|Draft Employment Rights Act 1996 (Application of Section 80B to Adoptions from Overseas) and Draft Paternity and Adoption Leave (Adoption from Overseas) Regulations 2003
Brian Cotter: I was involved when the original regulations were introduced, and I will not rehearse the arguments, because we all support the concept of family-friendly regulations for business being good for families and employee satisfaction. We are talking about only a small number of people, but if they are
Column Number: 008adopting from overseas, they should not be disadvantaged.
I recollect that we spoke a lot about small firms when we considered the original regulations. My memory might need refreshing, but I think that we spoke about notice periods for ice cream manufacturers and similar firms and people not being absent at an inconvenient time. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) has also just raised the issue of small businesses. I think that it was said originally that it was very unlikely that many employees in a small business would be away at the same time. I think that some work was done to assess that.
The Liberal party very much supports extending the measure to those adopting overseas.
Alan Johnson: I am grateful that we appear to have consensus, as well we might on such an issue. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk asked why we left overseas adopters out of last November's regulations. We made it clear in the Employment Act 2002 that we would take separate powers to deal with overseas adopters, because the law is very different and complex. Our difficulty is that adoption is a matter for the Department of Health. We are seeking not to interfere with adoption procedures but to pass regulations that will introduce the adoption leave that we have agreed, provided that the parent qualifies under the separate legislation to be an adopting parent.
There are three differences. We agreed under the regulations for domestic adoption leave that the employee should provide evidence—a matching certificate. However, a matching certificate does not apply in adoptions from overseas, so we are suggesting that the employee should give the employer the official notification as evidence that they are an adopting parent. The notification is usually signed by the Secretary of State for Health.
The second difference relates to the qualifying period. A period of 26 weeks applies to domestic adoptions. This matches up with maternity leave. We wanted to ensure that it was entirely in line with other legislation. An employee who has worked for a company for 20 weeks and who presents their matching certificate will be told, ''I'm sorry. You don't qualify, because you have worked here for only 20 weeks''—end of story.
A parent adopting from overseas will have their official notification, but may have to wait up to a year before the child is placed. That is not the case with domestic adoptions; once someone has their matching certificate, the placement is made quite quickly. The 26 weeks still applies, but we need flexibility, including for employees who change jobs while waiting for the child to gain entry to the United Kingdom.
The third difference is the trigger. In legislation relating to domestic adoptions, the trigger is placement; that is what kicks off the leave. In inter-country adoptions—adoptions from abroad—the trigger is entry into Great Britain. It would have
Column Number: 009been horrendously complex to try to provide for that in last November's regulations, and we might not have been able to change the separate regulations in line with what happens to adoption rules nationally and internationally. The important Hague convention on protection of children and co-operation in respect of inter-country adoption will be ratified in June. Other changes may also come along, so it was important to separate out the two sets of regulations.
The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk said that the mothers of the children had not been mentioned. I am not sure whether he meant the mothers of the adopted children or the mothers who were adopting, so let me deal with both. The mothers of the adopted children are subject to the laws of the country from which the children are being adopted. I think that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the adopting mother. She will be entitled to 52 weeks leave, as a natural mother is. The pay arrangements are somewhat different, but the entitlement—26 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid leave—is exactly the same as that for a natural mother.
The hon. Gentleman's point about 26 weeks is fair. Does that cover all the time needed for people to go abroad, all the work involved and the necessary time off? We concentrated on what the relevant Committee asked us to concentrate on. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) is no longer in her place, but she was an important member of our Committee. Hon. Members from both sides of the House said that if we were going to cover domestic adoptions we should also cover overseas adoption. There was consensus on that.
When a child is placed for adoption there should be a period of time for the adopting parents to bond with that child. That underpins the domestic adoption legislation. An awful lot of time is involved in domestic adoptions, as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk will know better than I do. We have not covered that in these regulations. Yes, there may be arguments for special leave. There may be arguments for taking parental leave, which is now available. There may be arguments for using annual leave for those purposes. We have tried to protect the entitlement from when the child is placed because that is the time to bond with the child. That is the logic behind this.
I almost wish that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk had not mentioned small businesses and the regulatory impact assessment. He suggested making this more generous and allowing people time to go abroad. We had this argument in another debate. Opposition Members wanted the self-employed to qualify not just for paternity leave but for adoption leave. On the one hand the Opposition try to outplay us by being more generous and on the other they ask about the effects on small businesses and argue that such businesses will suffer disproportionately. It is terribly depressing that they raise that in a Committee such as this. We held extensive consultations with business. Various concerns were expressed about extra maternity leave and the right to request flexible
Column Number: 010working and paternity leave, but there was unanimity about adoption leave. The unanimous reaction was, ''Why hasn't it been done before? It is about time.''
Given that there are 4,000 domestic adoptions every year, small businesses are likely to be affected about once every 20 years, if at all. There are only 300 overseas adoptions a year. That is too tiny even to register on the Richter scale. We had a separate section of the RIA for small businesses. As 500,000 fathers in this country are expected to take paternity leave, adding 300 to that cannot produce any meaningful figures in the RIA. The same is true for adoptions. There may be an argument about the package of leave that we introduced in the Employment Act 2002. We will protect that anyway, but on these specific regulations, even that argument is non-existent.
We took this opportunity to look at how we could improve things for small businesses. They told us that at the moment they receive the money for adoption leave and maternity leave in arrears. We have made arrangements to give them the money in advance. That is important for small businesses. They also told us that under the law introduced by the previous Government in the early 1990s they could qualify for a 100 per cent. reimbursement of statutory maternity pay and a bit extra for national insurance contributions only if they passed a certain threshold, which was very tight. We expanded that threshold and another 10,000 businesses are now able to claim 104 per cent. of statutory maternity pay, which is the same as adoption pay.
Finally, I should like to pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Brian Cotter), another veteran of the Committee that considered the Employment Bill. Small businesses told us that we needed to harmonise the qualifying periods. Sometimes it was 28 weeks, sometimes it was 38 weeks and sometimes it was 15 weeks. We harmonised them all at 28 weeks. We kept to that in these regulations. We have ensured that the points that small businesses raised with us during the consultation have been met. There is a broad consensus that the new rights will help working families in a small but significant respect. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
(Adoption from Overseas) Regulations 2003
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