It is clear that employment tribunal fees have acted as a significant barrier to justice, especially for women. Between April and June 2013 and April and June 2014 the number of sex discrimination-related employment tribunal claims fell by a staggering 91%. Does the Minister expect the figures for April and June 2015, which are due out this month, to show that women are continuing to be denied access to justice by employment tribunal fees?
Of course, we cannot pre-empt the review’s findings; we will look at the figures in due course. I gently say to the hon. Lady that although we need a scheme that does not deter people from making legitimate claims, we must take what steps we can to divert people from potentially acrimonious hearings, which is why I am very pleased that ACAS’s new early conciliation scheme has already been used by over 80,000 people in its first year.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the more than 75% reduction in employment claims since fees were introduced shows how this Government are standing up for small business that have become exasperated by being repeatedly dragged through the tribunals, sometimes for no cause other than that the process was free for the claimant?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I very much agree. Fewer people are making tribunal claims. It is only fair that those who can afford to make some contribution to the cost of the service they receive should do so. It cannot be right that hard-working taxpayers should pick up the entire bill of around £71 million for employment disputes in tribunals.
Order. I gently say that the hon. Lady is seeking to shoehorn into Question 4 the thrust of what she would have said in Question 16. It is something I did myself in the past, so there is no blemish on her record, but I think that we must leave it there, because it is too difficult to link it to tribunal fees.
The Secretary of State has said of tribunal fees that
“there is no evidence yet that the bar being set at a high level has meant that…claims…aren’t being heard.”
If the review produces such evidence—as I believe it will, if properly conducted—will the Minister give a cast-iron commitment to abolish the fees system?
I cannot of course pre-empt any of the findings of the review. We will be making recommendations at the end of the year and, in the meantime, we will be very happy to receive all Members’ views.