Clause 6

Part of Employment Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 14 October 2008.

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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 12:00, 14 October 2008

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.