Clause 6

Employment Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 14 Hydref 2008.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Conciliation after bringing of proceedings

Question proposed,That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Clause 6 is important because it refers to time limits. The laudable intention of the procedures set out in 2004 was that, in order to focus minds on settling early, there would be time limits on ACAS’s ability to offer its services. In practice, minds are often not concentrated until much closer to the tribunal hearing, by which time ACAS cannot offer its services because it is beyond the time limits. Therefore, the clause will remove the time limits on ACAS’s duty to offer conciliation in cases once they have been presented to the employment tribunal. That will mean that ACAS’s services will be available for both sides right up until the moment the tribunal hearing takes place. We feel that that can be of benefit to both employees and employers.

I never forget that the context for all of this is the significant estimated reduction of up to £170 million in costs for business because of the Bill’s measures that will reform dispute resolution. Part of that is because the Government, rather than having businesses spend all of that money in tribunals, have increased the resources for ACAS and removed the time limits so that it can offer its services in a much greater part of the process.

Since 2004 the duty to conciliate has been subject to time limits of either seven or 13 weeks, depending on the jurisdiction concerned. ACAS retains the discretionary power to provide conciliation after those prescribed periods have expired, but under the clause, those time limits will be removed and ACAS will be able to offer its services in that much-expanded way. Gibbons found that the time limits had not achieved their desired intention and that parties were still realising close to the hearing day that they wished to settle but found that an ACAS conciliation was no longer available. Over 70 per cent. of respondents to the consultation agreed that those restrictions on the availability of ACAS conciliations should be removed. The Government agree, so the clause will repeal the relevant provisions and, like clause 5, is part of our effort to make ACAS even more effective in the future than it has been in the past.

Photo of Michael Jabez Foster Michael Jabez Foster Llafur, Hastings and Rye

I certainly would like to support the clause, because the time limits have been an impediment to settlement. The nature of industrial tribunal cases is that people do not concentrate their minds until the last moment, even when orders for directions are made. That is how people work, and perhaps we work like that sometimes. It is certainly the case between employers and employees and their representatives. Frequently the strength of the case is not known until statements have been interchanged as a result of an order for directions or something of that nature. If all the facts are on the table quite late in the proceedings, perhaps ACAS can play its greatest role at that point.

I acknowledge that some costs might be involved in reaching that stage that could have been dealt with earlier if ACAS had had an earlier intervention, so I hope that it will not abandon the possibility of early resolution because it has a longer period in which to do it. ACAS, too, might be subject to the ability to leave things until the last minute, which would be a detriment. If it can go in early and be there late, that would have a great effect.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

We welcome the removal of the time limits and the resulting expanded and more adaptable service that ACAS can deliver.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.