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The present situation, whereby the majority of right hon. and hon. Members write to local offices will continue post the establishment of the agencies. But they do not have to do so, and will retain post the change the absolute constitutional right to write to Ministers. That may be a less effective way of helping their constituents and in most cases will , as the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) says, delay matters. The rights of right hon. and hon. Members will not change in any way, insofar as there will now be agenices having effective executive heads accountable to the PAC.
Right hon. and hon. Members may find it preferable to refer specific administrative problems and queries to the agency in the first instance, if they are seeking effective change. If right hon. and hon. Members have challenges to make on policy or administration methods, they will continue to be matters for Ministers, as they always have been. Right hon. and hon. Members will be in no way constrained from exercising their constitutional rights.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the future of the national engineering laboratory at East Kilbride."
The Government announced today in a written answer that they propose to restructure and privatise one of the world's foremost research establishments. That will mean more than 200 jobs being lost in a key area of innovative industrial and engineering research. Employees remaining in the restructured organisation will be compulsorily transferred out of the Civil Service, with a loss of pension rights and certain conditions of service.
The national engineering laboratory is a world leader in future developments such as alternative energy, biotechnology and robotics--and every area of industry has gained from its work. Vehicles, ships, construction, manufacturing, new materials, oil rigs, pumps, fans and even sports equipment have all been improved by the laboratory's innovative and speculative research, which will all be put at risk by the Government's decision.
Instead of having dynamic, self-motivating research teams working at the forefront of technological change, research will be undertaken only on the basis of what profit there is in it. The overall good done to British industry by the laboratory's work will no longer be an overriding feature.
The national engineering laboratory is an important public resource established to benefit all of British industry. That resource is destroyed by the Government's announcement, which was sneaked through on the back of a written answer--showing contempt for the NEL's work force and complete disregard for the future of this country's manufacturing industry.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, "the future of the national engineering laboratory at East Kilbride."
I listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman said, but, as he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether it should be given priority over the business set down for this evening or for tomorrow. I regret that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House. I hope that he will find other means of bringing the matter before the House.
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to the manner in which the announcement concerning the future of the national engineering laboratory at East Kilbride has been dealt with by the Minister concerned. I ask for your views, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the practice whereby Government Ministers arrange for one of their right hon. or hon. Friends who has no connection with the constituency involved to put down a question on a topic dramatically affecting the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram). You must agree, Mr. Speaker, that that practice is deplorable. What is wrong with the Government telling my hon. Friend of their decision and then allowing him to put down a question, so that he would receive a reply rather than an English Conservative Member? Would that not be more considerate in the difficult circumstances confronting the constituency Member concerned? It is a final insult when an hon. Member representing a constituency 600 or 700 miles away, and who has never been in East Kilbride in his life, puts down a question and receives a ministerial reply affecting the livelihods of 400 or 500 people in the constituency of one of my hon. Friends.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, can your remark about it being unwise to comment be interpreted as meaning that in your public and private capacity you deplore what has been done as being incredibly bad manners towards the House of Commons? Is it not a fact that even going back as far as Jack Maclay, the Viscount Muirshiel, whenever Secretaries of State for Scotland had difficult information to impart to Labour Members, they were invited to the Scottish Office and the Minister responsible had the good manners to explain beforehand what was about to happen? Is not one of the Government's problems that they lack good manners?
Mr. Chris Butler
Mr. Gavin Strang
Mr. George J. Buckley
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to facilitate the bringing of proceedings for defamation.
Some people are rich and some people are famous, and some people are both. If one is famous, more people are likely to sit up and take notice if one is unfairly maligned. But if one wishes to do something about retrieving one's good name, it is more important to be rich because libel and slander actions tend to be long drawn out and costly. One should not even think about starting such an action unless one can lay hands on £50,000 as a bare minimum.
Many people imagine that defamation cases invariably involve the media but my interest in the matter was originally aroused by that of my constituent John Munro who, in his time, has probably written to nearly every right hon. and hon. Member of the House. Mr. Munro claims that he was libelled in letters when he worked for Pendle council a dozen years ago. He subsequently took counsel's opinion and was advised that he had a better than even chance of convincing a jury that he was the victim of defamation. Our former colleague, Sir Leon Brittan QC, was also consulted and concluded that, in his opinion
"a jury would be likely to find, on the balance of probabilities" that Mr. Munro's accuser was "guilty of malice".
But despite having a case, my constituent was never able to bring it because, as a result of the alleged libel, he was dismissed and has been permanently unemployed ever since. The fact that his unemployment has cost the taxpayer at least £150,000 in the intervening period suggests that making it easier for people without substantial means to come to court may not necessarily always result in an extra burden on the Exchequer.
My Defamation Bill is intended to ensure that the legal process is open to all as a means of righting a wrong when it affects a person's reputation and perhaps his ability to earn a living. Not being a lawyer, I tread on this ground, littered with pitfalls, with some trepidation. I have come to the conclusion that there is no single solution to the problem, so my measure incorporates several options which could be open to people in different circumstances. Defamation is the only civil action for which legal aid is unavailable. While accepting that this can be unfair, successive Governments have argued that in these cases there are unique difficulties in establishing before a trial whether a plaintiff has a reasonable case and should therefore be granted financial assistance. The extra cost to the taxpayer resulting from a proliferation of expensive cases would be, it is said, insupportable.
I agree that it is more difficult to make an assessment than in, say, cases of personal injury. Nevertheless, it is not impossible. This Bill therefore makes legal aid available for defamation, limited in the first instance to seeking counsel's opinion. Only if that is favourable would further legal aid be granted. That was a recommendation, supported by the Bar Council and the Law Society, of the Faulks committee on defamation which reported in 1975 but which was never implemented.
Legal aid is not the solution for all potential litigants. For example, those above the legal aid limits would be excluded, even though their incomes were totally insufficient to support proceedings for defamation. One of the Government's Green Papers on the reform of the legal
Column 336profession raises the possibility of introducing contingency fees which exist in the United States. The prospect of no win, no fee, arrangements has not received an enthusiastic reception here, but the system could be particularly appropriate in some defamation cases, in that it could enable some cases to proceed without the bulk of the cost falling on the taxpayer. As the Green Paper suggests, contingency fee arrangements could be particularly helpful to "small litigants who can be expected rarely to resort to the courts for the resolution of their disputes".
I recognise that there are difficulties to be considered, but it seems to be an option for defamation cases which should be included in the Bill.
I also commend to the House, and incorporate in my Bill, the proposal of Mr. Justice Hoffman which would enable plaintiffs who are willing to confine their claim to an order for correction and damages of less than £5,000 to apply to have a decision reached by a judge on the basis of affidavit evidence without a jury. For many victims of the media, a correction published within a reasonable period and modest damages would be greatly preferable to the prospect of years of stress and uncertainty, with issues raised again long after the event.
I opposed the Right of Reply Bill as unworkable, too wide-ranging and as an unreasonable rein on press freedom. This proposal, on the other hand, provides a sensible solution to numerous cases of injustice. It also has obvious benefits for defendants who, under the present system, as Mr. Justice Hoffman points out,
"complain that however unmeritorious or trivial the claim, the costs of defending force them to make an offer to settle. This pressure,"
"feeds upon itself and has been increased by recent large jury awards".
Many people have been amazed not only by the scale of recent awards of libel damages, but by their apparent inconsistency. Uncertainty of this kind is not a good thing for plaintiffs, for defendants or for the interests of justice generally. So I propose to include in my Bill a provision, which does not currently exist, for judges to be able to direct juries on the appropriate price bracket they should consider. This suggestion has been endorsed by the distinguished libel lawyer Mr. Peter Carter-Ruck. Interestingly, a statement by Mr. Carter-Ruck was quoted in the Faulkes report, and it was valid in 1975. He said--this is indicative of the way in which things have changed--
"A number of newspapers of national importance to the community are fighting to maintain their slender margins of profit and for whom to fight a heavy libel action could be a crippling blow".
Today the wheel has turned full circle. When considering whether to thrust their knives into a potential victim, some of the now profitable tabloids which care little for high standards of journalism make an assessment of his or her financial standing, which determines an ability to fight back. They may calculate that damages arising out of a likely libel action are outweighed by the extra circulation that they can hope to achieve. It used to be, "Print and be damned." It is now, "Print an extra million copies." That cannot be right and something should and must be done.
In response to concern about the right of reply and the protection of privacy, my hon. Friend the Minister of
Column 337State, Home Office, announced an imminent review of the press. If my Bill fails to proceed, the Government should adapt their objectives in the context of that review.
The interaction between the proposals that I have put forward must be discussed. As a package I believe that they overcome the problem of high additional costs falling on the taxpayer, and all its provisions would weed out petty cases of little merit. This measure is timely because of concern about media abuses and the debate about the future of the legal profession.
The present system is a lottery, but it has a high entry charge, which most people cannot afford to pay. Good luck to Elton John, Koo Stark, Jeffrey Archer and George Michael, who are among those who have won well-publicised defamation cases or achieved large settlements. We need, however, a new system to replace the outdated Defamation Act 1952--one which recognises that a poor man's good name is just as worthy of protection as that of his wealthier neighbour. That is what my Bill is about.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gary Waller,Mr. Peter Archer, Mrs. Rosie Barnes, Mr. David Blunkett, Mr. Chris Butler, Mr. Alex Carlile, Mr. Neil Hamilton, Mr. Kenneth Hind, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Merlyn Rees, Mrs. Ann Taylor and Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones.
Mr. Gary Waller accordingly presented a Bill to facilitate the bringing of proceedings for defamation : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 143.]
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
(1) The following section shall be substituted for section 14 of the 1975 Act--
"Persons concerned with provision of vocational training 14.--(1) It is unlawful, in the case of a woman seeking or undergoing training which would help fit her for any employment, for any person who provides, or makes arrangements for the provision of, facilities for such training to discriminate against her--
(a) in the terms on which that person affords her access to any training course or other facilities concerned with such training, or (
(b) by refusing or deliberately omitting to afford her such access, or
(c) by terminating her training,or
(d) by subjecting her to any detriment during the course of her training.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to--
(a) discrimination which is rendered unlawful by section 6(1) or (2) of section 22 or 23, or
(b) discrimination which would be rendered unlawful by any of those provisions but for the operation of any other provision of this Act."
(2) The following section shall be substituted for section 13 of the Race Relations Act 1976--
"Persons concerned with provision of vocational training 13.--(1) It is unlawful, in the case of an individual seeking or undergoing training which would help fit him for any employment, for any person who provides, or makes arrangements for the provision of, facilities for such training to discriminate against him--
(a) in the terms on which that person affords him access to any training course or other facilities concerned with such training ; or
(b) by refusing or deliberately omitting to afford him such access ; or
(c) by terminating his training ; or
(d) by subjecting him to any detriment during the course of his training.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to--
(a) discrimination which is rendered unlawful by section 4(1) or (2) or section 17 or 18 ; or
(b) discrimination which would be rendered unlawful by any of those provisions but for the operation of any other provision of this Act."
(3) In section 37 of the Race Relations Act 1976 (discriminatory training by certain bodies)--
(a) in subsection (1), for "a training body" and "it appears to the training body" there shall be substituted "any person" and "it reasonably appears to that person" respectively ;
(b) in subsection (2), for "it appears to a training body" and "the training body" there shall be substituted "it reasonably appears to any person" and "that person" respectively ; and
(c) the following subsection shall be substituted for subsection (3)--
"(3) The preceding provisions of this section shall not apply to any discrimination which is rendered unlawful by section 4(1) or (2).".'.-- [Mr. Nicholls.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Column 3394.36 pm
Mr. Nicholls : The Opposition moved two new clauses in Committee which sought to amend the Race Relations Act 1976. We looked at those new clauses on their merits and we accept that many aspects of the changes that Opposition Members proposed are desirable and would improve the operation of the Race Relations Act by removing bureaucracy. However, we could not agree to the Opposition new clauses as they stood because of difficulties with their drafting. We therefore agreed, subject to the Opposition withdrawing the new clauses, to introduce a Government new clause which would achieve the amendments that the Opposition were seeking and which would also amend where necessary the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
Subsections (1) and (2) of the new clause 6 would amend section 14 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and section 13 of the Race Relations Act 1976 respectively. The two sections are identical in all relevant respects. Their main purpose is to bring within the jurisdiction of industrial tribunals sex and race discrimination by certain bodies which provide employment-related training, while not depriving employers who already train of the defences that they could at present enjoy under section 4 of the 1976 Act.
Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16 are consequential amendments which deal with when the new clause will come into effect and amend references to the current section 14 of the 1975 Act and sections 13 and 37 of the 1976 Act in the Employment Bill, the 1975 Act, the 1976 Act and the 1988 Employment Act to take account of the provisions of the new clause. Amendment No. 17 inserts a reference to training in the long title of the Bill.
Therefore, new clause 6 and the amendments being taken with it fulfil exactly the aims that Opposition Members had in moving their original clause. I commend the new clause and the consequential amendments to the House.
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking) : The Minister is right to say that the new clause and consequential amendments flow from amendments which the Opposition moved in Committee and withdrew on the undertaking that the Government would look into the matter.
As we pointed out in Committee, the clause that we moved at that stage had been drafted by the Commission for Racial Equality. I am a bit surprised to find that it did not get it right. As I also said in Committee, one day we shall have to have a seminar on drafting because the Government always seem to have the edge on drafting. The purpose of our new clause was to extend the protection of the legislation against racial discrimination to the treatment of trainees on work experience and work placements. The Government have given effect to that. The wording of their new clause is substantially the same as that of ours, which was drafted by the CRE. It extends protection in the same way. It also extends to women trainees the protections provided in the two equality
Column 340statutes--the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. I am glad that the Government have done what they said that they would do. They have kept their word on this occasion.
The new clause will do nothing but good.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
(1) If the Secretary of State by order so provides in relation to any description of training for employment specified in the order, this section shall apply to such special treatment afforded to lone parents in connection with any such training (whether by the payment of allowances or the fixing of special conditions for access to facilities for training or otherwise) as is specified or referred to in the order.
(2) Where this section applies to any treatment afforded to lone parents, neither the treatment so afforded nor any act done in the implementation of any such treatment shall be regarded for the purposes of the 1975 Act as giving rise to any discrimination falling within section 3 of that Act (discrimination against married persons for purposes of Part II of that Act).
(3) In this section--
(a) "employment" and "training" have the same meaning as in the Employment and Training Act 1973 ; and
(b) "lone parent" has the same meaning as it has for the purposes of any regulations made in pursuance of section 20(1)(a) of the Social Security Act 1986 (income support).'-- [Mr. Cope.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Cope : This clause stems from the provision in employment training of special help for lone parents. When ET was designed by the Manpower Services Commission in January 1988, it included special help for lone parents with child care problems. As the House will recall, we accepted all the MSC's proposals on ET, including this one. As a result, lone parents of either sex can receive child care costs of up to £50 a week per child if they need to pay for child care when they undertake training on ET.
These advantages are available to lone parents, and lone guardians, regardless of their sex or marital status. We accepted these special provisions for lone parents being proposed by the MSC because they are a disadvantaged group who find it difficult to return to the labour market. These measures help them to do so and were widely welcomed when they were first proposed by the MSC and when they were introduced into ET. Many lone parents who would not otherwise have been able to enter ET and return to the labour market are being helped by these provisions. Over 3,500 lone parents in ET are
Column 341receiving help with child care costs. About 2,000 lone parents are now in training, having entered through the special eligibility route, which we also introduced.
However, as things stand, we may have to cancel this help because of an interpretation placed on marital discrimination under section 3 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 by an industrial tribunal in relation to our payment of child care costs for lone parents in ET. This has placed our special arrangements in jeopardy. Without a clause like this, we would have to pay the same amount to every parent in ET. That would magnify the cost and nullify the advantage that lone parents receive.
I do not believe that that was the intention of section 3 of the 1975 Act. When they introduced the Act, the Labour Government of the day said that the intention was to attack restrictive practices by employers against the employment of married women--the so-called marriage bar. This is a far cry from the sort of special help for lone parents that we are providing under ET. We want to continue to give this special help to lone parents, and that is what the clause is designed to do. It will remove from the scope of marital discrimination under section 3 of the Sex Discrimination Act special treatment afforded to lone parents in named training programmes. It is an enabling clause. It will permit the Secretary of State to make orders specifying special arrangements for access to training, or special payments for lone parents. The Secretary of State would have to specify the particular programme or programmes to which the arrangements would apply. The order would be subject to the negative resolution procedure.
We shall introduce such an order with regard to employment training to continue the arrangements that I have outlined. We want to continue the status quo in ET and to safeguard the important existing provisions for lone parents. Therefore, if the clause is passed and the Bill becomes law, I propose to come back to the House with a specific order for that purpose in due course. Meanwhile, I commend the new clause and the associated amendment to the House.
Ms. Richardson : The Opposition would have preferred it if the Government had drafted a new clause that would have opened up training provision and child care allowances for women in general. The Minister acknowledged that there was a difficulty--in other words, a single group, in this case lone parents, is being catered for specially. We understand the reasons for that. We shall not oppose what the Government are doing because half a loaf is better than none, and lone parents are in a special position. Some 90 per cent. of the 1 million lone parents are women, and many of them are desperate for jobs and training, and need considerable help.
Although we shall not oppose the new clause, we are committed to opening up training provision and child care provision in general, and regard this simply as a first step. It would have been nice if the Government, with their recent but much vaunted support for child care in the 1990s with the demographic changes that are coming about, had been able to be generous and, as well as giving this special provision to one-parent families on ET, extended it right across the board to all women. However,