Age or fixed terms – can the House of Lords learn from charities?
Whilst often a source of contention, debates on the number of Peers in the House of Lords should not be settled on the basis of age.
In this blog, our Chief Executive Carole Easton explains that proposals to streamline the House of Lords would be ageism in action, and the voluntary sector could hold the answer to more efficient reform.
I read yesterday that Jerome Mayhew MP has developed the House of Lords (Retirement Age) Bill in a bid to introduce changes to the upper house in Westminster. This would oblige all those who are aged 75 or over to retire. It would, in one stroke, reduce the number from 813 to 496. This is in line with what's being proposed for senior judiciary in England.
Since 2011 it hasn't been legal for employers to have a compulsory retirement age and employers must give a good reason as to why someone might be asked to retire, including their mental and physical capacity to conduct their jobs. So, employers must stop and think and have some appraisal process in place that enables them to make decisions about their employees.
But in a place where good practice should be a model for us all, it seems to me that this Bill is suggesting a simplistic and discriminatory process. That this even can be suggested is a result of pure ageism - making a decision on the basis of an arbitrary number that does nothing to reflect the diversity of capacity and competence of people aged 75 or over.
It also implies everyone over 75 is no longer of value and has nothing to contribute to the important work of the House of the Lords.It devalues experience and expertise and assumes a homogeneity of everyone over the age of 75. Bluntly, it confirms the stereotype that older people have nothing more to offer and become merely a burden on others.
If Mr Mayhew MP has his way, the diversity in the House of Lords will be significantly reduced. If he has his way, others will consider it acceptable to discriminate on the grounds of age.
I wonder if Jerome Mayhew MP would say the same of the 24 MPs who are over 70, some of whom are over 75? Would he say the same of previous leaders such as Winston Churchill or current leaders such as Joe Biden?
If there's an argument to reduce the size of the House of Lords, then maybe there is much to be learned from the voluntary sector. Trustees of charities are recommended within the Charity Commission Governance Code to be appointed for an agreed length of time:
“If a trustee has served for more than nine years, their reappointment is: subject to a particularly rigorous review and takes into account the need for progressive refreshing of the board explained in the trustees’ annual report”.
In many charities this term of office for a Trustee is six or seven years. This ensures that it's not age that determines who is governing charities, but those who are well placed to do so and can bring their skills and knowledge to bear, which would in turn ensure diversity in terms of age. We mustn’t forget that age is a protected characteristic. Isn’t diversity as important here as it is in other areas?
If Mr Mayhew MP has his way, the diversity in the House of Lords will be significantly reduced. If he has his way, others will consider it acceptable to discriminate on the grounds of age. Surely, if it can be done in the voluntary sector, it is not beyond the House of Lords to come up with an alternative way of reducing their numbers – if that is what they are really wanting to do.