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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am most grateful for the comments that have been made. I welcome the support of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the order. He was right to say that it is broadly supported among the dental profession—and especially by the BDA, which has played an important role in enabling the profession to discuss the proposals. I agree that the GDC will emerge from the order as a more responsive organisation that will be even more committed to ensuring a quality agenda among the dental profession.

I have always been an admirer of the dental profession in this country. Its standards are high compared to those of many other countries. It is much to the profession's credit that it supports the proposals. I have no doubt that the public will be the winner in receiving an even further increased quality of care.

Noble Lords have assumed that this is the first order to be laid under the Health Act 1999. In fact, it is the second. About a year ago, we laid an order providing for immediate changes to the General Medical Council. I can promise many more orders as we go through the health professions one by one. What I cannot do—I express my regret to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones—is to

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give a precise timetable at the moment. I will endeavour to keep noble Lords informed of the progress of the various orders that must be laid.

I have noted the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about professional support for the changes. There has been extensive debate with all of the professions during the past 12 to 24 months, which has been lively. That has helped to inform the process. Each of the orders that will come before your Lordships will ensure professional confidence in the arrangements, but, at the end of the day, the public interest must be paramount.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, chided me for delay in bringing the order before your Lordships' House. I must tell him that I am aware of the General Dental Council's anxiety that the orders be brought to fruition as soon as possible. When I met the GDC several times, it was clear about that message.

On timing, in May 2000, the GDC sent the department proposals for a Section 60 order along the lines of the order before us. We could not respond immediately, because we had to revise the agreement by which NHS dentists are compensated for loss of earnings through undertaking continuing professional development. We had to take account of the extra CPD required under the GDC's re-certification scheme. Agreement with the profession was not reached until November last year. We published the draft order for consultation on 27th April. That was then delayed by the election, and there was no time to arrange a debate before the summer recess. We laid the order as soon as practicable after Parliament returned in October. I accept that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is right to press us on speed. I am as committed as he is to ensuring that we deal with the orders as soon as possible.

I was asked about future orders. The orders relating to the GMC, the nursing and midwives council and the Health Professions Council will all be affirmative orders to be debated in your Lordships' House as we are doing today. The orders that will not be affirmative are those that concern the actual membership. Today we are conferring the ability for changes in membership to be made. That will be subject to another order, which will not be an affirmative order.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, in the other place, an honourable friend of the Minister responded to a question from the honourable Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon about how future orders will come before the House. I assume that that Minister was also talking about the orders on complaints and professions complementary to dentistry. She said:

    "They will be subject to negative resolution because they will be orders of the Privy Council."—[Official Report, Commons, 14/11/01; col. 11.]

Is the Minister saying that that refers only to the composition of the council?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, when my honourable friend said that, she was referring to what we may call the subsidiary orders contained in the dental order before your Lordships' House. The

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substantive issues relating to dentistry that will be addressed in the second order will be debated in your Lordships' House under the Section 60 provision. As I said, the orders dealing with the other professions will be dealt with in a similar way.

I turn to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn. He is a distinguished dentist in his own right, and I welcome and agree with his comments about the fairness of the regulatory procedures. He asked what matters were to be contained in a further order. Taken together, the orders place dentistry in a good position. It will be leading the way in regulation. I am convinced that, together with the change to the GDC and the discussions taking place between the department and the dentistry profession, the orders lay an excellent foundation for the future.

My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies spoke about his experience of NHS dentistry. I agree with him about the need to increase the number of lay members on the GDC and other regulatory bodies. I can confirm that the order's principle of increasing lay membership will be followed through with the other regulatory bodies.

On the question of when re-certification will commence, provided that the order is passed by your Lordships' House, and provided that the GDC can make its rules by 31st December, re-certification will be mandatory from 1st January 2002. My noble friend then asked how one defines a lay person, and whether it could include a doctor or a nurse. Yes, it could be a doctor or a nurse or, indeed, a Member of your Lordships' House. The definition of "lay" essentially is someone other than a person who could be appointed as a professional member of the GDC. It is right that the lay category should be as broad as possible. However, I also believe it is important that the people appointed to the GDC as lay members can reflect the lay person's view. Of course, great care will be taken to ensure that a high calibre of member is appointed.

I believe that I have responded to all the points that were made. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2001

7.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 18th October be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have great pleasure in presenting to your Lordships significant changes to the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations.

I should first like to provide some background to the Government's consideration of family friendly policies such as parental leave more generally. At the end of last year a Green Paper on work and parents

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was published which set out the Government's commitment to helping working parents achieve a better balance between the needs of their work and their home lives. It put forward a range of options to help improve choice for parents and enhance competitiveness and productivity for business.

The consultation, which asked for the views of both employers and employees on which options they wanted the Government to pursue, finished on 7th March this year. Over 600 formal responses were received by the end of the consultation process. In addition, members of the ministerial group and officials from the review team met almost 300 individuals face to face. They spoke to employers or their representatives, working parents and those representing unions or family groups. Further focus group work was also commissioned with expectant mothers and with small employers across Britain.

What we learnt from this comprehensive consultation was that working parents and employers clearly want more support—support for parents to fulfil their potential as both parents and employees and support for business, particularly small business, to take on board changes in legislation. At the core of the Government's decision-making are two principal elements, therefore—ensuring more choice for parents, together with appropriately light touch regulation for business.

In March this year the Government announced a series of new measures to offer more support to working parents around the time of a child's birth. These measures concerning maternity, paternity and adoption leave had all received strong support during the Green Paper consultation and will largely be taken forward through the Employment Bill which the Government introduced on 7th November.

I turn now to the specific subject of today's debate and the announcement we made in April this year to make changes to the regulations that govern parental leave. At the moment, only parents of children born on or after 15th December 1999, the date on which the right was first introduced, qualify for the right. Similarly, parents of disabled children are at present only entitled to the same amount of leave as other parents of 13 weeks.

When the Government introduced parental leave for the first time at the end of 1999, it was a totally new concept in the UK. We had no experience of how it would work in practice and, although we had, of course, consulted business on its possible effects, we could not be sure what, if any, difficulties it might create for businesses. The Government therefore felt at that time that it was important to introduce the right with a "light-touch" approach to give employers time to understand it and its implications.

The Government believe the parental leave right has worked well since its introduction and, accordingly, that the time is now right to increase the amount of leave to parents of disabled children and to extend the right to parental leave to all parents with children under five. During the Green Paper consultation

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exercise, parents and employers were almost universally positive in their support of extending the amount of parental leave for parents of disabled children. This will help to give parents of children with disabilities greater flexibility to strike the balance between working and caring for their child's additional needs. The question of extending entitlement to parental leave to parents of children who were under five at the time the right was first introduced was the subject of a specific consultation following the publication of the Green Paper.

The consultation period closed on 8th August, by the end of which 46 formal responses were received, almost equally split between parents, employers, and their various representative bodies. None of these responses opposed the changes, with the majority supporting the proposals, and the Government are therefore proceeding with them. The Government published their responses to the consultation on 18th October.

The changes to the regulations will mean that parents of disabled children can take 18 weeks' leave up to their child's 18th birthday—an increase of five weeks. Different provisions already exist for parents of disabled children whereby they are able to use their leave over a longer period than other parents—up to their child's 18th birthday. By increasing the amount of time these parents can take off to 18 weeks they can, if they so wish, take one working week off per year in parental leave up to their child's 18th birthday. This will give parents of children with disabilities greater flexibility to strike the balance between working and caring for their child's additional needs, and this move has been strongly supported by business and parents and disability groups.

In addition, the Government believe that the time is now right to increase the number of parents who are able to exercise the right to parental leave. The changes to the regulations will ensure that parents of all children who were under five when the right to parental leave was first introduced will now benefit from it.

One effect of the extension of the right is that transitional arrangements will be needed to cover parents of children who have since reached, or will soon reach, the age of five. The Government's aim is to ensure that these parents are not disadvantaged in comparison with the position if the original right had extended to them in 1999 but as far as possible to preserve the existing requirements of the regulations apart from that.

Under the statutory fallback scheme, which forms part of the original regulations, parents are limited to take a maximum of four weeks' parental leave in any one year. On this basis, it will take just over three years for these parents to take their full entitlement of 13 weeks' leave. The same applies to parents of children who were placed with them for adoption in the five years before the right was first introduced. The amended regulations will therefore give all such parents and adopted parents until 31st March 2005 to exercise their right, and parents of disabled children

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will have until their child's 18th birthday to take their 18 weeks' entitlement as provided in current legislation.

We intend, subject to approval here, that the amended regulations will come into force on 10th January 2002. These amendments make sound, sensible and necessary improvements to the law. I therefore very much commend the regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 18th October be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

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