Employment Bill

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Mr. Hammond: It says something about the ministerial salary that the Minister can afford such exotic underwear.

The debate has been useful, and the Minister has clarified the matter. We are discussing a no-detriment situation, and we all regard that as fair. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford has, in a broader context, made a valid point by pointing out that in relation to one year's maternity leave, if not two week's paternity leave, employers may be more careful about how they document entitlements or rights to non-contractual benefits and privileges when they could be used over long periods of time. The principle is clear, the Minister has clarified the matter and we shall probe the issue in a different way with the next amendment. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 118, in clause 1, page 4, line 40, leave out subsection (2).

The amendment addresses section 80D(2), which deals with dismissal. I should like the Minister to confirm that that paragraph does not create a situation in which a person who is absent is treated differently from a person who is still at work. In other words, if there is mass redundancy or mass dismissal, a person who is absent should be treated on a no-detriment basis that is analogous to the way in which those who remain at work are treated.

Alan Johnson: That is our intention. We are drafting legislation analogous to maternity leave provisions. Given that the Bill concerns two weeks of paternity leave, it is difficult to believe that the provisions will be frequently needed in practice. Nevertheless, it is right as a matter of principle to give men on paternity leave the same rights as women on maternity leave. It would be confusing and potentially dangerous for employers if we were to operate regimes that were subtly different for the two forms of leave. As I have said before, employers were keen to tell us that they wanted the two things to be synonymous.

This is a matter for regulations. We shall consider the case for using them carefully and we shall consult widely. The provision is analogous with maternity leave and it will not be used often because the duration of paternity leave is short. Given those assurances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Norman Lamb: Will the Minister and his advisers think carefully when drafting these regulations? This point applies to existing regulations relating to maternity leave because there is a complex comparison between the existing normal law on redundancy situations, the entitlement to alternative employment and the obligation on the employer to look for alternative employment. These special provisions, which apply in the context of maternity, will now apply to paternity leave. The regulations relating to maternity give a more privileged position to a woman on maternity leave than, for example,

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someone who has a disability or another person in the workplace who might have an equal right to an opportunity to alternative employment.

The regulations relating to both maternity and paternity must be examined carefully to ensure that we are preserving people's rights while they are away, and not giving them enhanced rights above those of other employees who may have equally pressing cases for being considered for alternative employment.

Mr. Hammond: That was a helpful contribution. The hon. Member for North Norfolk put into words precisely my concern. From the Bill, it seems that regulation could provide that employers have to offer alternative employment to an employee who has been absent on leave, in circumstances where they would not have to offer employment to someone who had been at their workplace when the axe fell. I hope that I have understood correctly that the Minister intends to frame the regulations in such a way as to prevent that and that we are ensuring no detriment through absence, but equally that there will be no special protection of an employee's position resulting from absence. Since the Minister has not leapt to his feet to contradict me, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 119, in page 5, line 3, leave out paragraph (a).

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 120, in page 5, line 6, leave out paragraph (b).

Mr. Hammond: These are two brief probing amendments to allow the Minister to clarify what regulations he expects to make under paragraphs 80E(a) and (b). I would be grateful if he would tell us his intention. Both paragraphs clearly provide for areas where regulations will be necessary, but they have the potential to create more red tape and a great deal of burdensome administrative work. We need to be clear that they will be light-touch regulations, the minimum necessary and appropriate to deal with the situation.

Alan Johnson: Amendment No. 119 relates to an area on which we touched in discussing amendment No. 103. As we said then, our approach is to avoid imposing on employers the delicate task of trying to check whether an employee is to be the father of a child not yet born. That is unprovable; instead, we want to provide for employees to sign a self-certificate asserting their eligibility for paternity leave. That is the sort of evidence that we see employees providing to their employers. Paragraph (a) will allow us to make that provision.

We will also be able to specify matters such as the advance notice that an employee must give an employer. In most cases, it will be 15 weeks before the baby is due, as we have already discussed. I hope that we can agree that it would be wrong to remove paragraph (a).

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Mr. Hammond: Why does new section 80E take us back to stating that regulations under section 80A or 80B ''may'' make provision about these matters? In the overall architecture of the Bill, it will be a requirement that regulations are made dealing with notice, evidence to be produced and keeping of records. Earlier provisions contained the word ''shall''. The Minister told us that that was because the Government recognised that there had to be regulations in those cases. Are regulations not essential to deal with these matters?

Alan Johnson: I have a feeling that paragraph (h) may be relevant here. In the previous debate to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I pointed out that while we would introduce regulations under two paragraphs, we did not think that that would be useful or helpful for paragraph (h). We felt we could deal with it through guidance notes. Unless I have a different thought over the next couple of minutes, that is the why we put ''may'' rather than ''shall''. There will be a specific debate on that point, so I shall deal with the issue at that stage.

Amendment No. 120 would remove our ability ever to regulate to specify what records may need to be kept. It is important to have a probing amendment and to recognise that we are referring to records that relate to the employee's paternity leave only. Obligations on the employer that relate to pay are covered elsewhere in the Bill. As things stand, and on assumption that everything works well in practice, we do not expect that that provision will be used. We believe that everything will work well in practice and we have consulted widely on the detail of the new scheme. It has considerable support from those who will be operating it and we have avoided imposing undue bureaucratic burdens without leaving the system open to abuse and exploitation.

However, we accept that the possibility of abuse exists because it does so for any such right. The right to paternity leave and pay is entirely new so it is impossible to foresee how it will be used or misused. That should answer the hon. Gentleman's point. We should retain a power to regulate on questions of record-keeping in case, over time, evidence of abuse is proved to have taken place. A requirement to keep records might minimise or help tackle that abuse.

Again we come to the issue of ''may'' rather than ''shall''. We do not expect to use the power more than we have used the analogous power under the maternity leave provisions. That power has not been used, as the intervention in the last debate suggested, for nine years. If we the power were used under these provisions, I would not expect it to happen before representatives of employees and employers were consulted. Such a right should be available in the event that the need arises and, on that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Norman Lamb: I share the concern of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge that we need to ensure that the regulations do not impose too burdensome a requirement on employers or employees. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned for business interests, he should want regulations that clearly specify notice requirements on an employee to

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ensure that the employer has adequate notice before the taking of paternity leave. That is essential and I would therefore like the regulations to be drafted with a light touch—the Minister has substantially reassured me on that.

Mr. Hammond: I assure the hon. Gentleman that that was also my concern. I wanted to be clear that in a long list of regulations, all headed with the word ''may'', we understood what the Minister was and was not going to do. I am glad that we had that debate because the Minister began by saying that he would make regulations under every paragraph except under paragraph (h). He then read from his prepared brief, which stated he had no intention of making regulations under paragraph (b). We have therefore established that regulations will be made about notice and evidence but they will not be made, at least initially, to require records to be kept. That is a sensible balance between certainty and clear procedures and not creating excessive bureaucracy. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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