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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: This group of amendments focuses on the details of parental leave. I am pleased to have an opportunity to set out our thinking on these issues.

Of course, there is always a balance to be struck between clarity, for which we are striving, and covering the aspects in proper detail. In this regard, we have tried to meet the issue by establishing the principle and covering the more detailed aspects in regulations. However, I agree that it is always necessary to try to hold that balance.

I know that the noble Baroness raised many of these points out of her concern for the regulatory impact upon business. I can assure her that we take these matters seriously. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has decided to take a new approach with the parental leave regulations. He intends to operate with a light touch and to place emphasis on encouraging employers and employees to agree between themselves the arrangements which best suit them.

The Bill reflects this approach by providing for collective and workforce agreements to "opt out" of the details of the regulations. Our intention is to set out the basic right to parental leave in the regulations and to provide a fall-back arrangement which will automatically take effect if employers and employees cannot agree on, or do not wish to make, their own arrangements. This approach has gained the support of both sides of industry. We shall be consulting further on the details of the fall-back scheme.

I now turn to some of the detail raised. What should be covered is a key question. Amendment No. 248 suggests that natural and adopted children, grandchildren, stepchildren, foster children and children

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placed with other adults who are in loco parentis could and should benefit from those responsible for them being able to qualify to take parental leave. In doing so, it highlights the various family circumstances in which children grow up and underlines just how important parental leave could be to a large slice of the workforce involved in bringing up the next generation.

We are considering these matters very carefully. Our intention is to cover those responsible for caring for a child and for the Secretary of State to use the power set out in the Bill to specify what counts as such responsibility in the regulations. We need to arrive at a definition which is effective, but simple for employers to operate.

Amendment No. 249 is concerned to ensure that employers are free of any doubts that parental leave is to be unpaid. We are absolutely clear, and have been from the outset, that there will be no requirement for employers to pay parental leave. The Bill provides for that.

Unlike new Sections 71 and 73 of the Employment Rights Act, which appear in Chapter I of Schedule 4 to the Bill and relate to maternity leave, new Section 76, relating to parental leave, does not itself confer a right to leave. It provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations which will in turn provide for a right to parental level.

New Section 77, which appears on page 65 of the Bill, requires that these regulations should provide for an employee's terms and conditions of employment to continue to apply while the employee is on parental leave, although only to such extent as may be prescribed in the regulations. That covers the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as to the balance between remuneration and other aspects of terms and conditions which will there be specified.

Further down the page, subsection (2)(b) of new Section 77 states that the terms and conditions that are to continue--except to the extent that regulations do not exclude this--do not include terms and conditions about remuneration. Accordingly, there is no provision for employees to continue to be paid during parental leave. Any requirement for employers to provide paid parental leave would require new primary legislation.

Broadly speaking, Amendments Nos. 250, 250A and 252 deal with matters relating to how and when parental leave should be taken, and I will cover them together. The Bill enables regulations to be made setting out how and when parental leave can be taken. For example, we can provide for parental leave to be taken before the child reaches a certain age, for it to be taken flexibly or in blocks, spread out over a period of time or concentrated in a shorter spell, the intention being to arrive at a scheme which will be manageable for employers while still giving sufficient flexibility to employees. There is power in the Bill for regulations to allocate the amount of parental leave which can be taken to a given period and to require it to be taken as a single block.

I am aware that some employers do not want leave to be taken in dribs and drabs of a day or two at a time. Others would have difficulties if a key employee wished to take

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the whole three months at once. The important thing is that employers will have freedom to come to agreements with the workforce about these matters, either through collective, workforce or individual agreements.

On the specific matters raised by these amendments, our current thinking is to link entitlement to parental leave to the child's age or to a specific period of time starting, for example, from the adoption of a child. We do not envisage going wider than the criteria in subsection (4) of new Section 76 which Amendment No. 250 seeks to make mandatory. However, we believe that it is undesirable to rule out any option of doing so when we have not yet consulted on our proposals.

The Bill also allows for different provision to be made in different cases and we have been consulting the relevant agencies about the merits and drawbacks of varying the provisions in circumstances such as adoption or where there are special needs.

Amendment No. 252 would allow the regulations to prescribe a maximum period which may be taken as part of a period of parental leave. I have reflected upon that and consider that it could give us some useful additional options when drawing up the regulations. However, as drafted, it would require the regulations to set both minimum and maximum periods, which may not be desirable. We should at least consult on that. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment. This is the moment she has been waiting for. We accept the amendment in principle. The noble Baroness may miss her great moment if she is not careful. While she was talking, I was in principle accepting the point about the maximum. However, I made the point that we need to consult on the matter. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will enjoy the moment and will withdraw her amendment so that the Government can bring forward a revised version on Report.

Amendments Nos. 253 and 254 seek to ensure that, in drawing up the regulations, we take account of the needs of business and, in particular, minimise the burden of record-keeping. The amendments set out important and sensible principles and I have described what our approach is to be.

Of course, we need to produce a set of fall-back regulations which are workable for both employers and employees. That is why we have worked closely with employers, including small employers, from the very beginning. The White Paper specifically sought views on the particular difficulties which small employers may face and how to alleviate them. Ministers have met representative employer organisations and will take careful account of their views. Employers have told us that they want record-keeping requirements to be kept to a minimum and we agree that it is a matter of good practice and common sense for them to draw on existing records where possible.

In particular, there are a number of provisions which will take account of the needs of business. For example, employers will be able to postpone parental leave where there are operational or business reasons for doing so. We shall ensure that the notice periods are adequate for the amount of leave requested; we shall aim to ensure that

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record-keeping requirements, if any, are not unduly burdensome; and employers and employees will be able to make arrangements which are particularly suited to their circumstances.

We are giving a great deal of thought to the wide range of views on those issues. We shall use the scope provided in the Bill to produce a fall-back scheme which is simple, flexible and workable for both employers and employees and which can be followed where they do not agree different arrangements. We shall consult on our proposals. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for tapping me on the shoulder at the appropriate moment so that I did not miss the very good news about Amendment No. 252. I have had two good pieces of news today, although I know that one of those is not necessarily set in stone. That is too much for me to ignore.

I shall read carefully what the Minister said about Amendment No. 249. If I understood him correctly, it appears that there may not be a problem. The Bill may already provide that it is "unpaid." In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 249 to 250 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 251 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 251A to 255 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 256:

Page 67, line 18, leave out from ("hours") to end of line 19 and insert ("on grounds of force majeur for urgent family reasons in case of sickness or accident making the immediate presence of the worker indispensable")

The noble Baroness said: I am slightly confused. In the circumstances, as my notes are together, I shall not move this amendment. I may return on Report to some of the amendments which have not been moved.

[Amendment No. 256 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 257 to 258A not moved.]

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