My Lords, the reforms we set out in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will encourage more resolution of disputes outside the tribunals system by providing for ACAS to offer conciliation for all potential claims before they proceed to tribunal and by giving parties greater confidence to use settlement agreements. We are also taking steps to improve efficiency across the tribunals system, including considering how we can introduce rapid resolution for more straightforward claims.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Given the present uncertain economic situation, the fear of people losing their jobs and the determination of this Government to weaken the labour laws that protect employees, what message of hope can she give to those who find themselves in this unfavourable situation?
None of the things that protect people while they are working are being removed. That situation is not changing. However, the immediate rush to a tribunal is changing. The idea is that ACAS, which we all respect, provides for both the employer and the employee to have those discussions and to see whether they can come to an arrangement without having to go to a tribunal, with all the costs and upset that that entails.
My Lords, for 20 years, I sat on such a tribunal. Is the Minister aware that there are gaps now? If people work somewhere where ACAS helps them, that is fine. If they work in a job on their own and they are called before a disciplinary committee, they are allowed to have with them only a fellow union member or a fellow worker. If they are in a job where they work alone, they are not allowed to bring a relation or anyone else along even if they need help with reading. This loophole should be looked into.
My noble friend brings up a very interesting question. I had not really thought that through. This refers to someone who works on their own and is self-employed.
I will have to come back with the answer to that as I do not have it at the moment. I will make sure that a copy is put in the Library so that everyone else gets the answer too.
My Lords, picking up the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, I am sure the noble Baroness will recognise that streamlining the tribunal procedure is a little bit of a sideshow in relation to the fundamental recommendation of Adrian Beecroft regarding no-fault dismissal. Is she prepared to indicate where the Government's thinking lies on that proposal which, as she knows, her Secretary of State described as "bonkers" in the Sun?
The idea of compensated no-fault dismissal is one of a wide range of employment law areas covered by the Beecroft report. We are already taking forward several areas set out in the report as part of the employment law review. Of his 23 main recommendations, we are taking action on 17, but we have no plans to take this forward any further.
My Lords, will the Minister comment on the indication we have that the Government intend to remove lay people from tribunals and replace them by a judge sitting alone? Does the Minister not understand that the lay people on tribunals have a great deal of commitment and workshop experience and should not be removed, thus making the tribunals entirely less effective?
The fundamental review of employment tribunal rules is being undertaken by Mr Justice Underhill. We will have the report on that shortly. I hope that the noble Baroness will be pleased to read it.
My Lords, we are not opposed to constructive, evidence-based reform; however at a time when 2.7 million people are unemployed, the Government are making completely the wrong judgment in wanting to make it easier to fire rather than hire people. Slashing employee rights is no substitute for a proper growth strategy. Does the Minister not recognise that removing the rights of workers will only increase job insecurity, which is likely to have a damaging effect on workforce morale and productivity? Would she not agree that giving employers positive advice on employee engagement would be more beneficial?
The Government are committed to a fair and flexible labour market that helps businesses to manage their staff productively. Nothing in the Bill removes individual employment rights and neither should it intend to. It is very important that we encourage businesses to take on more staff. That is what we require. That is what we all need, but we need a flexible workforce and flexible employers so that, as the world changes around them, they can make the changes that they need.