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Mr. Hammond: Several hon. Members have attempted to draw the Minister on which classes of people are to be excluded from this provision, so enabling them to apply to a tribunal without going through the procedures. If the hon. Lady has any inside information on that as a result of her correspondence with the Minister and her Labour party channels, would she be good enough to share it with us?

Ms Walley: I would be very happy to place in the Library a copy of the Minister's response to me. If, however, the hon. Gentleman thinks that I have any prior knowledge of this matter, he is mistaken. I am simply one of 659 Members who take a keen interest in the Bill.

My main concern about the original clause 33 related to cases of bullying, for example, in which people might feel that they could not raise the matter with their employer before taking it to an employment tribunal for fear of harassment. I was worried that such people might genuinely be prevented from taking their case forward, and the new clause takes considerable account of the representations that have been made on that issue.

Mr. Hammond: I am genuinely puzzled. The hon. Lady is outlining a scenario in which someone would be afraid to write a letter to their employer in case they suffered harassment for doing so, yet not be afraid of suffering harassment for applying to an employment tribunal. Surely the two are entirely comparable in terms of the risk to which the employee is exposed. Why is writing a letter more risky than applying to an employment tribunal?

Ms Walley: We are talking about a question of balance. The Government are absolutely right to concentrate on ensuring that the resolution of disputes can take place first and foremost in the workplace, and that the process should not have to go all the way to an employment tribunal. I accept that that is the Government's intention, and that is what I want to happen. I can, however, envisage certain scenarios in which people who had suffered sexual harassment or intimidation, for example, or who had been

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bullied, could have been prevented from taking their case forward under the original clause 33. I therefore want to record my praise for the Minister's having taken account of those concerns.

I have one further point, to which I hope my hon. Friend will reply. A slightly more complex set of arrangements is now being proposed, and people who cannot reach an employment tribunal in the first instance might be able to come back and make a second application. Perhaps organisations such as the citizens advice bureaux could find out how they might be able to advise and represent such people, because I would not want them to be excluded from access to the kind of representation that they might now need to reach an employment tribunal.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I shall speak briefly to new clause 6 and, particularly, to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friends. I want to begin by saying how much I enjoyed serving on the Standing Committee. It was a pleasure to watch two great professionals, the Minister for Employment and the Regions, the hon. Member for Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), and my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) proceed with the business. It was noticeable that, when junior Ministers took the place of the Minister of State, the standard of debate dropped considerably. I have probably done for the Minister's career, but there we go.

Like other Opposition Members, in general I welcome the fact that the Government are including in legislation what would otherwise be dealt with through statutory instruments and regulations. That is a good idea in principle, and I also welcome the attempt to require employees to go through a basic minimum procedure before heading straight for the employment tribunal. However, like other Opposition Members, I am extremely concerned to know the categories of people that might be excluded from that procedure.

Even those who have suffered the grossest sexual or racial abuse in the workplace should at least be able to record the incident on a piece of paper. Indeed, in Committee we discussed the benefit of conducting more of the procedure in writing, and I remember with fondness that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) supported us on that point. His support was welcome and it certainly cheered up a rather dull day.

I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds). I assume that the purpose of new clause 6 and other such provisions is to reduce the number of cases going to employment tribunals. Indeed, the Government's regulatory impact assessment suggests that the Bill could reduce them by between 30,000 and 40,000. That would be greatly welcomed by Members on both sides of the House if it proves true, but, like many other people and outside organisations, I have my doubts.

The Bill will introduce a load of new employment rights, including paternity rights and rights for adoptive parents, which I welcome, but it will also introduce new rights for union learning representatives and a complicated new power relating to flexible working, which I do not welcome. I would not be at all surprised if the legislation increased the numbers going to

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employment tribunals, and it would be interesting to have on record the Minister's assessment of its likely impact on those numbers.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) made the usual pantomime points about Trades Union Congress briefings, and so on. One minute, we in the Department of Trade and Industry are accused of being the provisional wing of the Confederation of British Industry, and the next he redresses the balance by saying that we take all our instructions from the TUC. Of course, we do neither. We listen carefully to both sides, and unlike the previous Conservative Government, who seemed to have an aversion to free and independent trade unions, we think that the trade union voice is important. We have listened to it carefully, but no more so than to other voices.

On admissibility, our response to "Routes to Resolution", which was published almost three months ago, made perfectly clear our belief that the provision should apply to grievances only. I shall deal with some questions that were asked on that point, particularly by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk), but I should point out that, as the response to "Routes to Resolution" made clear, there was no debate about whether we would apply admissibility simply to step one of the grievance procedure.

In Committee, the debate concerned whether the provision should be included in the Bill or in regulations and whether clause 33 was drawn too widely in terms of its operation. Our view was that, on balance, it would help the House if we amended the Bill to clarify the admissibility clause, thereby preventing any hares from running in respect of its use and application.

4.30 pm

The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge asked why we proposed to include two identical schedules. It was a prudent move. New schedule 1 is indeed identical to schedule 3, but there may be occasions in the future—although we do not envisage them now—when we want different jurisdictions to apply to the very new admissibility clause and to the measures in schedule 3. The two schedules are identical, but they may not always be, although we have no plans to change anything at this stage.

Mr. Hammond: Is the Minister seriously saying that he is including two identical schedules in case he wants to change one of them at some time in the future, but that he has absolutely no intention of doing so? That has staggering implications. Why not include two of every clause and every schedule in every Bill, just in case the Government want to change one of them by regulation at some future stage?

Alan Johnson: We will consider that suggestion carefully. All I know at this stage is that we are moving into uncharted territory in respect of admissibility, and I think it prudent to ensure that the jurisdictions are separated.

The hon. Gentleman referred to subsection (6)(b), and the employer's challenge to the making of admissibility criteria at an early stage. We consider that reasonable. We do not want the questions to hang around until there is a

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full hearing at an employment tribunal; that would mean devoting extra time and resources to cases that would otherwise be inadmissible. Our approach is workable, and we think that it will ensure that preliminary issues are handled expeditiously.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about the step one letter that was made consistently by Opposition Members. They omitted one important consideration. Step one involves not just writing to the employer, but allowing a period of 28 days. Although there is no requirement for a hearing in new clause 6, we think that the 28-day period would enable employee and employer to discuss the grievance at the heart of the problem.

We intend the exceptions to be genuine exceptions. We want as few as possible, but we think it advisable for them to be made in some rare circumstances. It must be beyond doubt that the time will be used productively, and the letter must concern a case of serious sexual harassment, violence or intimidation. It must be clear that there is no possibility of the issue being resolved in 28 days, because the trust and the relationship have broken down completely—although the employee is still in the workplace. We will regulate for such exceptions, and consult on them.

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