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However, it does not define any of that, and it does not give the board any means by which to prioritise between carrying them out "effectively" and "efficiently and economically". There is no way of weighing that up. Given the other provisions in the Bill, it strikes me that it may well be biased towards the "effectively" and not worry too much about the "economically".
The other point overlaying the debate relates to the position in employment law, and the hon. Member for Bradford, West focused his specific examples on complicated cases. Therefore, if we are to pass the Bill, it is incumbent on us to try to make it as simple and easy to understand as possible. The interpretive provisions in clause 11 refer to when the Act would apply to proceedings and how someone would know whether their particular case was covered by it. There are detailed references to sections in many other Acts of Parliament, so how could any member of the public who might benefit from this Bill be clear about whether they fell under its provisions? They are very complicated. There would be a little sub-industry, with people arguing about whether their cases fell within the realms of discrimination so that they could get assistance from the board, or whether they were cases of a different nature, which would mean that they would get no such assistance. That would add complexity to an area that is already too complicated.
Clause 12 details the meaning of an eligible complainant: the sort of person who would benefitif benefit is the right wordfrom the Bill. The clause is both complicated and specific. The hon. Member for Bradford, West focused on dealing with discrimination, but I have difficulty reconciling myself to a Bill that would only help people to take complaints about discrimination to employment tribunals, rather than about other matters. The hon. Gentleman is being discriminatory by picking a subset of the cases that go to employment tribunals. To introduce rules about eligibility would create a lot of complexity.
Mr. Kevan Jones:
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would raise this matter when he considered the membership of the board. There is a further contradiction in paragraph 2(4) of schedule 1. Will he comment on the fact that the criteria for appointing
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three of the 10 individuals who will serve on the board include not ability but the fact that a person has
Mr. Harper: The hon. Gentleman is again perceptive and anticipates that I had noted that point as something about schedule 1 to which I wanted to draw attention. There is an even worse provision that shows that the hon. Member for Bradford, West might be guilty of discrimination, but I shall touch on that later.
Clause 13 sets out the wider meaning of assistance, but given that the hon. Member for Bradford, West has not estimated the amount that the Bill would cost, it is rather open-ended. It says that the assistance that may be given varies from advice and trying to settle a matter to
and arranging for representation by a whole range of people. More interestingly, such assistance could include the payment of many of the costs that could be incurred by a person going to an employment tribunal, even down to travel expenses. That would tilt the playing field further towards a person going to an employment tribunal and against others, especially small businesses.
Before the Bill makes any progress, the hon. Gentleman should give us a detailed estimate of its possible cost. I do not think that he is correct, but he says that thousands of people who suffer discrimination are not able to take their cases to employment tribunals because they do not receive appropriate advice. Labour Members have estimated that some cases that reach tribunal can cost thousands of pounds. Simple arithmetic shows that, if the Bill allowed those thousands of people to take their cases to tribunal, thousands of cases costing several thousand pounds each would lead to a cost of millions of pounds. The hon. Gentleman thus has a duty to the House to quantify the costs that might be incurred as best he can.
I am sure that we have all been waiting to get to schedule 1, which sets out the constitution of the board, with bated breath. I was appalled to find that paragraph 2(2) of the schedule says that at least one member of the board who is appointed by the commission for equality and human rights must be, by law,
I am not quite sure of the difference between a disabled person and a person with a disabilitythe phrase seems a little repetitive. Providing that there must be a disabled person on the board is a piece of discrimination. Just as we should not discriminate against people with disabilities, people should not be given jobs on boards because they have disabilitiesbut that is what the Bill says.
Mr. Jones: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, theoretically, someone who had a disability, who was from an ethnic minority and who had also taken proceedings before the tribunal might be able to apply under all three categories?
Yes, but there is a more serious point here. The number of members of the board would be limited, and by statute one of the positions would have
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to be given to a disabled person, so if a number of people applied, there could be indirect discrimination against someone on other grounds. Someone from another minority could apply, and they would not be given a position on the board because the quota for a disabled person had to be filled. That seems like nonsense. Whether the provision is badly drafted or whether that was the intention I do not know, but it seems rather bizarre.
The board would be packed with people who had not only brought cases to employment tribunals but, specifically, had brought cases of the kind with which the board is supposed to help. If that is not stacking the deck and loading the dice, I do not know what is.
Mr. Heald: If one wanted to set up such a boardwhich I do notsurely one would want on it people competent in administration and in ensuring that money got to the right place. The suggested constitution of the board, with people who have been aggrieved by decisions of a tribunal, and those with roles in the various commissions, is really one for a campaigning body. Is that the right kind of body for this purpose?
Mr. Forth: Does my hon. Friend agree that paragraph 2(4)(a) could be taken to mean that someone who had brought a frivolous complaint that had not yet been resolved could qualify for membership? As membership would be drawn by lot, is it not therefore possible that several frivolous complainants could qualify for the board?
Mr. Harper: My right hon. Friend's reading of the wording is accurate. There is no requirement that the proceedings that such people have brought should even have got past the pre-hearing stage. They could have brought proceedings that had no merit, yet they would still qualify to apply for membership of the board.
That strikes me as rather an incestuous process. That is one of the problems with police authorities. Part of the board, appointed under one set of rules, then picks some
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more people, which means that there is a rather incestuous relationship and it is not entirely clear on what grounds people have been chosen. That is not a satisfactory way of putting a board together.
Paragraph 10 is about the remuneration and pensions of members of the board. Again, it is disappointing that we are now talking about setting up another quango, whose chairman will be paid. In fact, thinking about what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, there is an interesting conflict. Bearing in mind the fact that the board would have the power to set a budget that the Lord Chancellor is compelled by statute to deliver, the Bill states:
That would set up an interesting process whereby the Lord Chancellor could trade the salaries of the board for the amount that the board decides it has to tell the Lord Chancellor he has to deliver. A game of bluff could develop, with the board requesting a vast amount of money and the Lord Chancellor doing deals with it to reduce the amount in return for the board receiving more money. I do not think that the Lord Chancellor would welcome that worrying conflict and nor should we.
Paragraph 10(2) deals not just with paying board members, but with paying them pensions, allowances, fees, expenses and other gratuities. Setting up more public sector pensions for people on the board when we already have a vast problem with the affordability of public sector pensions is not something that I would welcome.
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