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That is the whole point of the Bill, and I can well see the point with which my hon. Friend has difficulty, as indeed do I, as I hope to explain later, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not want my hon. Friend to move away too quickly from the subject of costs. He must have noticed in the Bill, as I havethis has already been raised in the debatesomething that I have never before in my life seen in a Bill. It says, in clause 3, that
"It shall be the duty of the Lord Chancellor to secure that there is paid to the Board out of money provided by Parliament . . . an amount that is equal to or greater than the total funding needs of the Board".
Does not that suggest, and is it not unprecedented in this place, that here we have a quango that is, by statute, allowed to ask for any amount of money, which the taxpayer, through the Lord Chancellor, is then obliged to provide?
Philip Davies: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the cost of the Bill is unlimited. The whole principle that the hon. Member for Bradford, West is expounding is that anybody can pursue a claim, however trivial, as far as they can. Obviously, the result will be an unlimited cost. I find the idea of an unlimited cost to the taxpayer completely bizarre, unacceptable and unworkable, and that is why the principle of the Bill cannot be right.
Stephen Pound: The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has in five seconds made a far more comprehensive critique of the Bill than we have heard in half an hour from the hon. Gentleman. May I bring him back to the core point? I realise that he once achieved great things as customer services manager for Asda. I am not sure how he served the customers, but his comments have caused me to have doubts. Will he, once and for all, without equivocation, state for the House whether his thesis is that all complainants to tribunals are frivolous and vexatious and that the burden on small business is such that the entire system, which has served us so well under Governments of both complexions, should be swept away? Yes or no?
Philip Davies: I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that when in future he asks questions, he listens to the answer. He has now asked the same question twice, and he will get the same answer twice.[Interruption.] The question that the hon. Gentleman asked earlier was exactly the same as the one he has just asked, and my answer is that I have nothing against people who make a genuine claim of discrimination; my concern about the Bill is that it will lead to more people making frivolous claims because they will be able do so at no cost to themselves. They will know that the taxpayer will pick up the tab, however much it is, because the Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, requires the taxpayer to pay out however much is demanded.
Mr. Paterson: It is clear that the employment tribunal service annual report and accounts 19992000 to 200405 were not on the holiday reading list of the hon. Members for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) and for North Durham (Mr. Jones). The facts help my hon. Friend's case. The total number of discrimination claims has increased from 8,272 in 19992000 to 27,907 in 200405, and they have increased from 9.9 to 19 per cent. of the total number of claims.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am very sad that Labour Members do not accept that there is a problem and that the Bill could only make it worse. I am sorry that they do not see the costs that will
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be incurred and the damage done to small businesses, which are major wealth creators in our economy, not just in Shipley but in their constituencies.
Philip Davies: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can only say in mitigation that if Labour Members keep asking the same question, I can only keep giving them the same answer, so I hope that you will forgive me.
The cost of the Bill is completely unacceptable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold revealed by his question, no provision has been made for the possible cost. It will be a waste of money for businesses; it will be a waste of money for taxpayers. This is not about employment tribunals; it is more about employment creation for politically correct people, so that they can sit in judgment and feather their own nests, taking in taxpayers' money to do something that is completely unnecessary. I urge hon. Members to stop this Bill making any further progress. It will make the compensation culture of this country even worse than it is today and add even more to the costs faced by small businesses, which are already being dragged down by the burden of regulation imposed by this new Labour Government.
Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and his argument about frivolous and vexatious claims. I want to talk about my experience as a lawyer, and I say that with some trepidation because of the comments that have been made about lawyers.
I spent my legal career in community law centres, where we acted for the most disadvantaged members of our community. Where we could, we would help them under the legal aid scheme, but we would also represent people at tribunals. As a lawyer, I took very seriously my responsibility to advise my clients whether their claim had any chance of success. I would make it clear to them if I thought that their claim had no chance of success, because I certainly did not want to get in front of a tribunal and find myself in trouble with the chair, possibly with cost orders made against me and the law centre.
I want to give an example of a case that demonstrates the importance of representation being available in employment tribunals. I had a client with a history of mental health problems. She had managed, with a loving and supportive family, to maintain a job as
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a cleaner for many years, but she had an episode of her mental health problem reoccurring and ended up having to go into a psychiatric hospital. Her employer wrote to her at the hospital, wishing her all the best in getting better but saying that she was dismissed forthwith. Her husband came to see me to say that that did not seem quite fair. The family did not have English as their first language, but they had a feeling that things were not quite as they should be.
As a lawyer in a law centre, I was lucky to be in a position to take that case forward. The employer denied any form of discrimination, although in the end we issued disability discrimination proceedings, and claimed unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and unpaid wages. It was a powerful claim. The employer would not have settled that claim if he did not know that a lawyer was willing to go all the way to a tribunal and represent that person.
Mr. Forth: I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Lady for sharing that direct experience with us, but is she making a case for the Bill, or is she reinforcing the argument that many Conservative Members have advanced, that most of the mechanisms in place already are pretty adequate and we should be careful not to try add to their number unnecessarily? That seems to be the thrust of what she has just said.
Ms Johnson: There are cases where it is vital that people have access to legal representation, or representation through a trade union. This Government have been sensible in bringing forward alternative dispute resolution as a powerful means of trying to settle claims between employers and employees, but some cases will go to tribunal and it is vital that those most disadvantaged in our societythey are the people whom we are talking abouthave the opportunity to have legal representation.
Mr. Kevan Jones: It is nice to hear from an individual who understands the subject more than the previous hon. Member to make a speech did. Is it correct that, if the case that she described had been a frivolous case, it would not even have got through the tribunal's doors?
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