Mr. Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give some evidence that a compensation culture exists in this country? The number of industrial tribunals is reducing, yet the number of personal injury cases is going up. Does he think that someone who is attacked and suffers, for example, a cracked rib should be able to bring a case against their assailant?
Philip Davies: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman, but that person should take the case to a court of law. People should not only be able to do that, but be pressed to do it so that the truth can come out
Despite what the hon. Gentleman said, we do have a compensation culture in this country: time after time, people take the most frivolous claims to tribunals and courts. I am afraid that the Bill will only add to the number of frivolous claims being taken to tribunals.
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Mr. Jones: I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman does not understand employment tribunals. A frivolous or vexatious case will not get to the tribunal, because the chairman will strike it out before it gets through the door.
Philip Davies: As my hon. Friends have explained, many tribunal cases are shown to be quite frivolous, and are turned down. A minority of cases are accepted, so I do not accept the idea that no frivolous claims go to tribunals.
Mr. Jones: I am sorry, but that is the case. Is the hon. Gentleman questioning the ability of tribunal chairmen and panels? In my experience, frivolous and vexatious cases are struck out. Moreover, under the Employment Act 2002 there is an onus on both employers and applicants to ensure that they have gone down all the avenues to try to resolve disputes before they get to a tribunal, and that has reduced the number of tribunals over the past two years.
Philip Davies: All that this Bill would do is to lead to even more frivolous claims. People would be able to take a claim to a tribunal knowing that it would cost them nothing, and that they had nothing to lose. It does not matter what they say, because someone elsetaxpayers, such as me and the people in my constituencypicks up the tab for the most ridiculous, frivolous and stupid complaints. Why should decent, honest, law-abiding, tax-paying people in this country pick up the tab for people who make frivolous claims?
Mark Tami: The hon. Gentleman may not be able to give the number, but can he at least give us a few examples? He is obviously sure of his ground, because he is saying that he knows of loads of cases from his area, so can he name just one?
Philip Davies: My hon. Friends have made the point perfectly well about the number of cases that end up with a successful prosecution of the company concerned. Very few do, so the facts are perfectly clear: most of these cases are not grounded in any basis of fact, and there is no case to answer. The Bill will simply lead to even more of these frivolous cases going to tribunals, because people will know that they will not have to pay any money themselves, and the good old taxpayer will have to dig his hand into his pocket one more time to pay for another politically correct pet project from new Labour.
I fear that I must intervene, because the hon. Gentleman's words call into question the whole structure of our present system, and the ability of employment tribunal chairmen to make relevant, precise value judgments on cases. What we are hearing
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from Conservative Members today is quite shocking, and questions the structure of our whole employment tribunal system
Gordon Banks: I stand corrected; they are questioning our legal system too. The employment tribunal system is extremely valuable, and what Conservatives have said is stunning. I would like the hon. Gentleman to withdraw and consider his remarks, which do his argument no good at all.
Philip Davies: The Bill is about whether we give people free legal representation at employment tribunals no matter how good or bad their case, and whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing. It would lead to more frivolous claims being taken, or attempted to be taken, to employment tribunals by people who have no good reason or case, because they know that the taxpayer will pick up the tab and they will not have to.
Mr. Kevan Jones: I might go and get a hammer and chisel in a minute, to see whether I can get my point across to the hon. Gentleman. If someone applies to take what he describes as a frivolous case to an industrial tribunal, it will not even get there, because it will be struck out beforehand. I have grave reservations about the Bill, but the idea that it would lead to open-ended access for frivolous and vexatious cases is wrong. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman does not understand how the tribunal system works.
This is not just a question of what happens at the tribunal, but of what happens before the case gets there, and before it is thrown out. What happens to a business when someone puts in a discrimination claim? Does the business not have to spend time looking into the case?
Ms Diana R. Johnson : Has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to consider the range of measures that have been introduced to try to tease out the details before a case gets to a tribunalfurther and better particulars, questions and requests for further details, the exchange of witness statements seven days before the hearing and so onso that employers can decide whether they wish to settle the case? My experience is that if someone has a strong case, an employer who is properly advisedby lawyers, usuallywill offer a settlement that an employee will want to consider seriously.
Philip Davies: The hon. Lady does not feel that the Bill will cause more time to be spent in tribunalsbut what it will do, which she seems to find acceptable, is waste as much time as possible for businesses in going backwards and forwards to see whether the person has a case to answer.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con):
Does my hon. Friend agree that well over half the cases
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are either withdrawn or dismissed? Against that background, is not his concern the possibility of an increased surge in cases, putting even further burdens on business?
Philip Davies: That is the very point that I was trying to make, and I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying the matter. Labour Members clearly do not understand, perhaps because most of them have no experience of running a business, and have no idea of the time and effort that businesses have to waste dealing with ridiculous cases.
Mr. Kevan Jones: The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service figures for 200304 show that about 72 per cent. of cases are either settled or withdrawn beforehand, and only 24 per cent. go to a tribunal. May I press the hon. Gentleman on one point? Does he suggest that his constituents in Shipley should not have access to an industrial tribunal? Is he against those tribunals? I am sure that his constituents who value and use them will be interested to hear that.
Philip Davies: What I am against is people taking frivolous cases to tribunals, and making frivolous complaints against businesses, so that they have to spend time, effort and money investigating cases and corresponding about them when all they want to do is get on with running the business, looking after their customers and looking after their other employees, to ensure that they still have jobs.
Mark Tami: What sort of case would meet the hon. Gentleman's criteria? He obviously does not accept the current criteria, and wants to go further, so what cases would he allow to be taken to a tribunal?
Philip Davies: What I would not allow to be taken are the cases to which the hon. Gentleman has referredthe ones that get thrown out very quickly. [Hon. Members: "Give some examples!"] There are dozens of examples.