Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government accept that, if the situation in Bosnia were to deteriorate further, the British forces operating in Bosnia or earmarked for Bosnia may have to be given rules of engagement which lie outside those necessary to operate the United Nations mandate?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord will be aware that we do not comment on rules of engagement in these matters. I can assure him that should it be necessary to seek to withdraw our forces and the United Nations forces from Bosnia should the position worsen, the planning for such a withdrawal certainly continues as a precautionary measure.

Disability Discrimination Bill

3.7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Disability Discrimination Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order—

Clause 1,

Schedule 1,

Clauses 2 to 23,

Schedule 3,

Clauses 24 to 40,

Schedule 2,

Schedules 4 to 6.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

5 Jun 1995 : Column 1183

Employment Rights Bill [H.L.]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is the first of two linked consolidation Bills on the Order Paper in my name. If I may, I shall speak to them both together, and then move the second formally.

These two Bills restate most of the employment legislation which remained unconsolidated after the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Although the 1992 Act did include some provisions about individual employment rights and the tribunal system for employment cases, it did so only to the extent that they related to the other matters with which the Act dealt. The Employment Rights Bill now before your Lordships' House consolidates the remaining provisions of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 about the rights of employers and employees together with three sets of free-standing provisions about workers' rights.

The Act of 1978 has been substantially amended, and it has become increasingly difficult for practitioners in employment law, not to mention employers (in particular small businesses) and employees, to find their way around the statutory provisions. The consolidation of a field of law where individuals often have to act without professional advice will be very welcome, and I should like to take this opportunity to thank the draftsman for continuing this important consolidation work.

In the 1994 Green Paper, Resolving Employment Rights Disputes, the Government included a commitment to bring forward legislation to consolidate individual employment rights legislation at the earliest practicable opportunity. The introduction of the Employment Rights Bill fulfils that commitment. If your Lordships are content to give these Bills a Second Reading, they will be referred in the usual way to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. I commend the Bills to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for introducing these two Bills. Obviously it is to the advantage of everybody concerned with employment law to have them consolidated into two separate Bills. I should like to raise one question in regard to the Industrial Tribunals Bill. As I have raised these issues before, I do not suppose the noble and learned Lord will be surprised.

The Industrial Tribunals Bill also covers the Employment Arbitration Tribunal. What continues to concern me in regard to EAT and IT operations is the length of time it still takes for cases to be resolved. Industrial tribunal cases still take some time to be heard, but in relation to appeals to the EAT it can take a long time before a case is finally resolved.

Technically it is possible for an industrial tribunal to order reinstatement. If an employee has to wait while a case proceeds to appeal in an issue where reinstatement has been ordered, it is not realistic to expect that to be considered and agreed upon if the EAT takes around three years to hear the case. The other issue is that employers

5 Jun 1995 : Column 1184

themselves can appeal and, if an employer appeals against an IT case which has been resolved in favour of the employee, it is a bit hard on the employee to have to wait a number of years before the issue is resolved on appeal, particularly as I understand that no interest is payable on any amount awarded.

I understand that further judges have been appointed—we raised this issue some time ago in your Lordships' House—but the numbers still do not seem to be sufficient. I therefore appeal to the noble and learned Lord to give this issue some consideration. Otherwise we welcome the consolidation of these Bills into this form and thank those who are responsible for the drafting.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as the noble Baroness is aware, the need for judicial resources in the Employment Appeal Tribunal was one of the matters considered by the working party set up by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice and myself some time ago, which resulted in a substantial increase in the judicial power of the High Court. One result of that has been to reduce substantially the waiting time for cases being heard by the Employment Appeal Tribunal. I should like to see that waiting time reduced still further, but, as the noble Baroness is aware, there are many calls on the judicial strength of the High Court and the question of how many judges should be in the Employment Appeal Tribunal is one that must be reviewed from time to time. The noble Baroness has my assurance that I shall keep under review this important area of High Court judge deployment. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

Industrial Tribunals Bill [H.L.]

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I have already referred to this Bill and I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read a second time and committed to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

Proceeds of Crime Bill [H.L.]

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Chesham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

5 Jun 1995 : Column 1185

Human Tissue (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Finsberg: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Finsberg.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Child Support Bill

3.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The 1991 Child Support Act set up a new child maintenance system. At that time the existing system of child maintenance was clearly failing large numbers of children. Almost three in four parents with care received not a penny in regular maintenance for their children. The proportion was lower still—and falling even further as time went by—for those families receiving income support.

The system for assessing maintenance was fragmented with a variety of levels of courts involved. This resulted in inconsistent awards of maintenance with people in similar circumstances being required to pay vastly different amounts of maintenance depending on, first, the court attended; secondly, which magistrate or judge they appeared before; or, thirdly, what agreement DSS officers could reach with absent parents.

When maintenance orders were made under the old system, parents faced a return to court if they wished to vary their order, or if enforcement action were needed, with no guarantee of success. The new system was to be based on a maintenance formula which was intended to ensure consistency in assessing the level of maintenance payable. The Child Support Agency was set up to provide a "one stop" service for the assessment and collection of child maintenance. It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to see that there were potential problems with the child support system. However, at the time it was introduced, the proposed system was widely supported, although I understand your Lordships had reservations which were expressed during the passage of the Bill.

The Child Support Agency has now been operating for two years and although it has had a less than comfortable time since its inception it is already achieving a great deal. The need for the new child maintenance system has been borne out by the high number and proportion of cases taken on by the agency where no maintenance was being paid. Of the 400,000 cases taken on in 1994-95, 77 per cent. were not receiving maintenance. In 1994-95 the agency collected over £70 million in maintenance, which compares favourably with the £13 million the previous year. Additionally, £100 million in child maintenance, arising from agency assessments, was paid directly to people with care by absent parents. This represents a

5 Jun 1995 : Column 1186

significant contribution to maintaining children and is illustrative of the agency's improved performance in 1994-95.

The Government have monitored progress closely: first, when, during the first year, we identified cause for concern as to the operation of the child support scheme we introduced reforms rapidly; secondly, in February 1994 we reduced the level of many assessments, allowed absent parents more time to adjust to increased bills and stopped charging some collection fees; thirdly, we responded to parliamentary concerns and in some respects went further than the recommendations of the Social Security Select Committee in its first report on the agency; fourthly, we continued to monitor the position closely and considered very carefully the Social Security Select Committee's second report.

We consequently published the White Paper, Improving Child Support, in January, which set out our plans for the reform of child maintenance provision. Those plans encompassed subordinate legislation to bring in speedily those measures which could be effected through regulation and primary legislation for those that could not.

In April we debated the important first step in implementing these measures in a package of regulations which changed the formula by: first, ensuring that absent parents normally keep at least 70 per cent. of their net income after maintenance; secondly, introducing a broad-brush allowance in recognition of property settlements and towards high travel-to-work costs; thirdly, allowing for the housing costs of new partners and step families; and, fourthly, reducing the maximum level of maintenance payable. That package also abolished interest and suspended the collection of fees for new cases for two years and deferred the liability by eight weeks for those absent parents who supply basic information quickly. During that debate I was heartened by the continued clear commitment of both the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, who was leading for the official Opposition, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to the principle that both parents are responsible for their children even if they live apart.

Today, I am pleased to bring forward primary legislation from another place. The Bill will represent a significant step forward. The Opposition in another place recognised that and agreed not to engage in "trench warfare", whatever "trench warfare" might be in the other place. The honourable Member for Glasgow, Garscadden commented during the Third Reading debate on 22nd May, "I accept that much of what is happening is what we have requested".

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page