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Employment Tribunal Fees

Volume 611: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2016

13. What recent progress he has made on the review of the effect of the introduction of employment tribunal fees. (905397)

The review will report in due course, and it will assess how effective the introduction of employment tribunal fees has been in the achievement of the original objectives.

So we still await the official report from the Government, but it is obvious that tribunal fees have affected the number of cases being brought, especially by women. In 2013 there were 18,398; in 2015 there were just 6,423. Will the Minister elaborate on those figures? Will he also elaborate on the multiple cases brought by men? Were those men from the private sector or the public sector? Were they white-collar or blue-collar workers?

The assessment will look at the impact on protected characteristics, including the ones the hon. Lady mentioned. It is only fair and reasonable that those using tribunals make some contribution to the cost where they are able to. It is not right that the whole bill for employment tribunals, which is about £71 million per year, should be picked up by taxpayers, so we are looking to strike the right balance. There is, of course, a system of fee remissions to protect vulnerable workers, and we have taken steps to raise awareness of that scheme. We have also taken steps to encourage voluntary conciliation, which is a good way of settling disputes away from the tense, stressful and costly environment of a courtroom.

I received assurances from the Government that the post-implementation review of tribunal fees would be published last year. We now find ourselves six months beyond that deadline, and we are still waiting. Evidence suggests that tribunal fees do act as a barrier to justice and that they are compounding pregnancy and maternity discrimination. While we wait for the Government to get a move on, women continue to be discriminated against daily. When will the Minister finally publish the post-implementation review and scrap tribunal fees completely?

The hon. Lady makes some powerful points. We are going to publish the assessment shortly. It is also right to point out, though, that we are seeking to divert people away from costly and often acrimonious tribunal hearings. Fees are a part of that, as is pushing in the direction of conciliation. Although conciliation is not compulsory, I am sure she will be reassured to know that parties agree to participate in it in 75% of cases, and satisfaction levels are very high.

Does the Minister agree that employment tribunal fees have played an important part in reducing the threat of litigation that hangs over businesses, particularly small businesses? Does he agree that they have also played an important part in the resurgence of our economy and job creation?

My hon. Friend has a lot of experience of this issue, and he is absolutely right to look at its dual impact, particularly on small businesses. However, it is also right to say that this is not a binary, zero-sum game, and we attach huge importance to the fact that early conciliation has been used by more than 80,000 litigants in the first year, with over 80% of those participating reporting that they were satisfied with the outcome.

I have met many constituents who say that they will not pursue their cases to tribunal because of the introduction of fees. Does that not suggest that the existence of the fees acts as a deterrent?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but we also have to factor in the proportion of those who have been diverted into conciliation. In resolving disputes like this, alternative dispute settlement will often be the best outcome for resolving the dispute, but also, in particular, for claimants who would otherwise struggle to bear the costs.