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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I thank the Minister for his explanation and I shall look at Hansard with interest. I am not addressing Clause 22 as a wholeI shall argue in the next sitting of the Committee that other parts of it not only do not make sense but that they are unjust and in one case in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, I am not addressing that at the moment and, with great respect, that is confusing and has already confused one of my noble friends who mistook "A" for "a"we do not want to get into that sort of thing. This is a very simple point.
The Minister says this rule has been basic. I believe he said it has survived more than one government and that is absolutely true. However, he cannot guarantee that it will survive every government who are to come in the next five years and he cannot guarantee even that a government in the near future will have to make a good argument to change it. What he is doing is refusing to put the rule in primary legislation. We cannot do more than put rules in primary legislation,
We all know perfectly well that regulations sometimes get through, without very good arguments, by vote and we do not want to leave this matter to regulations. We do not want the power in regulations to change the basis on which costs are awarded in our employment tribunals. We say there is a risk of thatand we say it albeit that the Minister's advisers appear to treat it with some levitybecause there is a very strong body of pressure not least from certain groups of employers, not all by any means, which the Government know perfectly well, to change the rules in tribunals so that more workers have to pay costs. Indeed, you do not need to be particularly suspicious about the Bill. The power to award more costs and higher costs in the future under these regulations would be one way of cutting down applications to the tribunals. The Government want to cut out 40,000good, bad or indifferent, 40,000 have to go. How much better than to threaten costs against workers who dare to assert their rights in industrial tribunals. I do not for a moment think the Minister thinks thathe understands perfectly well that that would be an atrociously unreasonable thing to do. He knows the real world, as we all do, and he surely understands that there is great pressure on the Government to do that. The Secretary of State would only have to pass some regulations the year after nextthat is what we are against.
My noble friend, Lord Gladwin, suggests that we want to stay where we are and that we want the rules not to change. The Minister in another place assured us that the rules would not change. The Minister today said that he also agrees that the rules should not change. Why not put that in primary legislation? This is not the last time that I will say that during the passage of this Billthis Bill is extremely dangerous. It is taking powers to make regulations that are wider than the objectives that the Government set themselves. There is absolutely no case for re-enactmentsimilar words are used, although they are not put in exactly the same order, in paragraphs (a) and (b). There is no place at all for Clause 22(1).
That is all that I am addressing. I ask my noble friend to reconsider this matter with his advisors. If he does not, we will begin to believe that this Bill, even on the most reasonable points and the most modest amendments, has been set in stone by some pact or agreement at a higher level, which allows ministers no flexibility in Committee.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am sorry, but I must resist the proposal. Motives are now being suggested and officials are being accused of treating matters with levity, which I resent because it is quite untrue.
The full cost rules were not raised in Routes to Resolution. There was no question of that and no intention of introducing any change, whatever the pressure there might be; moreover, I give the assurance that there is no pressure.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: With respect, two points arise from what my noble friend has said. First, the Government may not have outlined plans to increase costs, but the Minister seems to have forgotten that they revived what we may call "The Lord Young of Graffham" principle from 1986 in their first proposal. That involves imposing charges on workers for going near the tribunals.
Lord McCarthy: The Government are the victim of their own announcements. If the Government are suspected, it is because they have said in the consultation document and throughout the Committee stage in another place that they want to get rid of one-third of tribunal cases. The whole thing is aimed at getting rid of 40,000 cases. How is that to be done?
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My noble friend is right. I cannot forget the historical fact that the Government even began with a proposal to impose charges. Call it a charge, call it costsI do not care what it is called. Later on in this clause it is called a payment; we shall come to that. Nevertheless, however that is disguised in words, more money will be taken from a worker or there will be the threat to take money from a worker, whose objective is to enforce his rights in an industrial tribunal. That is absolutely indefensible.
I said at Second Reading that a right that cannot be enforced, and a right against which people threaten one with measures so that one cannot enforce them, is an exercise in rhetoric. It is not a right at all.
I had a second point, which I have entirely forgotten, in view of the interruptions. I shall read Hansard and make it on Report. I cannot think that my noble friend the Minister will wake up tomorrow morning and be convinced. I appreciate that the Government, as so often, it seems, are unable to say "Yes" to amendments to the Bill.
I have now remembered my second point. I am not suggesting that my noble friend would not be flexiblehe is the most reasonable of men. However, it looks as though this Bill is set in stone because no argument is accepted, even on the basis that Ministers will go away and think about the matter again. Usually in Committee, Ministers say, "All right, we don't agree with you, but we'll go away and think about the matter again". It appears that we are never told that; if we are not going to be told that tomorrow, I wonder whether we will be here later than we should bewe are already here tonight later than we should be; we were given an assurance that Grand Committee sittings ended at 7.30 p.m. The rules are that I must withdraw the amendment, but we do not intend to drop itwe shall return to it on Report, as the Companion advises. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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