HL Deb 18 March 1997 vol 579 cc760-2

2.45 p.m.

Lord McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the data which lay behind the recent statement of the Central Office of Industrial Tribunals to the effect that over half of the expenses claims by members of tribunals "are for less than £10 and a fifth for less than £5" include both travel and subsistence claims; and how far the levels of claims vary from region to region and by reference to whether members are employer or employee nominees.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)

My Lords, the data, based on a random sample of claims from across Great Britain, included both travel and subsistence claims. The proportion of claims for less than £10 varied between 48 per cent. and 76 per cent. across the industrial tribunals' five operational management commands in England and Wales and Scotland. The sample did not identify separately claims from employer and employee nominees.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. Surely he must accept that it is not satisfactory. For example, we do not know the proportion between employer and employee representatives and we do not know what will be the consequences of those decisions. Will he accept that we are creating a situation in which side members and parties who are forced to travel more than 10 miles by train or 20 miles by coach will be out of pocket? On the noble and learned Lord's own estimates, that will have a disproportionate effect on people who live a long way from the tribunals and have to spend that money. Does he agree that there are better ways of saving the money, if it has to be saved, than the way advanced by the Government?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I thought it was clear from the first Answer that I gave that the majority of claims are for less than £10 and a third of them for less than £7. Those members were receiving £119 as a daily fee and that has now gone up to £129. It does not seem to me that there is any significant loss to anyone who participates and indeed there will be some who will gain from it. I am bound to say that I do not consider that this is a matter of any great substance. Indeed, as the letter went out to tribunal members, the present arrangements were being changed, as was simply spelt out, because they were regarded as being unnecessarily cumbersome. I should have thought that the detail that I gave in the Answer would reveal that that was a perfectly sensible decision at which to arrive.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member who sits on a tribunal panel. Is it not a fact that that letter gave the news that the increase would be £10 on the daily rate? Did it not also give the reason that it was to save a very large amount of money in administrative costs? There were costs in checking those very small amounts—certainly in London it might cost £1.50 for transport each way and there was a luncheon allowance of £4.25 only if one sat for the whole day. As I understand the letter of explanation, it was to save those very heavy administrative costs.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, indeed, I thought that was adequately encompassed in the description of "unnecessarily cumbersome". I should have thought it acceptable that if there is an increase of £10 in the daily fee and the majority of claims are for less than that sum, it is a matter of no great substance. It might have been a matter of greater substance if there were members who had to participate in the tribunal away from their normal office or hearing centre and they were caught in that. There might then be some point of concern. But, as the letter to which my noble friend referred says, if they go to an unusual place to sit, they will of course be paid expenses if they are required to sit in that alternative office.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, will the Minister be kind enough to say whether the presidents of the industrial tribunals—that is the president of the tribunal in Scotland and the one for Wales—were consulted and whether any arrangement was made to consult the regional chairmen who are responsible for administering the tribunals? Was any consultation along those lines conducted before the changes were made?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I am not sure whether those particular persons were consulted. But, as the noble Baroness will appreciate, there is no representative organisation for the 2,500 or so members. Certainly the chairmen themselves are not included within the arrangement, for the very good reason that it will avoid any potential conflict of interests. Because they are legally qualified in the areas in which they practise, they are frequently required to participate in these tribunals well away from the areas in which they work. For that reason, they are not included within the arrangement.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the whole House appreciates the fact that administrative savings may be made by making a single lump sum payment. But we are concerned that parties, witnesses and members of industrial tribunals who incur exceptional significant travelling expenses will not be able to claim them. Can the Minister say whether it will be possible, in exceptional circumstances, for legitimate high travelling expenses to be reimbursed?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, sometimes I get the mood of the House wrong, but I do not get the impression today that it is particularly concerned about this matter. As I indicated, exceptional circumstances are provided for. If a member is required to go away from the location at which the tribunal usually sits, travel expenses would be paid additionally.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the fact that this House is not concerned is what is wrong with this House? This House should be concerned. This House does not know, on the basis of the Minister's statement, whether all the 50 per cent. or so of people who do not need the money are employer representatives and it does not seem to care. Is that not disgraceful?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

No, my Lords.