|Previous Section||Home Page|
That, at this day's sitting, the Employment Bill and the Pesticides (Fees and Enforcement) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]
Column 119Employment Bill
Postponed proceeding on further consideration of the Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), resumed.
In Schedule 9 to the 1978 Act (procedure etc. of industrial tribunals), for paragraphs 6A there shall be substituted the following paragraph--
"6A--(1) Industrial tribunals shall have the power to award simple interest on sums payable in pursuance of their decisions (principal awards) in accordance with this paragraph.
(2) The decision as to whether to award for interest on a principal award shall be in the discretion of the tribunal, but it shall be for the party against whom the principal award is made to show cause why some interest should not be awarded.
(3) Interest shall be awarded at a rate not exceeding the rate for the time prescribed pursuant to section 17 of the Judgments Act 1838.
(4) Interest shall accrue on all sums awarded by a tribunal, without any need for a decision to that effect by the tribunal, at the rate referred to in subparagraph (3) above from the date when the tribunal's decision is sent to the parties with the date of payment. (5) The tribunal shall have no power to exclude the application of subparagraph (4) above.
(6) Interest shall not be awarded for a period commencing before : (
(a) in the case of an award under section 53(4) of section 72 of this Act, the effective date of termination as defined by section 55 ;
(b) in the case of a redundancy payment, the relevant date defined by section 80 of this Act ;
(c) in the case of an order under section 11(8) of this Act the date when the relevant deduction or payment was made ;
(d) in the case of a guarantee payment, the date in respect of which the payment is claimed ;
(e) in the case of a payment to which an employee is entitled by virtue of section 19 of this Act, the date when the period of suspension began ;
(f) in any other, the date when application was made to the tribunal.".'.-- [Mr. Wallace.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Wallace : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The purpose of the new clause is to introduce, at the discretion of the tribunal, interest on awards made by the tribunal from dates preceding the announcement of the decision to make an award and for compulsory interest from the making of the award.
I understand that last year there was a consultative paper published by the Department of Employment indicating an intention to bring in interest on tribunal awards, although draft regulations are still awaited. This would appear an appropriate opportunity to press ahead with that.
The powers under schedule 9 of the Employment Protection Act 1978 invest the Secretary of State with power to confer interest on tribunal awards, but experience has shown that that power has seldom, if ever, been used. Indeed, the power is only to award interest on sums from the date at which the judgment is made and not the date from which the wrong has been perpetrated and in respect of which an award has been made. That differs
Column 120from most other cases in which there has been a delict or a tort, where the interest is usually payable on a settlement from the date at which the wrong was committed.
I believe that the reason often proffered for that difference is that it is argued that the tribunal system operates more quickly and therefore people who are in receipt of awards have not been out of pocket for as long. I believe that it would be accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House that litigation in the courts involving a tortious action can sometimes go on for many years. Therefore, there is often a significant difference. That ignores, however, those cases where for some reason or another, and sometimes not through any fault on the part of the claimant, a case going to a tribunal can be drawn out. It may even then go on to appeal, and, therefore, it can be some considerable time before an award is made. The purpose of the new clause is to insert a new paragraph into schedule 9 of the 1978 Act to the effect that industrial tribunals would have the power to award simple interest on sums payable in pursuance of their decisions. That would be made at the discretion of the tribunal, although there would be a presumption in favour of interest being made payable, and it would be for the party on the losing side to put forward an argument showing why that should not be the case. One can foresee circumstances in which it might be argued that there had been time wasting caused by the claimants. The interest awarded would be at the judicial rate prescribed by law under the Judgements Act 1838. Interest rates are not prescribed in such a statutory form north of the border, and it would not be unreasonable for Acts of Parliament that straddled the border to provide for the same rates.
Subsection (4) relates to those sums of interest accruing from the date of announcement of the award. The rate would be compulsory, and not at the tribunal's discretion. Subsection (5) describes the dates from which the tribunal would have discretion to award interest. Subsection (6) should refer to section 53(4) "or" and not "of" section 72 and the effective date of termination. In cases of written or unfair dismissal, that would be the date of dismissal as defined by the legislation. In the case of redundancy payments, it would be the date of leaving. The purpose of the subsection is to make clear the date from which interest may be awarded.
On at least two occasions the judiciary has expressed a view on the tribunal's lack of power in awarding interest. In 1981 in UCATT v . Brain in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Donaldson, who is now Master of the Rolls, said :
"There is no power to award interest on money awarded by a Tribunal as compensation for unfair dismissal Whatever the reason, I think the time has come when Parliament, if it has a convenient opportunity, ought to consider whether it is really right that employees who are unfairly dismissed should not only have to wait for their money, which may be inevitable, but when they do wait for it they should get compensation in depreciated currency as a result of the passage of time and without interest."
That is a powerful judicial dictum. Lord Justice Donaldson calls for Parliament to consider this matter at "a convenient opportunity" and I can think of no more convenient opportunity for the House to address itself to a judicial plea than 10.31 pm on Report on the Employment Bill.
Column 121In the 1987 Caledonian Mining case Mr. Justice Popplewell echoed Lord Justice Donaldson's plea and said :
"We cannot pass from this case without expressing our dismay at the present position about interest. It will be observed that these men were dismissed over three years ago and have therefore been left out of their money for some time. The time that it has taken for this matter to be resolved is due to no fault of theirs. It is difficult to understand why interest which is available to parties in the high court should not be available to litigants before an Industrial Tribunal which is intended to be less formal. It is a blot on the administration of justice."
Those are strong words from the judicial bench.
I hope that the House will take this opportunity to remove this blot on the administration of justice. The new clause does not insist on interest rates above the level that would normally be expected to be paid in judicial cases. It reflects the concern which has been expressed more than once by the judiciary. It tries to tackle an anomaly.
There has been little give in Committee and on Report by the Government on Opposition amendments. I hope that the new clause commends itself to the Government. Even if the Minister tells us that the wording is not suitable, an undertaking to introduce the measure in another place in a proper form would suit our purposes. I commend the new clause to the House. It will ensure that there is greater justice for those who take their case to an industrial tribunal and are successful.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls) : The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is entirely right to imply that throughout Committee we always responded to good points. I assure the hon. Gentleman that our attitude this evening will adhere to that tradition to the full. The effect of the new clause is twofold. First, it would provide directly for interest to accrue from the promulgation of industrial tribunal decisions and so bypass the Secretary of State's existing order-making power under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, as amended, which provides for interest on tribunal awards. Secondly, it would give industrial tribunals a discretion to provide for interest on awards to accrue, even before the promulgation of their decisions.
The first of those aims is unnecessary. In the consultation paper on industrial tribunals issued last year, to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred, we stated our intention of implementing the order- making power in the 1978 Act to enable interest to be payable on tribunal awards. The proposals in the consultation paper were generally welcomed and, on present plans, the necessary order will be laid later this year. While it may be argued that there may have been some delay on this, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that his new clause is, in the event, unnecessary.
The second aim of the new clause--to provide for interest to apply even before a tribunal award--is unacceptable. In our view, the existing powers in the 1978 Act as amended are perfectly adequate and strike a fair balance between the interests of the applicant and the interests of the respondent. Therefore, the Government would say--
Mr. Wallace : The Under-Secretary talks about seeking power to award interest before a decision is made. I may have been ambiguous and I apologise to the House if I did not express myself clearly. We seek interest from a date
Column 122preceding the award, from the date of the wrong. That applies in most cases of tort. Why should it be different in cases of redundancy or dismissal?
Mr. Nicholls : I am sorry if I misrepresented the hon. Gentleman. I was perhaps paying too much attention to the wording of the new clause rather than the intent as the hon. Gentleman expressed it. There is no doubt that the wording of the new clause, particularly subsection (6), if accepted, would enable interest to run, not merely from the date of judgment, but from some previous date. According to the wording of the new clause, it need not even be the date on which the action commenced. It could be the date from which the wrong accrued. That is a novel proposition, and certainly it is not the way in which the High Court or the county court work.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the words used by Mr. Justice Popplewell in the 1987 case, when he talked of
"a blot on the administration of justice."
My recollection of that case, backed up by the fact that I have the law report in front of me, was that the point made in the judgment was that the defendants had been kept out of their money for three years. The judgment was given in 1987, although the tribunal hearings had been in 1984. Therefore, the blot on the administration of justice was the fact that three years had elapsed before judgment was given. It is precisely that sort of blot on justice with which the order, which will be laid in due course under the 1978 Act, would deal.
Mr. Christopher Hawkins (High Peak) : Is my hon. Friend saying that to pay interest from the date of the wrongdoing would be novel? Surely the Inland Revenue charges interest on money owed to it, not from the date of the hearing but from the date from which the money was originally owed. That is similar to what is proposed by the new clause.
Mr. Nicholls : Mercifully, my duties do not include justifying the Inland Revenue and all its works. However, I hear what my hon. Friend says and feel more than a twinge of sympathy with him. What we propose about the implementation of the power in the 1978 Act is very much in accordance with general practice at the moment in relation to both High Court and county court matters, and deals precisely with the point about the blot on the administration of justice made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.
Mr. Haynes : It is all right for the Minister to brush to one side the question of Inland Revenue and interest. It works only one way, and it works only one way here. That is why the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) tabled the new clause. Let us have the facts of life, and the Minister at the Box telling us home truths about interest in relation to tribunals. He knows as well as me that many workers suffer because they cannot get to the tribunal ; there are that many wanting to go.
I can remember when the Government were telling the National Coal Board to close pits willy-nilly. Some people wanted to claim their rights at the tribunal for unfair dismissal--oh yes, there were a lot of unfair dismissals during the miners' dispute. The Minister will probably remember that, although he may not have been a Minister at the time ; if I remember rightly, he used to sit at the back of the Chamber. I used to enjoy some of his contributions,
Column 123and I followed some of them because they had upset me. He has upset me this evening as well, because he has not spoken correctly and truly to the new clause.
If a person owes money to the Inland Revenue he will be charged interest on it, but if it is the other way around--if the Inland Revenue owes the person money--there is no question of interest. [ Hon. Members :-- "There is."] It is high time that it was changed. Someone says, "There is", and I hope that it is a Whip : I hope that he will stand up and say what he means. I happen to know that it does not work that way round.
It could take a person three years to get his unfair dismissal case to the tribunal, given the Government's actions in industry and what they have done to workers' rights. Never mind the employer ; this lot look after him. I am talking about the worker--the person who provides the necessary. The employer could not enjoy himself without the employee's contribution.
The new clause asks for fairness to the employee. If it is to take a long time for the case to reach the tribunal, interest should be paid : there is no doubt about that. I hope that the Minister will get up and say, "I agree with the new clause." He has not said that yet. Why does he not speak one way or the other, so that we know exactly where he stands? [Interruption.] That is a Whip interfering with what I am saying. He should not be saying anything. He is sat there yawping at me. If he wants to say anything, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he should indicate that to you and then get up and make his contribution.
If we vote on the new clause, I want to know which Lobby the Minister will go into. Will he support it or not? Sitting here listening, I thought, "I wonder who wrote that speech for him."
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : He should be sacked.
Mr. Haynes : I had the impression that the Minister did not really believe what he was saying. I hope that he will get up again and tell us--I gather that he is not going to get up again, but if there is a vote we shall find out which Lobby he goes into. If you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall come back later and tell him what I think about him. He has the opportunity to speak again : I will give him the right--and I am sure that you will, Mr. Deputy Speaker--to stand up again at that Dispatch Box and tell us what he is going to do, what he really means and whether he supports the new clause. The Minister may talk about Mr. Justice Popplewell, but we are talking about the facts of life. There is no need to point to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland ; he has made his case. I am talking about the Minister. He sits on the Government Front Bench, and he speaks tonight on behalf of the Secretary of State, who sits there laughing his head off as though it were all a big joke. [Interruption.] Does someone want me to give way? [ Hon. Members :-- "No."] Hon. Members have taken me off my train of thought now ; I do not know where I am. Oh yes, I was talking about the grin on the face of the Secretary of State.
This is a serious matter, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to know better. I have served with him on the Committee stages of various employment Bills. We got on ever so well, but tonight the Minister is not saying at the Dispatch Box the things that I want to hear. I hope that we shall hear whether or not he agrees with the new clause. If
Column 124he does not inform us verbally, we shall certainly know the answer if there is a vote. Make no mistake--I am coming back to that point. 10.45 pm
Mr. McCartney : I support the clause as someone with a number of years' experience representing employees at industrial tribunals. I refer to employers who either do not want a tribunal to consider a dismissal or who, in the period leading up to the hearing, employ methods, fair or foul, to ensure that the hearing does not take place for a considerable length of time after the dismissal in question. The proposed clause is more than a form of redress for employees whose tribunal appeals are successful after legitimate delays, because it will also spell out the situation to employers who exploit the system to delay hearings or to dissuade employees from taking their cases to the tribunal. At every stage, employers and their solicitors are able to exploit the law to delay proceedings, to the point where the employee will in many cases give up, or where important witnesses to the dismissal, having themselves found employment elsewhere, are no longer easily available.
When a submission is made to a tribunal, it immediately writes to both parties requesting additional information to be passed to ACAS. That offers the bad employer acting against the employee's interests the first opportunity to procrastinate. That is the point at which consultations should take place with ACAS in the hope that an amicable settlement can be reached. If the employee's complaint is found to be legitimate, negotiations can be held and steps taken to resolve the matter, rather than resort to a formal hearing before the tribunal. Alternatively, it may be found that the employer acted reasonably in all the circumstances.
At present, not just weeks but months can go by before an employer agrees to meet with ACAS or to provide it with information on which to decide whether the employee's original submission to the tribunal was legitimate. After the existing initial stage that provides for ACAS to meet the employer and the employee, often the employer fails to provide sufficient information as the basis on which to hold discussions with all the parties concerned.
ACAS will give the employee, or his legal or trade union representative, an opportunity to address them-selves to the evidence. By then, the claim may be into its sixth or ninth month, but the tribunal has not yet been consulted. The employee may then be forced to ask the tribunal for further particulars. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) may wish to press the Minister and ask him for further and better particulars and for the reasons why he will probably oppose the new clause.
Another few weeks, even two months, may go by as the employer is forced to provide further and better particulars. Then there is a meeting with ACAS after which ACAS submits a report to the tribunal chairman who may decide to have an initial hearing to decide whether the matter should proceed to a full hearing of the tribunal. Another eight to 12 weeks may go by until the date for a further hearing is fixed. It can take more than a year to establish whether there should be an initial hearing. It is completely unreasonable that under the law as it
Column 125stands a former employee with a legitimate claim may be unable to put his case to a tribunal until more than 12 months after the original complaint.
After the initial hearing, a tribunal may decide that there are legitimate reasons for the complaint to have a full hearing. At that stage, the employer, or the employer's legal representative, may step in again seeking additional information from the former employee. For example, if female employees claim that they are receiving less remuneration than their male colleagues, the employer will present a detailed submission asking them for further details about how they calculate their claim in respect of the way in which they regard the job. That may take another three or four months. An employer may give ACAS the impression that it may consider negotiating. For example, the former employee may be in a new post and it may be necessary to calculate the time from the original dismissal to the taking up of the new post so that there can be appropriate discussions about compensation. While all that takes place, time is continuing. At the end of the negotiations the employer may then tell ACAS that it is prepared to go to a full hearing. Another few months have passed without the employee receiving a settlement.
When the case proceeds to a full hearing all the relevant documents have to be prepared. In many instances the cases are very complex in terms of trying to establish a case of unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal whereby there has been a transfer of undertakings and determining whether such a transfer took place under the Employment Protection Act 1975. It takes considerable time to establish evidence, particularly when an employer is not prepared to play his or her full part in establishing the facts of the case. Ultimately it could take between 18 months and two years and sometimes longer, and cases become unnecessarily complicated by the misuse of legislation or the administrative practices of ACAS or the tribunal system. An employer can deliberately eke out the case to put off the potential hearing of a tribunal.
In many cases there are legitimate reasons for delay. For example, it is legitimate for ACAS to establish as soon as it can practically do so whether a former employee should proceed with a legitimate claim. It is also important that ACAS has the opportunity to try to negotiate a settlement. In most cases a negotiated settlement is in the best interests of the employee or group of employees who have been dismissed. There are legitimate reasons why substantial delays can occur before a tribunal hearing. That is covered in the first part of the new clause.
The Government will not accept, mainly because of their ambivalence to employees' rights, that a substantial number of employers are not prepared to abide by the rules and play fair or adopt a reasonable attitude. Under the new clause, if an employee succeeds in action taken against such unreasonable behaviour, the employer will have to meet the financial consequences of delaying the proceedings of the tribunal.
Under the current law, rightly there is an obligation on the former employee to establish the reasonableness of his case. At an early stage of the proceedings, if it is clear to the tribunal or ACAS that the employee's submission is unreasonable, it is made clear to the employee that if he proceeds the tribunal may award costs against him. I do not object to that provision because I accept that it is a safeguard against frivolous and vexatious applications against an employer. However, if such protection is
Column 126available to an employer there must be a quid pro quo for employees, and the new clause offers ample opportunity for that.
Conservative Members have mentioned decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal. However, they are insufficient to protect many people who try to use the tribunal system but are frustrated by the ability of employers, individually or through their solicitors, to use the system to the full. On many occasions, applicants withdraw rather than go through the lengthy procedures and worries of pursuing a complicated case of unfair dismissal.
Mr. Haynes : I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend is saying. I am convinced that the Minister is following every word and fully understands what my hon. Friend is saying. My hon. Friend probably does not realise that the Minister is a solicitor ; he is legally qualified. He has probably represented employers from time to time. My hon. Friend has specifically referred to delay. I believe that the Minister was appointed to his post as he knows employment law from A to Z because he has been involved in it himself.
Mr. McCartney : I thank my hon. Friend for his perceptive comments. I apologise to the Minister ; I did not realise that he was a member of the legal profession--the best paid closed shop in Britain, although that is currently under threat if one believes the squeals of some Conservative Members during Prime Minister's Question Time. I represented some women appearing before a tribunal in Liverpool. Prior to entering the room I was reviewing the evidence that we were to put to the tribunal. In the room next to us, which had wafer-thin walls, was the barrister representing the employer. He was telling the employer that his best course of action was to apologise to the chairman of the tribunal and accept the former employee's submissions as it had already cost him £160 for an hour's consultation and would cost him a further £160 an hour if he wanted to proceed. He felt that at the end of the day the employees' submission would be successful. When I and the two women concerned and some people waiting for another case heard that, we felt rather confident on going into the tribunal some minutes later.
There is a substantial financial kickback for those who, on occasions, wish to eke out proceedings leading up to or during the tribunal. The payments for the legal profession are substantial. The barrister to whom I referred was acting honourably in advising his client not to proceed at the cost of £160 an hour but to quit before the cost increased. But that is not always the case and some tribunals have sat for more than a day when it has been clear from the outset that, on the evidence provided, there should have been a settlement long before in favour of the former employees. Only the intransigence of the employer in trying to ensure that the tribunal did not take place or to frustrate it so that the case would not be put by the former employees has prevented such a settlement. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is right that in those circumstances a former employee should not lose out financially. There should be a penalty not only for being unable to come to an amicable arrangement but for having wasted the time of ACAS and the tribunal. There
Column 127are occasions when people put up a vexatious defence to applications by former employees and in those instances they should be penalised financially.
In other legislation the Government have introduced financial penalties to prevent organisations or individuals from utilising tribunals. The most recent example is the Secretary of State for the Environment's instructions to impose severe financial penalties on developers and local authorities who continue with appeals against certain decisions.
The principle has already been acceded to by the Government on the misuse of tribunal and appeal procedures in other areas, so why, in the area of industrial relations, do the Government only grudgingly accept that such a problem exists but do nothing to protect employees against the misuse of the system by employers? Is it not probably because pressure from some employers' organisations is somewhat clouding the Minister's view about such matters? On the one hand, the Government give the impression of providing additional employees' rights, but the application of the legislation reduces employees' abilities and allows the employers free range to frustrate the ability of former employees to seek redress at industrial tribunals.
Mr. Leadbitter : Will my hon. Friend put the position in a nutshell? As I understand it, the new clause does not ask the Government to deviate from the general principle of simple interest at the point of award but says that the simple interest on the award shall be paid from the point of dismissal. That is not a major step for the Government. Will my hon. Friend suggest at an appropriate point that we are not moving away from the general principle that the Government have already accepted--that simple interest at the point of award is apparently acceptable? We are asking, in the name of natural justice, that simple interest shall be payable from the point of dismissal.
Mr. McCartney : My hon. Friend is right. The Government should accept that an employer who frustrates the attempts of a former employee to have a case considered by a tribunal or who extends unnecessarily the proceedings leading up to a tribunal hearing--when in the view of ACAS at the secondary stage it was a case which was worthy of consideration by a tribunal--should suffer a financial penalty. An employer in that position should face a financial penalty if, at the end of the day, the former employee succeeds with his or her case. Why do the Government consider that to be unreasonable?
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : Does my hon. Friend accept that the Government's position on this matter is not clouded or distorted by recommendations that may have been made by employers' organisations? Their position arises simply from the political prejudice of the Minister and his colleagues, who hold an "employee bad, employer good" view. No pressure is being placed on the Minister to refuse to make the change to the Bill that we recommend. His political dogma and prejudice will not allow him to accept a simple amendment such as this.
Mr. McCartney : My hon. Friend is probably right. Hon. Members who serve on a regular basis on Committees examining Bills know only too well how the Government refuse to accept amendments which would clearly improve the legislation under consideration. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon)
Column 128looking at me invitingly. I assure him that I am not making an oblique reference to another measure. Clearly, we are batting on a sticky wicket in trying to argue for common sense, for a sense of justice and for fair play. We are trying to ensure that when legislation leaves this place it will work. The Government have already secured the principle of the Bill in Committee and on the Floor of the House. Let us now try to improve it.
Mr. Leadbitter : My hon. Friend will be aware that, having accepted as a reasonable principle that simple interest shall be paid from the point of dismissal, the new clause provides that if an employer can show just cause why it should not be paid, that claim will be taken into account and, if proven, accepted. The onus is on the employer to show why it should not be paid. In other words, there is no reason why the Government should not accept the new clause.
Mr. McCartney : My hon. Friend is correct, and I can give an example of the way in which legislation works in that way now at the conclusion of a tribunal hearing. I am thinking of what happens when there is an application for costs in addition to normal costs, either because the employer's application was vexatious or because the timescale involved in bringing witnesses was extended beyond what had been anticipated, making the cost of reimbursing witnesses more expensive. At that stage a request can be, and usually is, made to the chairman of the tribunal. At that point the employer can object, on two grounds : on the ground of the principle that the payment should be made and, if that falls, on the ground of the level of the reimbursement. In either case he can request that the former employee or his representative go on the witness stand under oath and establish the facts on the basis of which the application is made. Only after that procedure does the chairman of the tribunal either give a ruling or consult with his two colleagues and come back with a decision.
In every instance the rights of the employer are protected and that is precisely what the position would be in respect of any tribunal after the acceptance of this clause. The employer's rights would be protected absolutely both by the way that the clause is worded and by the way that it would be applied in due course by the tribunal. So the position is absolutely clear. The Minister cannot argue that the clause has a major defect in the sense that it undermines the rights of the employer at the tribunal in the calculation of interest. The employer is protected throughout. The only change that this clause makes is to make it clear to those employers who wish to undermine the tribunal system that there will be a financial penalty to be met if at the end of the day their case is not accepted by the tribunal. It is as simple and as clear as that and I cannot think of any reason why the Government cannot accept this new clause willingly. Let us make the best of this bad Bill and at least improve it in some ways.
Throughout the procedure of getting to a tribunal the onus is on the employee to show that there is good cause to submit the complaint to a tribunal. The employee submits it to a tribunal in the absolute knowledge that if the application is judged vexatious or there is anything wrong with the way in which the evidence is produced to the tribunal and if the hearing goes against him he can be
Column 129liable for substantial costs. If that is the position for employees now, why should it not be the position for employers after the passing of this Bill?
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking) : We shall be voting with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) on this interesting, ingenious and useful new clause. We have heard a very powerful case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who is clearly an expert on this matter. We should all be grateful to him for the way in which he described the various cases.
We have all come across cases in our own experience, either as Members of Parliament, or perhaps in a former life, or perhaps in a double life if we are continuing that former life while being a Member of Parliament, as some hon. Members seem to be doing. In my own limited experience as a constituency Member--and I mean limited by being a Member of Parliament--I have found a very large number of cases over the years of people who have had to wait months and months, not knowing what is happening, when their case will come to court or when the appeal will be heard. Why should it always be the employer who has the whip hand, as it were, and who can always in some way, often ingeniously, put things off? Cases of unfair dismissal always disadvantage the aggrieved person throughout the procedure. I find it amazing that the Minister can toss the new clause aside in so brief and dismissive a way. At the beginning of his remarks, I thought that he was going to accept it because he seemed to be sympathetic to the first point. We are, of course, glad to hear that the Government will eventually--whenever "eventually" is--lay an order. However, why should we have to wait for that? Why should we always be pushing when there is, apparently, an open door? The Government themselves have introduced the Employment Bill. If the Government are as near as the Minister says to introducing such a provision and he has an order ready to be laid, why did he not include this provision in the Bill? Why did he leave it out and why is he still leaving it out?
The Minister referred to the point about interest being payable at the point of dismissal or, as he said, when the wrong occurred. Why not? My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), I believe--
Ms. Richardson : Do not "my dear" me. My hon. Friend, in his usual style of hitting straight between the eyes, after which they all fell down laughing, put his finger on the point. He has shown that the point about the Inland Revenue--which Conservative Members, not Opposition Members, have raised--is the most telling. In my experience as a Member of Parliament dealing with constituency cases, whenever the Revenue is owed money, it wants its interest immediately from the point at which the money was owed. Sometimes people have the temerity when they are owed money as taxpayers--which frequently happens--to say, "I want money on the interest you have been holding from me". It may have been held for some time if there has been a mistake for several years. However, I have never found a way of persuading the Inland Revenue to pay interest. That is most unfair.
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : That is not true.
Ms. Richardson : I should be delighted if the hon. Gentleman would tell me how to persuade the Revenue.
Mr. Hanley : It is not fair to say that the Inland Revenue does not pay interest on overdue tax because it does. As a professional chartered accountant, my experience is that it has always been most fair. I have no brief to defend the Inland Revenue on this matter. I am merely trying to explain my experience.
Ms. Richardson : The hon. Gentleman is a chartered accountant. The majority of my constituents do not have chartered accountants to do their accounts. [Interruption.] Hold on a moment. They simply know that they are owed money. At some stage, they are told by the Revenue that a mistake has been discovered and that they are owed some money. Perhaps I should have come to the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) professionally. I have had several cases over the years in which I have written to the Revenue and have said that a woman or man has been owed money for two or three years. I have asked why the interest cannot be paid, but I have never won a case yet.
Mr. Rogers : Will my hon. Friend press the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) on this issue? I have never heard of an instance in which the Inland Revenue has paid interest on moneys that have been paid by a taxpayer and which it is to refund. I hope that my hon. Friend will press the hon. Gentleman to give one instance in which the Inland Revenue has done so.
Ms. Richardson : I should be glad if the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes would do that.
Mr. Hanley : Not only is interest payable in the circumstances that have been described ; it is even tax free.