Clause 10 - Decisions by legal officers
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk, Liberal Democrat)
I am always open to ideas. One should always be prepared to look at the nature of the problem. The shadow Minister has conceded that the system is complex. Most people recognise that the way the employment tribunal has developed since it was introduced, as a layman’s court for parties to use without having to resort to expensive legal advice, has gone off course. It has become highly legalistic. The body of case law is enormous, as is the burden it imposes on employers. Critically, the cost to employees who seek to pursue a claim is burdensome. There is always a case for exploring what changes can be made to address those problems.
Clause 10 is an enabling clause; it provides one solution to deliver the rapid resolution scheme that we committed to consider in the Government response to the “Resolving workplace disputes” consultation.
Officials continue to explore whether and how such a scheme might work to provide determinations in less complex cases. One option under consideration is to give legal officers the power to make determinations in specific instances. Clause 10 simply ensures that we have the necessary statutory authority, should we choose, as I hope we will, to pursue an option for rapid resolution that involves legal officers.
Much work still needs to be done on understanding what any rapid resolution scheme will look like. Opposition Members have raised valid points, and in due course we will consult on precisely such questions. I recognise the value of having a consultation on rapid resolution and I will undertake one before I introduce any such scheme, but it is not the norm to stipulate a requirement to consult in statute. Hon. Members will be aware that the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 recognised legal officers as valid decision makers for interlocutory work in tribunals, and there is no existing statutory requirement to consult on the appropriate qualifications for such officers.
Interestingly, in a debate on 20 March 1998, the then Minister, Mr Ian McCartney—that colossus—argued the case for the introduction of legal officers and sought to reassure the then Opposition that there was no need for a provision to require a consultation. On the basis of his reassurance that the Government would consult—as we are guaranteeing that we will consult—the Opposition withdrew their amendment. It is perhaps instructive that Labour legislated in 1998, but never quite got round to implementing the scheme for which it had legislated, which is a rather sad reflection on too much of what happened during its period in government.