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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe):
I do not want the hon. Gentleman to run away with the idea that Ministers do not have parental responsibilities. I have three boys, and I also have three grandchildren. I am well aware of the roles that parents and grandparents can play.
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Mr. Bone: I am grateful to the Minister for that comment. However, if he had had to bring up those children at home, rather than working in the House of Commons, he would understand that it was actually rather hard work. When my wife was bringing up our first two children and I was working away from home, she was working exceptionally hard on something that was of great benefit not only to our family but, ultimately, to the nation.
The balance has now swung so far in favour of making people go out to work that there are huge financial disadvantages for the traditional family. The Care report examined 74 couples, and found that 64 of them would have been better off financially if they lived apart. It also showed that, on average, a couple lost £58 a week by staying together rather than living apart. One of the families studied, with average earnings of £25,000 a year, would gain £206 a weekyes, £206 a weekby splitting up. Where are the incentives in the Bill to keep families together? Children will always do better if they are brought up in a loving and secure family environment. I am not saying that financial reasons are the only factor involved when a couple split up, but they certainly play a big part.
The tax credit system is, by its very nature, flawed. Since coming to Parliament in May, I have been inundated by worried constituents who have been victims of a system that is so ambiguous and complicated, with so many forms to be filled in, that many of them have been penalised. Let me give the House a specific example. I have had a mother crying in my office, fearful that the family would have to sell their home because they had had their tax credits stopped and had received a demand from the Inland Revenue for thousands of pounds in overpaid tax credits. When I looked at the situation, I found that my constituents had done nothing wrong; it seemed to be a gross error by the tax credit office. However, that did little to relieve the despair and hurt caused to my constituents by the tax credit system.
The problem with this Government is that they believe that all mothers want to return to work for a career. They do not even consider the possibility that some mothers want to stay at home to bring up their children; that is not in their psyche. The Bill is only half a Bill; it addresses one issue but totally ignores the other.
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on a welcome and important Bill. The research paper suggests that it has come on the back of a raft of policy documents and consultation papers. I am delighted that it also comes on the back of a manifesto commitment that came via the Warwick agreement, and I am glad that the Government are pursuing it so early in this Parliament. I look forward to seeing more manifesto commitments with regard to the Warwick agreement, such as an end to two-tier work forces and increased protection for migrant workers. One step at a time
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab):
Is it not embarrassing that in this place we have a two-tier work force for domestics, one of which is employed by this
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place and earns a good salary, while the other is employed by a private contractor and is clearly being exploited?
The Bill is crucialI am afraid that I must use the jargonto the work-life balance in the 21st century. A recent ICM poll suggested that three out of five women today believe that it is more difficult for them to attain an acceptable work-life balance than it was for their mothers 30 years ago. Obviously, there are a number of reasons for that, not least of which is that many more women are working now than 30 years ago. I welcome the progress that the Government have made on variable working hours, job shares and part-time working, but there is much more to be done. I also want to remind the Minister that flexible working is not sustainable without addressing the pensions issue. In the light of last week's Turner report, I hope that any future debate on pensions will take due cognizance of the pension rights of women and carers.
Any Bill that will provide extra flexibility in relation to the period for which women can take maternity leave and in relation to fathers taking paternity leave must be welcomed. Obviously, the way in which families have been viewed in the context of work has undergone a massive sea change in the past 40 years. Again, there are many reasons for that. All too slowly, but at least surely, women have gradually gained more rights in the world of work.
My older sister was born in 1955 in a hospital in Dundeeunfortunately, the hospital is no longer there. My father went to work as normal that day. When I was born 14 months later in a hospital in Glasgow, my father again regarded it as a normal working dayhe had toand went to work. Five years later, when my mother was again due to give birth, she decided, to coin a phrase, on a "home delivery", and my father had to take the day off work, because he had to look after my sister and me. While my father, Tommy, my sister, Carol, and I sat in the kitchenwe were living in what was known as a room and kitchen in Maryhill road, Glasgowmy mother, ably assisted by our GP, Dr. John Fitzsimmons, who, incidentally, was also the Celtic football club doctor at the time[Interruption.] I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) comments from a sedentary position that that explains a lot. [Laughter.] My mother, ably assisted by Dr. Fitzsimmons, gave birth to my younger sister Angela, and my father had to take the day off, but simply lost a day's wages.
The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) said that in those days the man was expected to be the breadwinner, and the woman was expected to stay at home and look after the children. That was certainly how my father viewed it, and I am slightly ashamed to say that I do not think that his view has changed much since then. Obviously, however, as in most father-son relationships, we agree to differ on certain issues. I am glad that the days when women were regarded as going out to work for pin money are long gone. In most cases, women's work is now a requirement.
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There are many reasons why a man would want to take paternity leave, and evidence seems to suggest that many men take their annual leave in the first few months of a baby's life. Obviously, that is not just to get to know the baby but to support the mother. There is also evidence that at least 20 per cent. of women suffer some sort of post-natal depression, so I would regard it as the father's right to be with the mother and the child at that time, and I hope that that can be considered. I am not sure whether I made myself clear in intervening on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his introductory remarks. However, many contributions since then seemed to confirm what I was trying to say. If a father can take paternity leave only on the second sixth months of the first year of the child's life, and that is dependent on the mother returning to work, that puts undue pressure on the mother to return to work, perhaps earlier than she would otherwise wish. I hope that the issue will be clarified when the Front Bench spokespersons respond. If the mother were allowed to take her additional maternity leave for the second six months and the father were allowed to take paternity leave, that would be a better proposition. My preferred option is that, if they so choose, both parents should be allowed to take their maternity and paternity leave concurrently, during the first six months of the child's life. If we are legislating for choice, surely we should not deny both parents the choice to be with the new addition to the family in the earliest stages of its life.
Discrimination has been mentioned. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who is no longer in his place, envisaged paternity leave being talked up to the same level as maternity leave, resulting in women no longer experiencing discrimination because they were of child-bearing age. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. I think that that is desirable, but I am not sure that he would agree with me. I do not think that that is the point that he was trying to make.
I welcome the provisions that deal with redundancy. Before being elected to this place, I was a full-time trade union official. I dealt with numerous instances of long-serving employees being denied equal redundancy packages because they were six months over the age of 64. Anything that would remove such blatantly unfair practices is welcome.
Mention has been made of the eight statutory public holidays being added to the minimum of 20 days' annual leave. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to re-examine that. Some employers do not recognise public holidays. Employees of such companies will find that the change in the legislation will mean nothing to them. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider two options. We can move to 28 days' minimum annual leave or we can add eight public holidays as a legal entitlement to the 20 days of annual leave; otherwise, there will be a large loophole.
The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) mentioned the CBI's desire to see extra days phased in over a period. As a former negotiator, I feel that if we closed the loophole on bank holidays, we could accommodate the CBI in phasing on the basis of two days each year.
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