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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): First, we did consult extensively, including a formal consultation of 12 weeks on the Green Paper, Work and Parents. We also consulted specifically for a further 12 weeks on the detailed framework for paternity leave. It turned out that many people wanted to have paternity leave and to be present during the early stages of their children's life. He may even have felt, during his children's early days, a faint twinge that he might like to be with them some time.
Let me deal with some specific points. The amendments would have the effect of taking the period of paternity leave out of regulations and making it fixed on the face of the Bill for a period of exactly two weeks. As things stand, the Bill makes it clear that regulations will provide that leave will be for a minimum of two weeks.
If the noble Lord is concerned that we may regulate to allow a period longer than two weeks, let me reassure him that that is not our intention. We have consulted extensively and exhaustively on this subject, both in the Work and Parents Green Paper and subsequently. I will not say that the proposal for a two-week period met absolutely universal approvalinevitably, some wanted a longer period and others wanted a shorter period, but we needed to strike a balance and two weeks represents a reasonable consensus.
Having said that, we could of course fix the period firmly on the face of the Bill and leave ourselves no possibility of ever changing it by regulations. I do not see the need for that. As so often, in this aspect of the
I cannot rule out the possibility, over time, that the Government might want to look again at the issue of the length of leave. It could happen, but it is not our current intention. The period of paid paternity leave will be two weeks and, with that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord is prepared to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Henley: I shall not withdraw the amendment just yet because I have a number of concerns that have not been addressed. I think that I am right in understanding that I have had an assurance from the Minister that the length of pay is a matter for primary legislation. If the noble Lord would extend that by primary legislation, the length of leave could be extended by secondary legislation.
The Minister has not addressed my concern about the 56-day period. In the provision, the noble Lord will see that leave must be taken before the end of the periodat least 56 days is involvedbeginning with the date of the child's birth. If that is the case, that would mean that he could not extend the two-week period beyond 56 days without primary legislation. So two weeks' leave could, by secondary legislation, only be extended up to eight weeks' leave. Any extension of leave beyond eight weeks would therefore have to be done through primary legislation.
Moreover, the Minister has not addressed my concerns about the meaning of the regulations in subsection (5), particularly paragraphs (a) and (c). I would be very grateful if he would take say exactly what can be expected in the regulations under paragraphs (a) and (c) in particular.
Lord Henley: I cannot accept that. If the requirement was that leave had to be taken before the end of a period of at least 56 days beginning with the date of the child's birth, that would mean that they would not be able to complete an extension of the period of leave beyond eight weeks in a period of 56 days. In other words, either the Bill is badly drafted or there is a limit on what the Government can do by means of regulation. Obviously, the 56-day period cannot be changed by means of secondary legislation because that was there in the Bill, unless it was shown in some other part of the Bill as something different. I
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The situation is as I explained to the noble Lord; that we could in regulations extend the period further. However, I shall take this point away and check whether there is confusion in the drafting.
Lord Henley: I am grateful to the noble Lord and perhaps between now and Report stage he could write to me and take advice from his lawyers about the drafting of that particular point. Before we leave, perhaps the noble Lord might address my questions about subsection (5)(a) and subsection (5)(c) in terms of the precise meaning of those pages and what is intended to be in the regulations under subsections (5)(a) and (5)(c).
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Paternity leave is for the purpose of caring for the mother and supporting the child and subsection (5)(a) allows us to detail what we mean by that. We do not expect to make use of powers, as stated in our memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Select Committee. However, we have left ourselves with the opportunity, in case we discover over time that abuses are occurring and we need to be more precise about that point.
Lord Henley: It seems extraordinary that the regulations might, for instance, provide that someone could go home to look after his wife or partner but that he cannot go to watch Arsenal play at wherever. I would have thought that it was not necessary for the heavy hand of the state come into it. If you are going to give someone parental leave, why can they not just go home and take it? No doubt, however, the noble Lord can consider that and let me know any further thoughts he may have. Having said all that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 3 is intended to clarify an omission or an ambiguity in the Bill. It was previously proposed in the other place by my honourable friend, the Member for Runnymead and Weybridge. As he pointed out, at the same time as referring to the date of the birth of the child, subsection (7) of the new Section 80A refers to a stillborn child. Although paternity leave is provided for in such a tragic case, it is not to enable the father to help care for the child, but to enable him to support the bereaved mother. It is, however, not absolutely clear that the reference to the date of the child's birth also includes the date of the stillbirth.
In response to the probing amendment of my honourable friend, the Minister for Employment and the Regions referred at my honourable friend's request to the Social Security Contributions Act 1992 and specifically to Section 171. It states, and I precis, that confinement means labour after 28 weeks of pregnancy resulting in the birth of a child whether alive or dead.
The Minister admitted, after further questioning from my honourable friend, that he was "fairly confident" that maternity pay for the full period under that Act would apply in the case of stillbirth. Presumably, by analogy, the Minister would be "fairly confident" that the date of the stillbirth would be taken as the same as the date of a live birth. However, "fairly confident" is not enough.
The Minister promised to review the matter but in the intervening stages in the other place, no clarification has emerged. That is why it is necessary for me to bring this amendment back for your Lordships to consider. This is not a controversial matter. We are all agreed on the objective and support the inclusion of the case of a stillborn child in the right to paternity leave.
What is required, however, is absolute clarity on the face of the Bill. This Bill will be referred to by both employers and employees to ascertain the employees' rights. Often, indeed usually, they will not have the benefit of expert advice. It is important that an employer or an employee, acting alone, should be able to go to their local library, or gain access to the Internet, or in some other manner to look at a copy of the Act and see what their rights are.
Acceptance of the amendment does not involve any changes whatever in the Bill. It does not diminish the Bill or parental rights in any way at all. It is not acceptable for the Minister to say, if that is what he has mind, that the amendment is not necessary. It may not be necessary for him, for lawyers, trade union advisers or other experts who have expertise at construing statutes. It also has to be clear to the owner of a corner shop or to the director of a small manufacturing business, without the time or the money to spend on professional advice. Above all, it also has to be clear to the father of a stillborn child who will have quite enough to contend with without his having to hunt around at such a distressing time to find out what his rights are. My amendment is simply to clarify the Act without altering it in any way. I beg to move.
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