Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Review of additional paternity and leave pay

'The Secretary of State shall review and publish a report on the effectiveness of regulations made under—

(a)   sections 80AA and 80BB of the Employment Rights Act 1996, and

18 Jan 2006 : Column 877
(b)   sections 171ZEA to 171ZEE of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, every year in which the regulations are in force beginning 12 months after the regulations are made.'.—[Mrs. Laing.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

New clause 3 might appear somewhat opaque, but it would require clauses 3 to 10 to be reviewed after one year. We touched on some of the issues in our debate on new clause 1, but this proposal deals specifically with additional paternity leave and additional statutory paternity pay.

The Bill goes much further than the Government's original proposals, which suggested that mothers' rights to maternity leave and maternity pay would be transferred to fathers. In effect, it creates new rights for fathers.

We are not against paternity pay in principle. We accept that it is good for families if new fathers can be with their babies in the months after they are born. It is especially important for working mothers to have the support of fathers when a child is very small. That is a crucial time, and the Government's proposals are absolutely right in principle but, as ever, the question is one of balance.

As I said in the debate on new clause 1, it is very important to balance the needs and rights of employers, and especially small employers, with those of employees. Only by striking the right balance will we be able to achieve the optimum result for the economy and for society. It is true, of course, that a work force that is treated well will be more efficient, and that employers who treat employees reasonably will get better employees and run better businesses.

2.45 pm

We accept that all the proposals under discussion today have an economic as well as a social imperative, but we have tabled new clause 3 because we remain concerned about the mechanics of how paternity leave and paternity pay will work. We support the principle, but no one knows what will happen in practice.

The debate on new clause 1 revealed a stark and unarguable truth—that no one knows how much it will cost businesses to administer the proposals in respect of maternity and paternity pay and leave. It may cost £400,000 every year, or £5 million—the gap is enormous. Were the monetary costs involved estimated at a ball-park figure of between £500,000 and £2 million, it would be reasonable to accept them, and we should do so happily enough. However, there is not a ball park but a whole town of difference between the estimates.

I think that even the Minister will accept that we have no idea of how much the proposals in the Bill will cost business. If I am wrong, I should be happy to give way to him.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I shall wait until later.

Mrs. Laing: The Minister says that he will wait, and that is fair enough, but I believe that even he does not know the cost to small businesses—monetary and
18 Jan 2006 : Column 878
otherwise—of administering and paying for the rights created in the Bill. If he does not know that, it is fair to say that no one does.

If I address my remarks specifically to small businesses, it is not because I have no sympathy for or understanding of big business. However, large firms have human resources departments, and full-time accountants and tax experts, and so on. Proportionately, therefore, they will have to put less time and effort into bringing into the Bill into effect. I   hope that the Minister will agree about that.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady accept that what we need is a level playing field? Will not small businesses that treat their staff properly consider that they are being penalised because of bad employers that do not grant reasonable leave to fathers?

Mrs. Laing: I see what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I would say that we need not so much a level playing field as to try to make all employers do what good ones already do. We had an excellent debate in Committee on paternity leave, and I am sorry to see so few members of the Committee here, although there are some—notably the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr.   Walker). Examples were given of times when men had found an excuse to be absent from work on the day that their child was born, or the day after, or the day   after that. They would give any excuse other than what might be construed as the soppy excuse that their wife was having a baby and they would leave work that afternoon. When I say "soppy", incidentally, I do not mean that I think it a soppy excuse; indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether soppy is parliamentary language, and I apologise unreservedly if it is not. The point is that we all know the way in which men sometimes talk to other men, and it is often the case that there is not always universal sympathy for a man who thinks that his place on the day on which his child is born is beside his wife and child. There are people who think that he should be anywhere else in the world. It is generally agreed, however, that a man should, of course, have the right to paternity leave.

It is far better that employers and employees are given the opportunity to be honest about this matter. Examples were given in Committee of where expectant fathers would give all sorts of excuses for not being at work when they were in fact attending the birth of their child. The really good thing about the Bill is that it   encourages, and indeed enables, employers, and employees, to be honest. If a man wishes to be present at the birth of his child and be with his wife and child the following day and for a little while thereafter, he should be able to be honest about it, and a good employer, as the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) said, will recognise that he will get more out of his employee if he is flexible about giving leave. That is what is good about the Bill.

What is not good is that we do not know what the effect will be on small businesses, and therefore on the economy as a whole. That is why we tabled new clause 3, requiring the Secretary of State to review and report on the effect of clauses 3 to 10 during every year in which the regulations are in force, beginning 12 months after they are made. That, of course, could be just over a year
18 Jan 2006 : Column 879
from now, and the Minister might be able to tell us what we all suspect, which is that £400,000 is not anything like the real cost to business of administering the new rights in the Bill.

I hope that the Bill will pass today, but I hope that the   Minister will tell us in 12 months' time that the regulations are working smoothly and well, that employers have adjusted very well to the way in which paternity leave is being sought and given and paternity pay paid. I hope that he will be able to tell us that the administrative problems are few. I hope he will be able to say that, but we do not know.

The Bill would be the better for having new clause 3 added to it. I said earlier that it is essential that Bills such as this one command the respect of all who have to implement them. The Bill would command far more respect if it required that we review its operation after a year. We would thus be able to see what was really happening on the ground. So often, the House and the other place deliberate at length on what ought to be done, what laws passed, what regulation made and how different people ought to behave. We then discover afterwards that there were unintended consequences of the laws that we have passed.

I do not want the Bill to go wrong. I want it to succeed. If we have the assurance that the Secretary of State will come back in a year to tell us how an essential part of the Bill is progressing and how it is affecting businesses, employers, employees and the economy as a whole, we could have far more confidence in it.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I sympathise with what the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) said. It is clear that she has been given a difficult brief by the men in green suits and pastiche ties who run her party, even if they are better, I suggest, than the grey men in grey suits who used to run it. They clearly need to be seen to be close to business, but the front page of today's Financial Times and new clause 2, which is not being taken today, rather give the game away.

The implication of what the hon. Lady said is that the Secretary of State and the Minister do not spend a considerable amount of their time talking to businesses and listening to what small businesses and employers have to say. That is, of course, absurd. The idea that they speak to business or small employers only once a   year and that only once a year would they relay those people's views back to the House is absurd. This back-door sunset clause—for that is what the new clause is—attacks the paternity leave that we introduced for birth and adoption. It attacks, indirectly, additional statutory paternity pay for birth and adoption, and it attacks additional statutory maternity pay and the rates of pay and period of leave that we are introducing. The platitudes of the hon. Member for Epping Forest on the   wonders of paternity pay and her statements that   the Government have, of course, got their policy right in principle, are also absurd. There is no sincerity in them.

Next Section IndexHome Page