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The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) was a little hard on the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who made some interesting points in her speech, although I cannot support the new clause, as I shall explain.
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The introduction of paternity leave is most important, as I have said before. When my youngest daughter was born my wife had to stay in hospital before and after the birth, which made things difficult. I had a young daughter to look after and had to change my work patterns. As I was self-employed I was able to do so by working late some nights, but many husbands do not have that opportunity. Far from making excuses, it is actually difficult for many men to take paternity leave for practical reasons so the introduction of statutory paternity leave is important for them.
I was not entirely clear what the hon. Member for Epping Forest meant by "effectiveness"; she referred several times to the effect on business and the costs to business, but that is only one side. There may be an effect on business, but I am interested in the effect on families and employees and how they react to and deal with things. Effectiveness goes two ways; it is not just about cost.
My worry about the wording is: what happens if after a review we find that the measure is costing business x millions and the situation cannot continue? Are we seriously saying that having granted paternity leave to employees we should tell them that it costs too much and we shall abolish it? That is not a practical proposition.
Mrs. Laing: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If the new clause does not seem sufficiently wide, its wording is deficient and I take responsibility. Perhaps I am not as good a lawyer as he. He is right: it is not just a question of costs. If the Government accept the new clause and the Minister makes an assessment of effectiveness, there must be a full assessment of the effect on everyone involved, especially employees and fathers.
Another problem is that the review would be annual, beginning in a year's time. That is wholly and utterly impractical. We are introducing an important new right and it will take time for it to bed in. We need to know about its effects over a longer period. After only one year, relatively few people will have taken advantage of that right, and by its nature its impact will vary from year to year. We cannot take one year in isolation and say that the effect has been x. The effect in year two may be vastly different.
We need a bedding-in period of at least five years to give a real view of how the measure is working. If the new clause had proposed a review after five years to assess the impact and to consider what we should do if there were detrimental effects either on business or, more important, on employees, I could have supported it, but I cannot do so with its current wording.
The analogy of the elephant trap was interestingI can see the Trojan horse falling into it. There are too many dangers in passing a clause worded in that manner. It could have the unintended consequences to which the hon. Member for Epping Forest referred. There are too many ifs and buts. The point about
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holding a review is valid, but it must take place only after a reasonable period to see whether the regulations have bedded in.
I shall not support the new clause if the hon. Lady puts it to a vote, but I urge the Minister to assure the House that after a reasonable periodperhaps the end of this Parliamentwe shall have a review of the effect of the regulations. On Second Reading, I expressed concern about the fact that a mother and father could not take maternity and paternity leave at the same time, which would have been extremely useful in my situation, if my wife and I had been in employment. Many aspects of the impact of the regulations on employees need to be assessed. Perhaps a review could reconsider the year's leave and split the time up in different ways to allow a crossover period. It could also consider the effects on small businesses that we discussed in our earlier debate. The review is fine but a year is far too short a period.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful for the opportunity to hold this debate. The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) has outlined, in relation to its wording, why we cannot support the new clause, but I am happy to accept the spirit and intention of what it tries to achieve. I am grateful for the contributions of the hon. Members for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan). It was always a great pleasure for me to meet the hon. Member for Broxbourne in his former capacity, and I hope that I have not done too much damage to his career or mine by saying that. His experience in the field has been vital in informing our debate.
Of necessity, we expressed a wide range of views on direct payments, as there is great strength of feeling about the differences between us. With paternity leave, however, we are looking at culture change; we are trying to ensure that there is a continuous process whereby employers offer the best support for their employees.
The measure has not come out of thin air; it is the result of consultation and discussion. One of my concerns has been that the pace of change in the world of work is so dramatic that it is important for the Government, employers and employee representatives to keep up with the requirements of the people that we represent. Research on how the existing rights for statutory paternity pay and leave are used shows that fathers want the flexibility to spend more time with their babies in the first year and are taking advantage of the leave and pay available.
The Department of Trade and Industry supported the Equal Opportunities Commission survey, "Fathers in the First Year", which looked into how much time fathers took off work when their child was born, as well as the attitude of fathers and their partners to fathers' caring role. The hon. Member for Broxbourne told us about his wife's view. I am sure that we have some parenting courses that he could follow.
The world is changing and it is important that we achieve that culture change. The hon. Member for North Norfolk spoke about the need for great care in drawing up the regulations. I agree that it is important
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that we get that right, and under the affirmative regulation principle, we are taking plenty of time to ensure that we do so.
Norman Lamb: On Second Reading, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry undertook to attempt to get the draft regulations ready before the Committee completed its deliberations. That did not happen, and they are still not ready. Would it not have been better to allow the House to see the regulations at least to assist in the debates on such matters?
Mr. Sutcliffe: My right hon. Friend made that offerif it was possiblebut he also said that we need to ensure that we get the detail right and to consult thoroughly and widely, and we are happy to do so with Opposition parties. I have certainly done that when involved with previous Bills, and we welcome any support from Opposition Members in the way that we try to administer doing so. The regulations will go through the affirmative procedureParliament will have an opportunity to discuss themand that is the proper way to proceed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting is quite right. He was consistent during the debates in Committee. He is attacking not the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) personally, but the idea that comes from the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who says that there are times to stand up to business and times to show that family-friendly employment policies are being considereda point made in an earlier discussion by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson). However, the evidence shows that the right hon. Member for Witney is attacking paternity leave and running behind what the CBI has said about it. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting is right to be consistent in saying that those warm words are not good enough and that actions count. We need to see those actions.
It is important to review how the system works for the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Angus. We want it to work. We want it to be appropriate. We want it to be right. However, the annual review suggested in new clause 3 is not appropriate; it would not represent a good use of taxpayers' moneysomething that is of genuine concern to the hon. Member for Epping Forest. For those reasons, I hope that she accepts the spirit of what we are trying to achieve. I welcome any contribution that she wants to make on the regulations when they are drafted. I also hope that, in light of my recommendations, she will withdraw the motion.
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