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Mr. Kevan Jones: It is perhaps worse than that. Under the heading "Staff", paragraph 11 says:

If it decides to have an open-ended budget, the organisation could employ thousands of people by the end of its term of office.

Mr. Harper: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. The rules under which the board would operate are extremely worrying. Paragraph 11 is a concern. It mentions

with no checks or balances. Organisations are usually constrained by budgets and the priorities awarded by the Treasury, but as the Treasury has no control over how much money the organisation gets, it could grow like Topsy. That would worry those in all other Departments.

Paragraph 19 relates to supplementary powers. It is also worrying that the board has the power to

Given that no minimum requirements are set for the size of such committees and no restrictions are placed on any of those powers, the organisation could have an
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unlimited budget, extracted from the Lord Chancellor by statute, and employ any number of staff, yet all its functions could be exercised by a single individual, with no control at all. So the Bill could give an individual the possibility of running a vast organisation that has a huge budget and over which there is little control. We should not be doing that.

An alternative and better approach—it is probably fairly clear that I am not a great fan of the Bill and am not likely to support it—would be to draw on some of the helpful remarks of Labour Members. We could make employment legislation less complex and make the knowledge of those organisations that already provide advice in our communities more widely known, so that people can get to them more easily. Perhaps we should encourage Labour Members who have strong links with trade unions to make those unions better advocates of the services that they offer for representation. Those need to be better marketed. That would be a more suitable way of addressing discrimination.

Mark Tami: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but does he accept that employers also need a bit of educating about some of the services or advice that is available to them so that they do not get into difficulties in the first place?

Mr. Harper: That is a valuable point. When I listed the organisations that provide advice, it was very much from an employee's perspective. It might be helpful, particularly for smaller employers, if the employment tribunals website—I ask it to forgive me if I do it a disservice, because it might already do this—listed organisations that provide at least the first level of advice to employers, especially those that do not have easy access to professional advice.

Mr. Flello: The hon. Gentleman may or may not be aware that Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, is working with ACAS. Together, they have formed a partnership that involves about 100 small and medium-sized firms in the Yorkshire and Humber area. The partnership is working with small employers to tackle equality and diversity.

Mr. Harper: That is a helpful intervention. That sort of partnership working and having different organisations providing advice is a much more sensible approach than—

Mark Tami: I would hope that employer organisations did not act as the Engineering Employers Federation did on recognition rights. Rather than encouraging its members to engage with trade unions, it recommended that they go to Eversheds, which ran a good union-busting-type operation. I hope that employer organisations do not go down that road.

Mr. Harper: Heaven forbid my ever recommending to anyone to rush off to enrich large firms of City lawyers.

Whatever problems we have with people having access to employment tribunals, the key point is that we would be setting up a quango that has unlimited funding and unlimited numbers of staff at the expense of the
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various equality commissions that already exist, which are already funding organisations to provide access to tribunals. That seems a retrograde step and one that I cannot support.

12.46 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) on introducing the Bill and on inspiring quite a high-quality debate on access to justice for all in respect of discrimination and in a wider context. How do we ensure that the most vulnerable in the work force—people who are not necessarily represented by a union or people who do not have easy access to the legal network—can justifiably bring discrimination cases?

At the risk of jeopardising the career prospects of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), I congratulate him on his extremely rational and reasonable contribution, both in terms of the principles he was speaking to and his analysis of the Bill clause by clause. I suspect that I might have knocked his chances back by about six months at least.

Mark Tami: Is the hon. Gentleman standing?

Mr. Harper: Nominations closed yesterday.

Huw Irranca-Davies rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Hon. Members should intervene when they are conceded the opportunity to do so and should not shout at one another across the Chamber.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I took the interjections in the spirit in which they were made in contributions to the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Surely the principle of access to justice for everyone is absolutely right. A major bone of contention is the expense and scope of the proposals—the belt-and-braces approach. It is said that, in effect, the Bill is a universal charter of prescription, and there is the worry that it is a universal charter for legal aid rather than a more proportionate response that would target those with the greatest need whose complex cases require full legal assistance against what are often highly professional teams of solicitors and barristers. That is one of the major criticisms.

Linked to that is the argument that, in some ways, the Bill, well-intentioned though it is, is unnecessary on two counts. First, the quality of advice and the extent of legal representation is already available. I have voiced concerns about how complete that coverage is. It is said that by and large the legal advice is already available.

Secondly, the Bill militates against the Government's aims of early intervention and non-litigious solutions such as conciliation.

Mark Tami: My hon. Friend makes a point about which I, too, am very worried. Although, as he says, a lot of advice is available, we must have a proper network that ensures that people are aware of it.
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Huw Irranca-Davies: I entirely agree. On the latter point, availability is not the only issue, and we have, as a Government, made great strides with the various legal services and the voluntary sector to extend coverage. There is also the fundamental issue, which has frequently been mentioned in the debate, of how we draw these matters to people's attention when they cannot easily turn to somebody who can give them advice, either because they are in a workplace where they are actively discouraged from doing so or because they simply do not have access to a well trained, highly skilled and capable representative, union or otherwise. I shall return to that issue later.

Members have mentioned the principle that prevention is better than cure. The aim is to keep cases out of the legal system, not simply to try to pull back money from solicitors wherever possible but because it is far better to deal with issues as they arise. We should aim for early intervention rather than people getting into the costs, stress and anxiety caused by making a legal case and taking it through hearings and tribunals. That is very much the thrust of the Government's approach.

The dispute resolution process can take many forms, including mediation and arbitration. The use of grievance and disciplinary procedures is part of the process. I have learned through my experience in various voluntary sector organisations how crucial effective working relationships with all staff are. Employers should actively encourage people to express concerns or grievances, rather than slap them down or create a culture in which they feel unable to speak. In addition, there must be written procedures, even if, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) said, they are the basic required grievance and disciplinary procedures.

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