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Section 106 is intended to protect employers who take on employees to cover maternity or adoption leave. It enables them to dismiss the replacement employee when the original employee returns from leave. The replacement employee is also protected since section 106 applies only where the replacement was informed in writing when they were appointed that their employment would be terminated when the original employee returned to work, and the dismissal will be fair only if the employer acted reasonably and fairly and followed proper procedures in carrying out the dismissal.
Mr. Walker: Will there be a requirement for notice or any form of redundancy payment to be given to an individual being dismissed when a women returns from maternity leave? What period of notice and conditions will be attached to that dismissal?
Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Bill extends the notice that women returning from maternity leave give to their employer, enabling the employer to give more notice to the replacement employee. My understanding is that there will not be issues of redundancy as this is not a redundancy situation.
Mr. Walker: A woman returning to work could say, "I'll be coming back in two or three months". Will there be a requirement for the employer to notify the temporary employee that they will be moving on? It would be fair for the temporary employee to have as much notice as possible that they will not required in future.
Meg Munn: My understanding is that nothing in the Bill changes the current arrangements, and clearly the employer has to follow the correct procedures. Having the extended notice helps the replacement employee. They need to be told at the outset that they are a replacement and that they will finish at that point. The proper procedures should be followed. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
The amendment will allow section 106 to be extended to include the dismissal of employees taken on to cover absence due to additional paternity leave. In the majority of cases, such an absence will be short and the replacement employee will not have enough continuous service with their employer to enable them to claim unfair dismissal. However, there may be circumstances, including where additional paternity leave is taken on the death of the mother, where the father's absence is long enough to allow the replacement to clock up one year's service and be able to claim unfair dismissal. The extension of section 106 will provide certainty to employers managing the new entitlement to additional paternity leave. Employers will know that they can take on a replacement to cover the absence without concern about their ability to end the replacement employee's contract. I commend the amendment to the House.
If my amendment on a related point has triggered the Government to spot this anomaly, I am obviously delighted. This measure appears eminently sensible, and we must ensure that in all the different circumstancesmaternity or paternity leave, or adoptionthe employer and the employee are in the same position. The amendment will regularise that situation, so as to ensure that in the few cases in which
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someone takes extended paternity leave beyond a year, they will not be in a different position from anyone else. We support the amendment.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I was not on the Committee for this Bill, and I would like to ask the Minister and her colleagues a quick question. The proposal in the amendment seems so obvious and logical in the context of the Bill, and I wonder why it was not in the original Bill. Why was it necessary for the Government to table this amendment? I applaud them for so doing, but I wonder whether there is a good reason why the proposal was not considered in the first place.
Meg Munn: First, I am delighted that the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) is delighted. Secondly, to respond to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), the amendment will ensure that the regulations are clear and that everyone fully understands the position. As I said in my speech, the expectation is that, given the arrangements, there will be very few occasions on which additional paternity leave will last longer than a year. However, as hon. Members know, we are a listening Government and we respond to people's concerns. We wanted to do everything that we could to make the position clear, and that is why we have tabled the amendment at this stage.
This Bill, which has enjoyed a positive reception from both sides of the House during its passage, is pro-family and pro-business. These aims are not mutually exclusive, but mutually supportive. Flexible working increases the number of people who are able to work, which widens the talent pool for business. More importantly, it gives parents a genuine choice when making the difficult decisions about how they balance their work and family lives. That is why these measures are an essential component of an enabling state.
The Bill extends paid maternity and adoption leave. It extends to carers of adults the right to request flexible working. It also gives fathers the opportunity to play more of a role in their child's upbringing, and it makes it easier for employers to administer these rights. These are progressive policies that respond to profound changes in our workplaces and our homes.
It is therefore curious to read that the Leader of Her Majesty's official Opposition, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), is apparently against the measures. Having pronounced his commitment to social justice and espoused the causes of trusting people and sharing responsibility, he now sides with some of the more reactionary elements of society in arguing to prevent fathers from exercising a choice with their partners to take a more prominent role in caring for their child.
I know that the right hon. Member for Witney, together with his hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches, voted against every single family-friendly
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measure that this Government have introduced, from extending maternity leave, maternity pay and paternity leave to the right to request flexible working. They also voted against giving adoptive parents help for the very first time in dealing with the difficult task of taking children into their homes. We genuinely hoped that there had been a change of heart, and that there would be a progressive consensus behind the Bill.
Mr. Bellingham: The Minister will remember that, for a couple of years during the last Parliament, I shadowed him when he was a Minister of State. We consistently supported a number of family-friendly measures. We certainly gave our wholehearted support on adoption rights. Perhaps, going back a bit further, the Opposition might have taken a more anti-family stance, but for the past four years or so we have supported the Government on many occasions. Yes, we have had our differences with them over employment legislation, but we have also supported them time and again.
Alan Johnson: I remember when we dealt with the Employment Bill in 2001. The hon. Gentleman's memory is faulty. Conservative Members opposed the Employment Bill on Second Reading on 27 November 2001. That Bill contained every element that I just mentioned. It was supported with fine words in Committee. I well remember the principle being acceptable, but when it came to the crunch and the vote, Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Witney, voted against every single measure. Although we hoped that there had been a change of heart and that there would be a progressive consensus behind the present Bill, that seems not to be the case, but I still hope that Members in all parts of the House will support the Bill this evening.
Progressive politicians should certainly back the Bill, because progressive businesses back itnot just the biggest businesses, which find it easier to invest in human resources policies, but small businesses too. In many cases, small businesses are far ahead of larger businesses in their enlightened approach to employment relations. They do it almost instinctively, as we found when we researched the original employment relations policies introduced in the early part of the century.
The economics are clear. It costs £80 to handle a straightforward flexible working request, for instance, but it costs £4,800 to recruit a new employee. That is why 90 per cent. of flexible working requests are being accommodated, according to a CBI survey. That is why Miles Templeman, director general of the Institute of Directors, which was against the original proposals back in 200001, now says:
Business backs the extension of flexible working to one group at a time, the very approach that we have taken in the Bill. Business also supports the extension of maternity pay towards 12 months by the end of this Parliament, and many of the other measures in the Billthe increased notice periods, the "keeping in touch" days and the alignment of start dates, all of which are essential simplifications of the legislation. Many of these measures were developed in partnership with business, through our external advisory group of human resources experts.
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We will continue to work closely with business as we move forward. In February, we will consult on the details of the paternity scheme so that large and small businesses can introduce these important measures successfully. We will also consult on the annual leave entitlement before putting detailed changes to Parliament, including on phasing in the introduction.
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