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Throughout the passage of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman has made it his business to misinterpret everything I say, to put words in my mouth and to make out that I am saying things that I am not saying. Every word he just said was nonsense. We support the Bill.
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Mr. Khan: The proof of that can of course be found in two things, to deal with any assertion of misinterpretation. One, of course, is Hansard. The other is form. If we look at the form of the official Opposition, we see that new clause 3 was not present in Standing Committee. In addition, they have form on opposing paternity pay provision when it was first introduced back in late 2001. I shall give the hon. Lady the opportunity to intervene if she wants to say that her party and her leader did not vote against the introduction of paternity pay in late 2001. I note her silence.
Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend spots the elephant trap that the Opposition wish us to fall into. As for the Trojan horse of the sunset clause, I suspect that a focus group held over the weekend told them that it was a good idea. However, I shall not dwell on the reasons behind the tabling of new clause 3. Without the new clause, the Bill will not lead to a doomsday scenario, as the Opposition have predicted, because we have introduced other family-friendly measures.
Mrs. Laing: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) is not interpreting the new clause correctly. It would have no effect on the Bill, and he is inadvertently misleading the House in suggesting that it would. It would not take away any part of the Bill: all it would do is require the Secretary of State to provide a report.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
The Chair is reluctant to get involved in the debate, but the hon. Gentleman should
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be careful that he does not confuse new clause 2 with new clause 3. He must confine his remarks specifically to new clause 3.
The problem with new clause 3 is the burden that it would place on the Secretary of State to report once a year and the lack of clarity and certainty that it would mean for families and employers. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister listens carefully to the sensible words spoken by hon. Members, and I ask that he rejects new clause 3 and fulfils our manifesto commitment to continue to build on the family-friendly policies that we have introduced since 1997.
Norman Lamb: I was becoming confused by the talk of elephant traps and Trojan horses, but I think that I understand the points made by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan). The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) talked about the paucity of attendance by members of the Committee, but I wish to point out that the Liberal Democrats have a 100 per cent. attendance.
I support the new clause in part. It would be eminently sensible to review how regulations are working a year after their implementation. I accept that the hon. Gentleman was talking about an annual review of the regulations, but the general concept of revisiting regulations to see how they operate in practice is good and should not divide us politically. I appreciate that the Conservatives are trying to reinvent themselves, but to give the Government work for the sake of it by reviewing the regulations every year into the future seems a little over the top. However, the administration of the regulations, especially in the transfer of rights from the mother who gives up some of her maternity leave to allow the father to take paternity leave, will be complex, and the Government might not get it absolutely right. It would, therefore, be worth while looking at how the regulations are working after a year to ensure that they are working as well as possible or whether they need tweaking to ensure that their operation is not overly complicated for employers, or for mothers and fathers seeking to take advantage of those rights.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con):
I wish to make a vicious and premeditated attack on the Minister, and I make no apology for doing so. In my dealings with him in my former life as a director of Blue Arrow, I found him an excellent listener and very sympathetic to the needs of business. If that has destroyed his future political career, I still make no apology for saying it.
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It is nice for me to make a speechand I am sure that it is also a relief for you, Mr. Deputy Speakeron a subject on which I have a small degree of expertise, as a former director of Blue Arrow, a recruitment company that places some 20,000 people in work a week. As the Minister is aware from our discussions, the labour market has changed for the better over the past two decades, under both Conservative and Labour Governments. These days, 50 per cent. of the work force are male and 50 per cent. female. Indeed, it is predicted that by 2010 women will make up 53 per cent. of the work force.
The change in work patterns has also seen a change in child-rearing responsibilities. In my case, my wife would not want me to be involved in any way with child-rearing, because she thinks that I am completely useless at it, and I am happy not to be involved. However, many women have excellent husbands whom they feel they can trust to share child care duties. In such cases, we have to accept that some men will want to take paternity leave to spend time with their children and release their wife to continue her career, perhaps in a higher paying job.
The recruitment industry welcomes the extension of paternity leave, because we think that we shall make a bit of money from it. Fathers will want to take time off and there will be a consequential cost to small businesses in filling those positions. Recruitment companies often pay a higher hourly rate to temporary workers because they do not have access to the same level of in-work benefits as their permanent colleagues. Recruitment businesses also charge a margin on top of the hourly rate that can be as high as 20 per cent., so the cost to small business can be very real.
The other issue that small businesses face is losing a key member of staff. I know that the issue is the same when they lose a valuable female member of staff, but the provision will mean that they will lose valuable male members of staff. If a small business employing fewer than 10 people loses one of its star performers for 10 or 12 weeks, it can leave a big hole to fill. Yes, the business can get a temporary worker to cover the role, but the skill set required may be such that the temporary worker cannot hope to fill the vacancy properly.
I agree that we do not want a sunset clause, but I urge the Government to report to the House in 12 months and let us know how the regulations have been working. That could be done through a statement or a report. Paternity leave will be a new concept and it will take time for businesses to get their heads around it. It will also take time for fathers to get their heads around how to access and manage their new right. If we can ensure that regulation is thought through thoughtfully, implemented thoughtfully and followed up thoughtfully, it will be a great reassurance to Members on this side of the House. It might also be a reassurance to Labour Members and I am sure that it would be a reassurance to business.
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