§ 3. Mrs. Knight
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will list the number of dismissal cases before industrial tribunals for each three-month period since the tribunals began work.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
As the reply involves a table of figures, I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, circulate the details in the Official Report.
§ Mrs. Knight
Is it not true that the number of dismissal cases is rising sharply? Is the Minister aware that clerks in employment exchanges often urge dismissed persons to claim, stressing that it will not cost them anything, even though the dismissal may be perfectly justified? Is he also aware that cost to the employer is inevitable, whatever happens? Will he take steps to stop claims which are purely vexatious or trivial, because they are a problem for industry?
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Lady is right, I think, in only the first part of what she said. It is certainly true that the number of applications to tribunals concerning unfair dismissal cases is increasing. However, the hon. Lady should not believe all that she reads in newspapers. The kind of wild allegation that she has made about the staff of the Employment Services Agency has been investigated. Certainly, as we should expect, the staff give advice, which is available to all. However, they do not operate in the way that the hon. Lady and some sections of the Press have suggested. Of course, the tribunals already have power to award costs against the appellant where there is a frivolous or vexatious claim. Furthermore, I think that the hon. Lady will recognise that the conciliation officers of the ACAS have been playing a sieving rôle to ensure that where cases can be settled without going to tribunal, this is done.
§ Mr. Madden
Will the Minister of State confirm that no worker can make an application for unfair dismissal unless he has completed 26 weeks' continuous employment? Will he further confirm that that period also allows a competent employer to determine whether 266 a person is satisfactory, and that the provisions of this legislation represent fundamental rights which have been freely available to many workers in most other countries for many years?
§ Mr. Walker
My hon. Friend is quite right. I can tell him and the House that I never cease to be surprised by the number of letters that I receive from Conservative Members complaining that the 26-week period prevents some of their constituents from making applications. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that the unfair dismissal in the first place rests with the employer. It is not the Act which creates unfair dismissals; it is the employers.
§ Mr. Prior
Does the Minister recognise that there is great concern about the way in which industrial tribunals are operating at the moment? Is he aware that it is a concern that is not confined to employers but is shared by some trade unions leaders? Is he also aware that the number of unfair dismissal cases is going up by about 50 per cent. a year? Does he realise that this is leading to a view among small employers in particular that it is far better not to employ labour? If we are to reduce unemployment, ought he not to look at this in a rather less prejudiced way than he has, perhaps, done so far?
§ Mr. Walker
I have acknowledged that the number of applications to tribunals on the ground of unfair dismissal has risen in recent years, but I should point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, contrary to the assumption that there is a steady increase at the rate of 50 per cent. a year, it has levelled out over the past 18 months at about 3,000 cases per quarter. However, I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point regarding the concern that has been expressed about tribunals. It would have helped both the House and me if he had been more specific. For example, there are allegations that the tribunals have become over-legalistic. It is said that as a consequence, instead of being informal hearings, without legal support and the consequent costs, such legalism has added to the costs of taking cases to tribunals. I share that concern, and it is something, that we shall have to look at. However, if the right hon. Gentleman has other points in mind I shall be glad to look at 267 them if he will draw to my attention specific charges.
§ Following is the information:
§ The following figures give the numbers of unfair dismissal cases reported as heard in the following quarters: