New Clause 6

Employment Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 16 October 2008.

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Employment tribunals: commencement

‘In the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 (c. 17) in section 6 (conduct of hearings), after subsection (2) there is inserted—

“(3) A person may only appear before an employment tribunal where their claim to the employment tribunal has been made within 3 months of the alleged incident which gave rise to the claim.’.—[Mr. Djanogly.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General 3:45, 16 October 2008

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I shall be brief, as I have already used a lot of the evidence in support of the new clause when speaking to the earlier new clauses. I want to add some certainty to employment proceedings that I have been led to believe does not currently exist. The employment tribunal service covers 21 different jurisdictions, ranging from unfair dismissal, of which there were 44,491 cases last year, to cases of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In many of those different areas, the various time limits for bringing claims vary, and what I propose under the new clause is that the time limit is standardised when such claims are dealt with by employment tribunals. I suggest that it should be three months—the time limit that is attached to unfair dismissal.

The new clause would have two benefits. On the one hand, companies could accurately predict at what point likely proceedings would be brought against them; while on the other hand, the employment tribunal process would be unburdened of those cases that have become a dim memory for those giving evidence, thereby ensuring that evidence is clear, concise and factually relevant. The provision would also tie in well with the tribunal procedural parts of the Bill, as people will have less excuse to not know where they stand at any point in the process.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

There would be a bit of difficulty with the new clause. If it would bring in resolution processes after the incident but prevent someone from going to an employment tribunal, I oppose it.

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

The new clause would make the time limit for bringing an employment tribunal three months from the date of the alleged incident. The matter was dealt with in the Government’s consultation paper, which was published in March 2007, alongside the report of Michael Gibbons on dispute resolution. Under the current system, the mandatory time limits for bringing claims are either three months or six months, depending on the jurisdiction of the claim. The six-month limit applies principally in statutory redundancy payments and equal pay claims. Almost all time limits for claims can be extended at the discretion of the tribunal under certain circumstances. The position is complicated by the extensions to time limits that are allowed to give parties time to follow statutory procedures, but we are legislating to remove the statutory procedures, so the extensions will fall away with the removal of those under the Bill.

The Government consulted on whether time limits should be harmonised. Many people consider that harmonisation is a good idea; but as members of the Committee can imagine, when we asked whether the time limit should be three months or six months, there were divergent views. Some people argued strongly for three months, while others argued strongly for six months.  Proponents of a three-month limit tended to argue that it was a long enough period to consider bringing a case and that justice would be better served when claims were made promptly, while proponents of a six- month limit argued that a three-month time limit would force potential claimants to submit claims before internal procedures had been exhausted. We have talked about the value of settling disputes before going down the tribunal route. Those who are perhaps preoccupied with dealing with the consequences of an incident or who are seeking a new job if the issue involved being sacked during pregnancy and whose baby was born subsequently might not have enough time to bring a claim within that period.

The current system has different time limits, which are reasonably well known in the system. They have been in place for some time, and the likelihood of needing to take more time to decide to make a claim in certain jurisdictions is recognised. We have consulted overall, and we have considered the matter. Agreeing that uniformity would be good is the easy part. Agreeing quite what form that uniformity should take is more difficult. We concluded that we would leave the system as it was with regard to the different jurisdictions and time limits. On that basis, we cannot agree to the new clause.

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

The Minister has agreed that uniformity would be good. The problem is therefore what should be the uniform length of time. I will go away and think about what he has said and may come back to this issue at a later date. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

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

May I thank you, Mr. Caton, and Mr. Bercow for your chairmanship of the Committee? The proceedings happened speedily and were well chaired. We got through all the business, having given due thought  to everything. It has been a pleasure to serve with the Minister again. I also thank the Clerks, the police, the doorkeepers and everyone who has made the Committee happen so smoothly.

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

I echo the thanks to you, Mr. Caton, and Mr. Bercow for guiding our proceedings so effectively. I thank the hon. Member for Huntingdon for the spirit in which he has conducted the debates and moved his amendments. Equally, the hon. Member for Solihull, who is not with us today, has been part of this regular DBERR team across the parties, if we can call it that. The same goes for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley. I also thank all my hon. Friends for their contributions, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Watford for her able assistance and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport. The Bill was extensively discussed in the other place. As ever, those discussions added value to the parliamentary process that has eased our proceedings. With that, I thank members of the Committee once again for their help in these proceedings.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

I echo the thanks to all who have watched these proceedings, as well as yourself, Mr. Caton, and Mr. Bercow. I thank the Minister, the hon. Member for Huntingdon and my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, who is not present. The Bill started in the other House, where clearly a lot of the issues were resolved, thus enabling us to finish with seven minutes to spare in the first week. That is good going.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Before I put the question, I thank the Committee for the good-natured way in which it has conducted itself in the main. I give special thanks to the Clerk for her hard work.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at six minutes to Four o’clock.