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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his comments. Obviously I did not succeed in explaining the problem. It is a mechanical problem. Quite simply, if there are 1,000 individual alleged victims who want to bring forward their cases, each of them must fill in his own originating application and submit it to different tribunals throughout the United Kingdom. The relevant officials must then try to group it all and decide what to do about it, while the union involved has to chase up the matter. However, a single piece of paper could list the names of all those 1,000 people and the matter could be remitted to one tribunal.

When the presidents of the industrial tribunals are consulted about test cases, that is the right course to take. However, I am not referring to test cases; I am referring to the ludicrous mechanical problem whereby one has to fill in all these bureaucratic forms against different employers, all with the same common defence imposed upon them by the Secretary of State. If we are trying to improve efficiency for employers, employees and industrial tribunals, I ask rhetorically: what on earth is the objection to a power (which is all it is) to

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introduce representative proceedings in order to gather such cases in an orderly, inexpensive and efficient way? Thus far I have not heard any argument to suggest that that is a bad idea.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: I would certainly not suggest that it is a bad idea. I fully take note of the noble Lord's point and believe that it should be addressed. If such a provision had been in the Bill, I can well imagine that some of my noble friends--and, no doubt, the noble Lord--would have said, "Yes, we must have safeguards here. We must think the matter through and ensure that, before anyone allows his name to go down, he has received adequate advice". So it is not a matter that can be dealt with at a stroke. I am not really saying any more than that. We would be making a fairly substantial departure from present procedures if we accepted the amendment. I do not believe that we should leap into such action.

As the noble Lord said, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has established a working group to look into the whole question of representing a range of interests. As I understand it--and my noble friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong--the group will be meeting over the next three or four months and then, as the noble Lord suggested, there is likely to be a paper for consultation.

In those circumstances I should have thought that it would be sensible to await the outcome of such a review. If one is to try to address a problem, there is a great deal to be said for getting it right rather than for getting it wrong and having to put it right in two years' time. It seems to me that that would be sensible rather than attempting to rectify the situation in Committee. We should really await the outcome. For those reasons I hope that my noble friend and the noble Lord will consider withdrawing their amendments. That does not mean that I do not think they have a point. Moreover, it does not mean that I cannot say what my noble friend Lord Haskel cannot say--I will be on their side if they have to lobby the Government. I am only saying that I would like to be clear about what it is we seek to achieve. In my view, we should wait until all that information is available to us before we jump in.

Lord Haskel: For the sake of clarity, I should point out to Members of the Committee that I am speaking to Amendments Nos. 2, 6 and 7. Like my noble and learned friend Lord Archer, I have some sympathy with the aim of the amendments. I know that the handling of multiple claims made to industrial tribunals can be difficult. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, described them in a most eloquent manner. However, we believe that tribunals have sufficient powers to deal with them. It is not clear whether powers are required in order to give effect to dealing with cases in the way suggested.

It is important not to restrict the powers of tribunals to deal with such cases in the manner that they judge to be most appropriate. In particular, the question of representative action requires a good deal of thought. As my noble and learned friend Lord Archer noted, such action would involve a radical departure from existing practice. However, having said that, I can assure the

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Committee that the Government will carefully consider the recommendations of the working group set up by the Lord Chancellor to ascertain whether any action needs to be taken in respect of industrial tribunals.

In addition, the Equal Opportunities Commission is reviewing the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. It will be reporting its findings in the Spring of 1998. Rather than anticipate what the commission might propose, I believe it would be better to await the outcome of its review. The EOC's proposals can be given proper consideration and the Government can give their response to them. I am sure that the commission is only too well aware of the difficulties involved in equal pay and equal value cases. Moreover, the Government have announced that a ministerial task force is to be set up to implement the manifesto commitment concerning enforceable and comprehensive civil rights for disabled people. Again, I believe it would be sensible to await the outcome of that review.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank my noble friend the Minister and my noble and learned friend for their responses to my amendment. I am very glad to learn that it is generally understood that there is a problem here. I am grateful for that assurance and for the assurance that consideration is being given to the matter by the government body to which my noble friend referred.

Multiple claims have been a problem from the very beginning of industrial tribunals. When they were first introduced, I can clearly remember making regular submissions on behalf of my union before industrial tribunals. If you got more than one or two people involved in an issue, you tried to find someone who would be a suitable test case. You would then take the case and hope that, if you won it, the results would be applied to other employees. However, as I said earlier, it did not always work out in that way.

The amendment is an enabling measure. It simply provides for regulations to be introduced. Indeed, it does not specify any kind of procedure because that was not our intention. In speaking to his amendment, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, made reference to the speech therapist case. That is really an example of a case which seems to have gone on for a very long time. Certainly my union would not have been able to have embarked upon so lengthy and expensive a procedure had there not been support from the EOC. I happen to know that the commission is also concerned about the whole business of representative proceedings.

In fact, when I was a member of the commission, that precise point was included among the representations that we made from time to time to improve legislation. I am sure that the commission will want to proceed with the issue. Nevertheless, I do not intend to divide the Committee at this stage of the proceedings. I shall simply emphasise again that this was an enabling amendment to ensure that regulations would be introduced. That could of course be quite complex and detailed consideration would have to be given to such regulations before they could be introduced. I still think

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that there is a strong case for the amendment but I accept that my noble friend the Minister is seized of the problem.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. In responding to the amendment the Minister referred to enforceable civil rights for the disabled. In response to a Question today in this Chamber the Minister responsible for employment referred to a timescale but said that it was not likely to come into being until the year 2005. What is the timescale for this measure?

Lord Haskel: I am afraid that I do not have a timescale.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I hope that the Minister will read carefully the debate that has taken place today. As regards the point about representative action, in a sense all that is being asked is that we take the High Court practice under order 15, rule 12, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred, and apply it to industrial or employment tribunals. As regards the working group of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, can the Minister find out--I am sorry to add to his burdens--by Report Stage whether or not that working group will deal with industrial tribunals, or employment tribunals as I must learn to call them now that we have dealt with Clause 1? I had thought that the working group would not deal with those tribunals, at least until a later stage. If the Minister can enlighten us on that point, that would be extremely helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 not moved.]

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I now wish to speak to Amendment No. 7.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Dean of Harptree): I am afraid that the noble Lord has missed his opportunity.

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, leave out lines 34 to 38.

The noble and learned Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if, in moving Amendment No. 5, I speak also to Amendment No. 40. I do not think that I need detain the Committee for any great length of time. These are two technical amendments to give effect to something that was always the intention. Tribunals already have the power to require written answers to questions which they formulate. If a party fails to answer a question, his or her case may be struck out. However, if there are more than two parties involved, that may not prove to be an adequate sanction and the dispute may still require a full hearing when otherwise that could be avoided.

The effect of Clause 2 is to introduce the sanction which now exists in Section 7 of the Industrial Tribunals Act 1996 which makes failure to comply an offence.

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The danger is that that may be thought to deprive tribunals of the power which they have in other cases. What no one wishes to do is to prevent tribunals exercising the powers they already have. The purpose of these amendments is simply to make clear that Clause 2 does not affect any of the other tribunal powers. I beg to move.

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