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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 93 and 97 to which the noble Lord has just spoken modify the disruption that may be caused to an employer by the introduction of the concept of parental leave. I am particularly pleased that the Minister considered carefully what we said earlier about the cost to industry and commerce and the loss of competitiveness. We believe that any reduction in those burdens, even the modest ones proposed in the

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amendment, are most welcome. I am especially pleased to see the alteration of line 43 on page 70, so that any regulations by the Secretary of State may specify the maximum period of parental leave as well as the minimum, which is all the Bill originally provided.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, said, I proposed a similar amendment in Committee and I wanted to require the setting of minimum and maximum limits. He replied that it would require further consideration, although the principle was accepted. I am glad that there has been further consideration. I am happy that by altering the word "and" to "or" the Government have found a solution.

However, I wish to point out in the gentlest possible manner that after the passing of the amendment the clause would read that regulations may,

    "specify a minimum or maximum period of absence". I do not know whether it is correct, but my legal adviser tells me that this might prevent a regulation from specifying both parameters. I am certain that the Secretary of State will sort it out when he gets round to issuing the regulations. Subject to that minor quibble, we support the amendments.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 91A and 92 which are grouped with the noble Lord's amendments. Amendment No. 91A is a one-word amendment to the important provision entitling a worker to parental leave. Parental leave is something in addition to the maternity leave to which a mother is entitled. Throughout all the discussion about the provision, it has been made clear that parental leave shall be unpaid. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, told the Committee:

    "We are absolutely clear and we have been from the outset that there will be no requirement to pay for parental leave and the Bill provides for that".--[Official Report, 16/6/99; col. 318.] On that basis, I withdrew my identical amendment. I do not for one moment doubt the noble Lord's word, I am absolutely certain that if he says it is in the Bill, it is somewhere in the Bill. But despite a careful search, I cannot find it, nor can my advisers, nor the trade association which has briefed me on some aspects of the Bill. It may well be that we have overlooked a clause. However, I thought it best in the end to bring it back so that the Minister could tell me where it is. I am sure it would be helpful. The fact is that it is not in an obvious place where an employer can easily put his finger on it; it should be, even if it is repeated elsewhere in the Bill. For the sake of absolute clarity, I hope that the Government will accept my amendment which merely reflects what they say is the current position. Therefore, they should not have a problem with it.

Amendment No. 92 instructs the Secretary of State as to the nature of the regulations he may make in relation to parental leave. The detailed wording is in the text, but in very shortened form, and provides that

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the regulations must not impede small and medium size undertakings. It also entitles the employer to postpone the right to parental leave for what are called "justifiable reasons" listed under four headings. This is not just a wish list from the Opposition or industry but exceptions that are specifically allowed for by the working time directive which is the basis of the imposition by the Government of that obligation on industry and commerce. In accepting the limitations imposed by these amendments the Government would demonstrate their good intention neither to goldplate any regulations nor to impose any that constituted an undue burden on commerce, especially small and medium size enterprises.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I totally understand the concern of the noble Baroness that employers should be free of any doubt that parental leave is to be unpaid. But, as I assured her when we debated in Committee, there is no cause for concern. The Bill makes clear that there will be no requirement for employers to pay parental leave.

Perhaps I may rehearse the arguments to make the position absolutely clear. These provisions are about introducing unpaid parental leave. New Section 76 does not itself confer a right to paid leave. It provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations which will in turn provide for a right to parental leave. As I affirmed in Committee, new Section 77 makes clear that any terms and conditions required by the regulations to continue during parental leave cannot include terms and conditions about remuneration. I can assure the noble Baroness that the effect is to ensure that parental leave cannot be required to be paid and, therefore, her amendment is unnecessary.

I turn to Amendment No. 92. The noble Baroness and I are at one on the principles behind the amendment, if not on the method of dealing with them. The Government strongly believe that legislation must not damage business competitiveness and in particular that the needs of small businesses are paramount. The Prime Minister has only recently reaffirmed the need to ensure good regulation. This means the minimum provisions necessary to ensure a bottom line of acceptable standards. Noble Lords will recall that in Committee I announced that we were adopting a new approach to the regulations. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry intends to operate with a light touch.

The basic right to parental leave will be set out in the regulations but we will encourage employers and employees to make their own arrangements. The Government's amendment to follow new Section 78 of the 1996 Act will make it possible for regulations to provide for employers and employees to opt out of the details of the regulations through collective and workforce agreements. These regulations will provide a fall-back arrangement which automatically take effect if employers and employees cannot agree on, or do not wish to make, their own arrangements. We

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shall consult further on the details of the fall-back scheme, including the provisions relating to the postponement of leave.

I fully share the concern of the noble Baroness that employers should be able to postpone leave if necessary. It is clearly right that, faced with perhaps several requests for leave at a busy time, the employer should be able to say, "I'm afraid not now, but later." We want to consult on what the regulations should say. My concern is that the amendment would pre-empt that consultation. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that in resisting the amendment we are not rejecting the principles it embodies. We have taken account of the views of the business community throughout the process and have gained the support of both sides of industry for our minimalist approach to the regulations.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am reassured by what the Minister said but when I read the wording of the Bill the position relating to unpaid leave is not clear. I shall certainly have another look at the matter.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 91A and 92 not moved.]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendments Nos. 93 to 97:

Page 70, line 38, at end insert--
("( ) require parental leave to be taken as a series of periods of absence in all cases or in specified cases;").
Page 70, line 43, after ("minimum") insert ("or maximum")
Page 70, line 44, at end insert--
("( ) specify a maximum aggregate of periods of parental leave which may be taken during a specified period of time.").
Page 71, line 43, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations under section 76 may provide for specified provisions of the regulations not to apply in relation to an employee if any provision of his contract of employment--
(a) confers an entitlement to absence from work for the purpose of caring for a child, and
(b) incorporates or operates by reference to all or part of a collective agreement, or workforce agreement, of a kind specified in the regulations.")
Page 72, line 45, leave out from beginning to end of line 8 on page 73

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 98:

Page 73, leave out lines 13 to 43 and insert--


57A.--(1) An employee is entitled to be permitted by his employer to take a reasonable amount of time off during the employee's working hours in order to take action which is necessary--
(a) to provide assistance on an occasion when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted,
(b) to make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured,
(c) in consequence of the death of a dependant,
(d) because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant, or
(e) to deal with an incident which involves a child of the employee and which occurs unexpectedly in a period during which an educational establishment which the child attends is responsible for him.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply unless the employee--
(a) tells his employer the reason for his absence as soon as reasonably practicable, and
(b) unless paragraph (a) cannot be complied with until after the employee has returned to work, tells his employer for how long he expects to be absent.
(3) Subject to subsections (4) and (5), for the purposes of this section "dependant" means, in relation to an employee--
(a) a spouse,
(b) a child,
(c) a parent,
(d) a person who lives in the same household as the employee, otherwise than by reason of being his employee, tenant, lodger or boarder.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a) or (b) "dependant" includes, in addition to the persons mentioned in subsection (3), any person who reasonably relies on the employee--
(a) for assistance on an occasion when the person falls ill or is injured or assaulted, or
(b) to make arrangements for the provision of care in the event of illness or injury.
(5) For the purposes of subsection (1)(d) "dependant" includes, in addition to the persons mentioned in subsection (3), any person who reasonably relies on the employee to make arrangements for the provision of care.
(6) A reference in this section to illness or injury includes a reference to mental illness or injury.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 98 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 103 to 110 and 112. The Government are committed to putting in place a framework of fair and decent statutory rights which will help employees to balance their work and home responsibilities. At the same time, we are determined to ensure that this statutory framework does not place unnecessary and unjustifiable burdens on employers. Our competitive economy depends upon strong, modern businesses. Good working practices contribute to a competitive business by encouraging a committed and productive workforce. But too many demands on employers will undermine their competitive edge. This is an important reason why the Government are committed to cutting bureaucracy and burdensome regulations. I hope that

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what we are doing will be welcomed by the noble Baroness who, I know, shares some concerns about this provision.

In tabling this group of amendments we have listened to representations in the other place and concerns raised by business that the provisions on time off go beyond what is necessary to achieve our aims. In particular, the noble Baroness drew attention to this matter by tabling a number of amendments in Committee. We have never wanted to adopt the wording of the parental leave directive. It would lead to a too narrow and begrudging approach. That fosters the wrong culture of distrust and fear and goes against our main objective to support employees who have caring responsibilities.

We want to ensure that employees who have to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving someone else who depends on them are able to do so without fear of victimisation. But we recognise that the Bill as published provides a wide right to time off for domestic incidents, and we are persuaded that it could be interpreted as going beyond our policy intentions. The provisions were never intended to allow employees time off to get their washing machines mended, for example. We had intended to use the regulation-making powers if necessary to clarify the matter. However, employers were concerned that such a wide provision in the Bill could easily be abused.

These amendments will put the provision back on a proper footing and cut out the risk of abuse by those who may seek to take time off to deal with running repairs to the home. The statutory right will be limited to urgent cases of real need. The emergency must involve a dependant who is either a family member or someone who relies upon the employee for assistance in the particular circumstances. By "family member" I mean a child, parent, husband, wife, partner or other household member, but not someone who is in the household because he or she is the employee, tenant, lodger or boarder of that employee. By "someone who relies upon the employee for assistance" I mean an individual for whom the employee has primary caring responsibility or someone who is involved in a serious emergency where the employee is the only person who can help; for example, an elderly neighbour living alone who falls and breaks a leg.

We have now set out clearly on the face of the Bill the circumstances in which leave can be taken. In so doing we will remove the need for long and complex regulations, or for collective or workforce agreements to opt out of the regulations. This approach has been supported by the CBI. The majority of employers already allow time off in emergencies and we do not want to discourage them from doing so. This amendment ensures that all employees will be entitled to time off in specific circumstances which most of us would accept.

Let me spell out what the amendment is intended to cover. We intend the right to apply where a dependant becomes sick or has an accident, or is assaulted, including where the victim is distressed rather than physically injured. It provides for reasonable time off, if an employee suffers a bereavement of a family member,

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to deal with the consequences of that bereavement, such as making funeral arrangements, as well as to take time off to attend the funeral.

Employees will be able also to take time off in the event of the unexpected absence of the carer, where the person is a dependant of the employee. So if the childminder or the nurse does not turn up, the employee will be able to sort things out without fearing reprisals at work.

Employees may have to take time off to attend to a problem arising at their children's school or during school hours--for example, if the child has been involved in a fight, where the child is distressed, or if the child has committed a serious misdemeanour which could lead to expulsion. Again, the provision will secure their right to do so.

A father will have the right to be on hand at the birth of his child. After the birth, a father may be able to take parental leave to care for his child--but that is a matter which we will leave for the time being to the parental leave consultation.

I hope everyone can agree that all these are sensible, limited circumstances in which every employee should be able to take a reasonable amount of time off if necessary in order to deal with the matter.

We have not set a limit on the amount of time which employees can take off. This right is to help people deal with emergencies. A limit would not make sense and could be seen as a minimum, which employees might well consider an entitlement to be added to their annual leave. In all cases, the right will be limited to the amount of time which is reasonable in the circumstances of a particular case. For example, if a child falls ill with chickenpox the leave must be sufficient to enable the employee to cope with the crisis--to deal with the immediate care of the child and to make alternative longer-term care arrangements. The right will not enable a mother to take a fortnight off while her child is in quarantine. In most cases, whatever the problem, one or two days will be the most that are needed to deal with the immediate issues and sort out longer-term arrangements if necessary.

I am sure we can all agree that it is only reasonable to expect employees to notify their employers of their absence, the reason for the absence and, where possible, the duration of the absence, as soon as reasonably practicable. The amendment builds in this requirement.

This right gives important protection to employees. No employee should have to fear victimisation or dismissal for taking time off if his or her child has an accident; and an employee will be able to complain to an employment tribunal if the employer has unreasonably refused time off.

I am sure these amendments, which provide clarity without bureaucracy, will receive widespread support from noble Lords. I hope the noble Baroness will be satisfied that they meet the concerns raised about this issue, including those of business. I commend them, and I beg to move.

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