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Mark Tami : I used to negotiate with Asda and with the former Member, Mr. Archie Norman, who represented Tunbridge Wells. Asda has a clear policy of discouraging people from joining trade unions. It has a way of trying to bypass independent legal advice that people can get.
Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that Asda does not encourage people to take independent advice. It has an excellent track record, yet it still faces frivolous complaints.
My main concern is for small companies, not for Asda.[Interruption.] Perhaps Labour Members should calm down.
Many small companies in the Bradford, West constituency will have to face cases involving discrimination. They do not have the staff to deal with
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them. I am disappointed that Labour Members seem not to care about small businesses that face the challenges and waste of time that we are discussing.
Philip Davies: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will just settle down.
Small companies will have to deal with frivolous cases. The cases might not get to an employment tribunal, but do not tell me that time will not be taken up dealing with them and that there will be no slur on those companies. Decent companies should not have to face more frivolous claims.
Mark Tami: I do not follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he saying that all small businesses should be outside employment law? That is what he seems to be saying.
Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman will know that that is not what I said. I said that the Bill will lead to many small businesses facing many more frivolous complaints by people who think that they may as well have a go because they have nothing to lose. They will take the view that, if they lose, the taxpayer will pick up the tab, that that will be all right and no one else will worry. As I have said, many small companies will not be able to afford to deal with such matters. Small businesses should not have to waste their time dealing with frivolous cases when they have far better things to do.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I declare an interest. I am a small business man who employs about 10 people. It is the smaller businessesone-man or two-men businesses that employ one or two peoplethat face problems. There is the time factor and the costs that such companies will incur, when they should be concentrating on running their businesses. Does my hon. Friend agree that emphasis must be placed on assisting smaller businesses? That does not mean that they will be outside the law. That would be ridiculous. However, there must be some understanding of how we can assist smaller businesses.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right. He makes extremely well the case that I have been making.
Many small businesses cannot afford to have the Bill enacted and placed on the statute book.
Mr. Singh: Is the hon. Gentleman saying to his constituents that if someone faces discrimination or feels that he does, "Don't come knocking on my door. Don't go to your local Member of Parliament. I do not believe that discrimination exists." If that is his position, I would be grateful if he issued a press release.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have not said that. I have said that if you have a case that has no good groundingfor example, someone feels aggrieved because they do not have a job or because
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something has happened that does not relate to their race, sex or a disability, for exampledo not think that you can take taxpayers' money to pursue a frivolous case.
Mr. Singh: I think that the House has heard your message to those who are presumably bringing vexatious and frivolous cases. What message do you have for those people who suffer genuine discrimination? Have you any message of support for them?
Philip Davies: I would say, "Take your case to a tribunal. Take it through your trade union or law club, of which they might be a member."
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind hon. Members that they should use correct parliamentary language and talk in the third person.
Philip Davies: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I do not want to turn away people who have legitimate claims of discrimination. There are plenty of avenues for those people to pursue their case. I am concerned about people who pursue cases with no real reason for doing so. The Bill will give such people a free hand to take the case as far as they can, knowing that that will be at the taxpayers' expense and that they will have nothing to lose by making a frivolous case.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I say to the hon. Gentleman, following the intervention of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), that I have never been a small business owner, but I have been a fully liable director of a voluntary sector trust that employed many people and I have been through employment tribunals. What stood us in good stead was that we had good grievance and disciplinary procedures, along with good training. Any small organisation, be it a private sector employer or a voluntary body, should have nothing to fear from the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley has good procedures in place for his business. Such employers need have no fear of frivolous or flippant claims if they have done the right thing by their work force.
Philip Davies: I disagree. The Bill gives them something to fear. The claim may not ultimately be successful. The point that I have been trying to make is that frivolous complaints will still have to be investigated. Time will still have to be taken. People who own a small shop do not have time to wade through a great deal of legal paperwork.
What about the time, the cost and the heartache for the individual who may be suffering discrimination? The Government are trying to develop a culture that encourages people who feel that they are victims of discrimination to come forward and have the matter dealt with at the appropriate level. That may not mean a tribunal. It could mean arbitration or mediation. The thrust of the hon. Gentleman's message
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is that we should turn that culture on its head and say, "Don't bring the case unless you are genuinely convinced that you will win."
Philip Davies: I say, "Don't bring your case unless you have a good case to be answered."
The Bill will undoubtedly lead to many people making claims that have no good grounding and no real chance of success. The company may not face prosecution or a fine, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that any complaint leads to increased costs and increased time pressures on a company. The Bill encourages
Mark Tami: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Philip Davies: I shall not give way because we have covered this ground several times. The point is that small businesses will face more costs and more time will be taken up by frivolous claims. I do not accept the principle of the Bill because it will make a bad situation worse.
The Bill will open up the possibility of endless costs to the taxpayer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) highlighted in trying to probe the hon. Member for Bradford, West, there is no limit to the cost that could be incurred by the taxpayer and the Lord Chancellor's Department. However many cases are brought, however good or however bad, they will have to be funded by the Lord Chancellor's Department.The hon. Gentleman could give no indication of the likely cost to the taxpayer. He could not even say whether we are talking about millions, tens of millions, billions or tens of billions of pounds.
Mr. Kevan Jones: The hon. Gentleman has just told the House that he does not agree with the principle of the Bill. When I started out this morning I had serious reservations about it, but his speech is making me and, I think, some of my colleagues, likely to vote for it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West said that the principle of the Bill concerns discrimination. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he thinks that discrimination is acceptable in our society or even that he would welcome that if it were true?
Philip Davies: The principle of the Bill that I object to is the fact that anybody, however good or bad their case, will get taxpayers' money to pursue it as far as they can. I do not accept that that is a good principle.
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