debate next week calling for enforced pay auditing for companies with more than 100 staff, rather than the current wording in the legislation which states the government could force companies with 250 or more staff to report their pay audits if enough progress hasn’t been made voluntarily by 2013.

Meanwhile, concerns are growing that the Bill could enter ‘parliamentary wash-up’ once an election is called, meaning all aspects of the legislation would have to be agreed upon or rejected before voters take to the polls.

Cabinet Office guidance on the wash-up process states that in seeking this agreement “there will invariably be sacrifices to be made.”

“Some Bills might be lost completely, others might be progressed quickly but in a much-shortened form,” it says.

Lester warned the wash-up could allow the Conservatives to “hold the Bill to ransom” and turn its passage into a “bargaining process”.

“It’s likely to weaken what’s in the Bill now,” he said, with measures including positive action and mandatory pay audits potentially at risk.

Krys said she was confident the Bill would get onto the statute books before the election but said if it did not she would be concerned it would “just become a trading opportunity and inevitably there will be quite big compromises made”.

The Cabinet Office was not able to comment on the wash-up process until an election had been called.

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