Employment Bill

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Alan Johnson: That is an important point, but to be fair to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, he was not talking about a case in which behaviour was disruptive or abusive, but about a case that had no chance of success. In that sense, the hon. Gentleman is right: one cannot immediately point out the fault, as one can in the case of disruptive behaviour.

Tribunals have the discretion to award costs and to take all circumstances into account, and I believe that they would err on the side of caution. My fear is that a general indemnity would arise so that professionals could get around the problem in ways that neither the hon. Gentleman nor I would want because they would undermine the clause.

We will seriously consider the issues and will ensure that the regulations provide for costs to be awarded against professionals who are genuinely guilty of misconduct and not against those whose sound advice is ignored by the applicant.

Mr. Hammond: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the issues. We all appear to understand what we want to do, but the legal jargon and the legal system get in the way. We should allow the tribunal to decide who is guilty and who should pay. However, that may not always be easy to achieve because of the relationship between the client and the legal representative. In seeking to ensure that there is equity between the representative and the person represented with regard to the awarding of costs, we must not lose sight of the fact that there must also be equity for a third party. We do not want to create a situation in which a third party suffered because costs were not awarded, because it would have been inequitable to order costs against a representative, as they had acted under instructions.

I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging that serious issues are involved. They are very technical, and I acknowledge that they will apply in only a small number of cases. However, it is important to ensure that the regulations deal adequately with those issues. I am grateful for the Minister's assurance that he will take today's debate into account, and I look forward to seeing the regulations in due course. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 32, line 16, at end insert—

    '(dd) to make an order prohibiting a representative of a party to proceedings before it from representing parties before Employment Tribunals or Employment Appeals Tribunals for a specified period of time by reason of the representative's conduct of the proceedings.'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 21, in clause 23, page 32, line 41, at end insert—

    '(dd) to make an order prohibiting a representative of a party to proceedings before it from representing parties before Employment Tribunals or Employment Appeals Tribunals for a specified period of time by reason of the representative's conduct of the proceedings.'.

Mr. Hammond: Amendment No. 12 deals with clause 22 and amendment No. 21 deals with the mirror-image issue in clause 23. Both address the problem—I shall call it that for the moment—of representatives who are not paid for their services. In earlier debates, we discussed the possibility of breaking down the distinction between paid and unpaid representatives. However, the Minister has made it clear that the Government intend to maintain that distinction, and we must accept their decision.

The amendments would give the tribunal an additional power. As well as being able to award costs and expenses against paid representatives, it would have the power effectively to disbar any representative, paid or unpaid, who was conducting themselves in a manner specified in regulations—probably a vexatious, inappropriate or abusive manner. The tribunal could say to that person, whether they were a CAB adviser, trade union rep or lawyer, ''You will not appear before employment tribunals or employment appeals tribunals for a specified period of time as a result of your conduct in this case.''

If the Minister is serious about rooting out abuse of procedure by representatives, that would be a sensible approach. It is not prescriptive. We are talking about an additional power to make regulations that would confer an additional power on the tribunal. It would add to the armoury to ensure that representatives who abused procedure could not do so repeatedly, holding up the tribunal and creating unnecessary stress in the system.

I hope that the Minister will seriously consider my suggestion. Even if he has to say that the drafting is not perfect, I should be interested to hear what he has to say about the substance of the idea behind the amendment.

Rob Marris: Has the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge sought advice from the Bar Council or the Law Society of England and Wales? The amendment would undermine the self-regulating nature of the professions that they represent. If a barrister or solicitor acted in the way outlined by the hon. Gentleman, a tribunal would be minded to make a banning order. Barristers and solicitors are professionals in the old-fashioned sense of the word. They are a self-regulating profession, in contrast to Engineering Employers Federation representatives, CAB representatives or trade union officers. In those circumstances, such conduct would and should be reported by the tribunal chairman to those professional bodies.

Mr. Hammond: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rob Marris: I am about to finish. I am simply asking whether the hon. Gentleman has run the amendment by the Bar Council or the Law Society.

Mr. Hammond: It is a convention that when a Member asks another Member a question, they allow them to intervene to answer it.

Rob Marris: I am sorry.

Mr. Hammond: I have not sought advice from the Bar Council or the Law Society. I very much believe in the principle of professional self-regulation. The hon. Gentleman has made a good point, but he will recognise that the amendment is intended to address a wider group than simply barristers and solicitors. He may—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till Tuesday 11 December at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Cotter, Brian
Hammond, Mr.
Healey, John
Hendry, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Kevin
Humble, Mrs.
Johnson, Alan
Jones, Helen
Lamb, Norman
Laxton, Mr.
Lloyd, Mr. Tony
Mallaber, Judy
Marris, Rob
Osborne, Mr. George
Pearson, Mr.
Prisk, Mr.
Simmonds, Mr.
Tami, Mark
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel

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