HL Deb 05 February 2002 vol 631 cc495-7

Lord McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will place in the Libraries of both Houses those parts of the 1998 survey of employment tribunals for which they have full data sets or robust data, in particular those which relate to the 64 per cent of applications to the employment tribunals which come from employees who have not attempted to resolve matters directly with their employers in the first instance, as cited in the government consultation paper Routes to Resolution.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, I refer my noble friend to my Answer to his Question of 20th November. As I said then, we plan to publish the full report and data set on the applicant and employer surveys and place them in the House Library later this month, recognising the desire of your Lordships to see them before the Second Reading of the Employment Bill 2001.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I am not certain that I quite heard the Minister. Did he say that he was going to publish the documents before Second Reading?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Yes, my Lords.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, that is an advance. I remind the Minister that he previously said that that would be done by the Bill's Committee stage. I assume that he has read this important but, we think, totally wrong survey. If he has done so, can he tell me what it actually says and what the question actually is? Was the question answered in exactly the same way by workers and employers? The Minister referred to the figure of 64 per cent, but he has sometimes referred to 62 per cent and once to 37 per cent. That could involve any combination of employers and employees. If we can have that information this afternoon, now that the Minister has read the report, why cannot we read the report today?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we moved the date forward because we wanted the House to have the report before Second Reading. Clearly, the statistic is open to interpretation. For those who have not followed this matter in detail, I should explain the statistic. People were asked whether they had had a meeting before they went to a tribunal. The interpretation turns on those who said that they had no meeting and had had other correspondence or communication to solve the matter. That is clearly a matter of interpretation. That is why it is right to put the data set and the question—and all the questions—in the Library so that everyone can form their own view.

Too much weight has been put on the particular figure. The survey and all the other information that we have makes it clear that employers and employees are not using grievance procedures properly before going to a tribunal. That may be partly because people are not using the procedures and in other cases it is clearly because there are no procedures. We want to make certain that they do so before going to a tribunal.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, the Minister recognises that a number of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, on this and other occasions are extremely germane—if that is not tautologous—to the Employment Bill, which is about to come before this House. Does the Minister accept that it is a problem that the House of Commons did not have the information before the Bill was passed and sent to your Lordships' House? Will he undertake that when we debate that Bill, he will not, in this regard, use the argument that it has already been through the House of Commons?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I am sure that I would never do that, and I certainly will not in this case.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, does the Minister have any more recent figures? Having sat for 20 years or more on an industrial tribunal, I wonder whether what I read in the papers is correct; namely, that there has been a great increase in the number of applications to industrial tribunals since 1998. If so, can he give us recent statistics showing how the Figures compare?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is common ground to everyone that there has been a very substantial increase. Equally, it is clear that there are very good reasons for that, which relate to legislation, changes in the workforce, and so on. As my noble friend Lord McCarthy pointed out when previously we debated the issue, there is an excellent report on t his matter showing how the various social trends have impacted on the rise in applications. I do not think that that alters the fact that not enough people, either previously or currently, are making use of grievance procedures.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether any figures are available on the number of applications to tribunals that are concerned with unfair dismissals, in relation to which the use of internal procedures may not be appropriate or even possible?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I cannot give particular figures on that. Clearly, there is a percentage in relation to which it would be wrong to expect people to use the procedures, because harassment or other issues are involved. The legislation is, of course, drafted very clearly so that such people do not have to use grievance procedures before going to tribunals.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House why, just before the TUC conference, the Government dropped their proposal to charge fees for bringing cases to employment tribunals?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, there is throughout the Bill obviously a question of accessibility. It is absolutely key that accessibility should be given to people to allow them to go to a tribunal. As we shall see when we consider the Bill, we are very concerned about that and in no way want to stop it. At the same time, we want to make certain that grievance procedures are in place and that they are used.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, can my noble friend slip on something a little more transparent? Does he recognise that that is the only statistic from any piece of research, contrary to the previous research by his own department, that indicates that there is a need to take powers, as the Bill will do, to prevent people having access to employment tribunals? Will he tell us now how many of the so-called defaulting 64 per cent—or 62 per cent, or whatever the figure is; he has seen the figures and we have not--made approaches to management other than in the first instance and directly, by telephone, by some other means other than a meeting or through representatives? What are the percentages relating to that category, which is recognised in the background paper that his department produced? What percentage of cases involve matters such as sexual harassment, racial harassment and the like, in relation to which, the research suggests, a direct approach in the first instance for a meeting would have been inappropriate?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, although I believe that it is better to wait for the full report, I can give your Lordships one figure which is absolutely clear. In 37 per cent of cases there was no communication whatever; that is, there was no meeting and no grievance procedure and no contact was made. Under any consideration, that is a substantial figure. We are not trying to stop people going to tribunals. However, we want them to make use of grievance procedures and, more importantly, we want to ensure that grievance procedures are in place. I believe it has been forgotten that that is a key part of the Bill. It is equally true that 12 per cent of workplaces with 10 or more employees have no disciplinary procedure and 10 per cent of workplaces with 10 or more employees have no grievance procedure. I believe that those figures are equally important when considering this issue.

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