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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My noble friend makes a powerful case. I would like to suggest to the Minister that there are two aspects that one would like a reply to. It must be the case that Members of the Committee wonder why we bother to say we oppose clause stand part because, of course, in a Grand Committee, that is a proposition almost writ in water. Nobody divides on anything in a Grand Committee.

But I must say to the Minister that this is a matter that we ought to come back to on Report. I am sure he understands that a large number of these amendments are moved both as a matter of practicality and as a matter of principle. We do not believe that workers should be inhibited in the way that the Bill could mean as regards their access, on reasonable cases, to the justice of tribunals.

Now, of the two points that I hope my noble friend can respond to, the first thing that arises from this Clause 25 is that a government should never take powers that they cannot possibly see the need of. As I understood my noble friend the Minister, he was saying, "Well, of course, we could do all sorts of terrible things under these powers to make regulations, but we could not possibly imagine ourselves doing it". Now, of course, if that is just at the margins, I quite understand; the Government want to be able to adjust things with fine tuning as time goes along. But this is an ability under Clause 25 in the new Subsection (3ZA) vastly greater than the Government say they need. It really is hubris of a government to take vast powers when they say they only need small ones, although what those small ones are going to be used for is more and more mysterious.

Indeed—and this is my second point in support of my noble friend's proposition that the Government should please go away and consider dropping or re-drafting this clause in some way—I have had more communications from expert commentators upon Clause 25 and Clause 33 than upon anything else because Clause 25 is the hinge. We cannot discuss them both together because of our procedure but we will come to Clause 33 later.

Clause 33 is the clause under which, unless they fulfil certain conditions, workers are going to be prevented from getting to the tribunal at all and from presenting a case to the tribunal at all. Now, the Minister will understand, I am sure, that those conditions relate to Schedule 2. He says an applicant will be asked under the new procedures, "Have you completed certain procedures"? That is what Schedule 2 is about. So Clause 25 is the hinge that takes you to the operation of Clause 33. There is vast concern about what will be put in the new prescribed forms. I understand that there will be new prescribed forms but we cannot tell exactly what there will be that is different from the current ET1 in the new prescribed form and whether a worker will be asked to say what procedures he has followed. We have already made the case that he

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should not be asked to guarantee that, but of course, even a statement of honest belief could go to the operation of Clause 33 if it did not fulfil the requirements of Schedule 2 and steps he has to complete if he is to be allowed even to go within the range of hearing of the tribunal.

I hope we can get some assurance from the Minister that this clause, which is so central to the operation of the new machinery of it and Clause 33, and indeed Clauses 31 and 34, is going to be reconsidered by the Government.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I, too, would like to support my noble friends who have expressed their concerns about Clause 25. As I said earlier, it can be taken that the form could be redesigned to provide all sorts of obstacles to somebody who wanted to apply to an employment tribunal. We have heard from the Minister this afternoon that that is not the Government's intention. He said that the form would not be compulsory and gave the impression that so far as present procedures are concerned, they were quite satisfactory.

If that is so, I question whether the clause is needed at all. Quite frankly, if it remains unamended in the Bill, it will give the impression to many people that the whole thing is going to be reorganised, the form will be redesigned, everything will be made much more difficult, and further obstacles will be put in the way of people who want to go to an ET.

The Government have assured us that that is not the intention; of course, I accept that. However, since that is so, it seems to me that there is a case for looking very carefully at the clause. As it stands at the moment, as the Minister has himself said, powers given under the clause are very wide indeed. Can we please have this looked at again?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I said when I was responding to Amendments Nos. 84 to 86 that Clause 25 seems to be very widely drawn. I do not deny that in certain hands—no doubt taken as it stands—these powers could be distorted or even misused. That is the nature of regulations and legislation. That is always the case; there is nothing different here. It is always the case that we do not commit future governments, and nothing is set in stone, to use the analogy of the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton.

The powers are wide because there are a number of things which may be necessary, and have been suggested as being necessary in the consultation process, to improve the efficiency of the tribunal system. This has all been a matter of consultation already; it will continue to be a matter of consultation with the TUC, the CBI, the Law Society, the Council on Tribunals, the presidents of the tribunals themselves and everybody else—the "tribunal judiciary" as it is called, is it not? It is the intention that the forms will be properly designed and "plain English-ed". Indeed, I would not mind giving an undertaking that the forms will be sent to the Campaign for Plain English. Does not Chrissie Maher in Manchester do a very good job and receive awards

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every year? She looks at things whether they are sent to her or not. They can certainly be sent to her for her expert criticism.

If it can be shown that something could be put on the face of the Bill which would give more assurance to those who are worried about misuse of regulations, we will look at it of course between now and Report stage. We always do that.

Lord McCarthy: Why cannot the Minister look at our amendment? That is what our amendment does.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: We are discussing clause stand part at the moment.

Lord McCarthy: Why did you not—?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The amendments are defective. I am sorry; I have to look at the amendments on the face of the Bill. I have no objection whatsoever to our debating in Grand Committee the Question that the clause stand part. The subject was introduced with a measure of apology. No apology is necessary; it is entirely proper that we should be debating clause stand part. However, at present we are debating clause stand part and not particular amendments. We have to choose.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I appreciate what my noble friend says. Of course, it goes without saying that our amendments are almost certainly defective in their wording and can always be improved if the Minister is intending to take them away and reconsider them. However, I rose only to obtain clarification because there is much concern about what will be done with these powers. My noble friend says that the form can be put into plain English. I have the form here. Which part of it is not in plain English?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not believe that it is my job to criticise the existing form. I acknowledge that a number of people here are better informed than I am about tribunals. I spent my working life in questionnaire design, and I do know something about forms. Many things can be said about most government forms, and it is certainly true that many government forms are not expressed as clearly as they might be. I have given undertakings about the form being in plain English.

The matter comes back to the fundamental point that I want to make in relation to Part 2 of the Bill. We are trying to promote other ways of resolving cases. We are not proposing a mechanistic system to cut down on claims. However, we are looking for flexibility in choice and that must be to the advantage of applicants as well as employers.

I have listened to claims that there will be a reduction in the number of tribunal cases. I have no idea whether there will be a reduction in the number of cases; there may well be an increase. That is not the object of the exercise. The object of the exercise is to secure resolution in different ways and, so far as possible, to do so in advance of the tribunal to the satisfaction of all parties. It is not the intention to

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freeze out applications. That is not what the forms will be used for. I shall consider between now and Report stage whether it is possible to be more precise about those objectives in Clause 25.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Before the Minister sits down, I do not support his noble friends in their opposition to the Question whether Clause 25 stand part of the Bill. In responding to his noble friends, the Minister pointed out yet again, as he did earlier when he responded to the amendment, the wide nature of the powers that the Secretary of State has. His noble friends showed their concern about it, as indeed did I, and that is why I supported their Amendments Nos. 84 and 86.

I know that we are not discussing the amendments now but, in view of what the Minister said about the extraordinarily wide powers conferred by Clause 25 and what could happen, I believe that he should look again at the amendments. They may well be defective, but there is no reason why the Minister and the Government could not return with amendments that meet our concerns some of the way.

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