Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 18:

(1) No employee whose employer is a local authority or local authority company shall be required to work on both a Saturday and the immediately following Sunday if that person has the care and control of a school-age child.
(2) On whichever day the employee is not required to work under subsection (1), he shall not be required to work at any time during that day.
(3) The Secretary of State may by regulation provide for—
(a) exemptions or exceptions to cover emergencies;
(b) rights of enforcement and redress for employees through courts or tribunals either already existing or to be established for this purpose;
(c) criminal sanctions.

10 Sept 2003 : Column 370

(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), any adult with whom a school-age child customarily lives as part of his or her family has the care and control of that school-age child and where more than one adult qualifies under this test each of them has the care and control.
(5) In this section—
"employee" and "employer"—
(a) in relation to England and Wales, and Scotland, have the same meaning as in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18), and
(b) in relation to Northern Ireland have the same meaning as in the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996;
"local authority" means a local authority in any part of the United Kingdom, including the Common Council of the City of London but excluding a parish or community council;
"local authority company" means a company through which is exercised a power conferred under section 95;
"school-age child" means a person who has attained the age of five but has not attained the age of eighteen."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have brought back Amendment No. 18 because a number of your Lordships have indicated that they feel it to be important; indeed, some have even suggested that it should be tested against the opinion of the House.

The amendment has now been revised by the addition of a subsection (3), which addresses some of the objections raised at earlier stages of the Bill, especially those relating to emergencies and emergency services. Those noble Lords who support the amendment believe two things: first, that local authorities should be setting a good example in respect to family friendly employment practices and that it is entirely appropriate that they should be asked to give a lead by Parliament in doing so; and, secondly, that children of school age should not be deprived of the time, love and care of their parents on both of the only two days of the week when they are not in school.

Research shows that children of school age, on average, will do better in school and in later life if they have the opportunity to spend time with their parents, doing things together, learning by example and having a normal happy family life. Surely, one day a week is not too much to ask for.

Children of school age who are left on their own all day when they are out of school are vulnerable. They are liable to join the gang at the end of the street or to get into trouble in one way or another. These things can, through boredom, be precursors to substance abuse and anti-social behaviour. Children need time with their parents. Yet there is clear evidence that family life is under increasing pressure today from the seven-day week. There is an increasing consensus among working fathers and mothers and their children that parental time at weekends, when the children are not in school, is an important issue which needs to be addressed quickly by the Government.

10 Sept 2003 : Column 371

That is emphasised by the comprehensive summary of research published last week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. I give your Lordships one quotation from that research:

    "Despite the plethora of new legislation and policy on families and work, and the need for some of these new employment laws to 'bed down', there are two areas where Government needs to consider further interventions. Long hours of work and Sunday and weekend work by parents of school age children need further consideration".

On Report the Minister said, sadly, that my amendment is inconsistent with the Government's general approach to better regulation. That is, we regulate only when there is an identified problem that cannot be solved in any other way. Well we now know, since last week, that this is an identified problem, a serious problem that has been identified by thorough research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in conjunction with London University. Will the Government either accept the solution I propose in this amendment or else come up with some other solution to the problem?

I know the Government are under pressure from local authorities to reject this amendment and I understand that some local authorities are so short-staffed that they have enormous difficulty in servicing all the demands of their care services including, particularly, those involving young people. But surely the solution is to staff the social services properly rather than to damage the nation's children? Damaging the nation's children is what we are doing by depriving them of family life.

Of course this will cost money, but if the present situation is leading to damage to the nation's children, albeit that that damage may not show for many years, is it not economic good sense to make the necessary investment now? The harm done to children by parental deprivation does not show up immediately but that does not mean that it will not come back to haunt us in the future. The effective care and education of the nation's children is crucial to the future of our society. I urge the Government and the House to take this amendment seriously.

I want to make one more point. The Government have already made a commitment to monitor how existing legislation is working and to commence a review in three years' time. However the existing law relates only to parents of children under six years old, it does not specifically cover families with children of school age. I sincerely hope the Government are prepared to take action on weekend working for families with school-aged children long before 2006, but whether or not they do, will they at least undertake to widen the monitoring and the reviewing of these issues so that it includes all families with school-aged children? I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, enthusiastically and to congratulate him on his persistence. He listened to the arguments throughout the Committee stage and he has modified his amendment, which allows for those occasions when emergency services or unavoidable events require somebody to work Saturday or Sunday.

10 Sept 2003 : Column 372

One argument that has been made to me is that almost nobody is required, I mean forced, to work on a Saturday or a Sunday. For those who believe that argument then the amendment is harmless. But if it is not the case and parents of young children are forced, required by the local authority, to work on Saturday and/or Sunday and are given no right whatever not to do so, then it seems to me that the amendment has force, and in that case it has my support.

There is much wringing of hands about young families, dysfunctional families, families that are not coping very well. Governments have set up endless committees, think tanks and task forces. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, is constantly telling us about what the Government are doing to make life easier for parents bringing up children and how children should be our prime consideration. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has said throughout, that the consideration should be for the health and well-being of young children. For some the weekend, Saturday and/or Sunday, is very precious time with their children and it does seem to me that the amendment is a permissive amendment asking for the right of parents of small children not to be required and/or forced to work on one of those two consecutive days, Saturday and/or Sunday.

There are many families where those are the only days they can work and, indeed, want to work. There are many people who live alone, and working at weekends is one way of getting out and meeting people. There are ways and means of covering it. For areas such as care homes, which I know are particularly sensitive areas, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are as critical as Saturday and Sunday. Every day of the week is a critical day, and we are saying simply that parents of young children should not be forced. If they are, then it means that they would be denied and discriminated against for employment if they could be required to work on one of those days. They could not take the job unless they were allowed the right not to accede to that request. They would be discriminated against in the workplace and that would be wrong. I support the amendment wholeheartedly.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I rise to ask a question. I have followed this debate and I have been puzzled about it throughout. I understand why the amendment refers to a local authority, because we are discussing a local government Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has also referred to local authorities giving a lead, which is a quite separate matter.

Am I to understand that what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is really saying is that this ought to apply to all firms in the British economy? Is that what he really wants? I assume he must be arguing that because I cannot imagine that it would only be the children of local authority employees who would suffer if their parents were not there. So what he is really asking for is something much more fundamental; namely, that all firms in the British economy should have to have a law of this kind applied to them. That may well be right.

10 Sept 2003 : Column 373

Certainly I am as sympathetic to the care of children as anybody could possibly be. In the case of my own children—well, I had an easy life as a professor—I was always available. Students got neglected but my children always came first. But the fact is that if our economy is to have any hope in the world whatsoever, to start to move in this direction would be a devastatingly costly exercise. It is all very well to put it forward, and I am as sympathetic as one can be, but to do it within the context of a Bill of this sort, given the fundamental principles involved, seems to be entirely inappropriate, not because the aim is not what we would like to achieve but simply because we are talking about massive costs. I would be very interested in what the Institute of Directors and the CBI would say.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page