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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I support this amendment as I did in Grand Committeenot
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because I go along with the dire warnings of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, about the possibility of fraud. That was certainly the main thrust of her argument, if not the only argument. The likelihood of fraudulent claims over additional paternity leave is quite low. Few fathers entitled to such leave are going to be earning less than £108.85 per week, so they will have little interest in making such a fraudulent claim.
However, I certainly go along with the noble Baroness' claim that Amendment No. 3 provides a system which benefits from being beautifully simpleher actual words were "the essence of simplicity". I doubt whether employers will fulfil their part of the system that the Government are proposing in the Bill. There is currently a requirement on employers to write to the mother within 28 days of receiving notice of the date that she wishes to start maternity leave, and the employer's letter should state the date she is due back at work. Working Families tells me that many callers to its helpline do not receive such a letter and therefore are uncertain about the date of their expected return to work. If employers cannot even write to their own employees about such a crucial matter as the date when they should be returning to work, it certainly raises questions whether they will certify a statement that will affect the father, who is unlikely to be their own employee.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, this is a very ingenious solution to what is clearly a problem, so I support the amendment. The very fact that the onus would be on the individual to make the claim would reduce the burden on the employer. Further, there at least would be a basis on which suspected fraud could be investigated.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, for raising the matter again. I also thank other noble Lords who have spoken. I fear that I may not be able totally to satisfy noble Lords on the matter but we start with an agreement that we want a system which is robust but light touch, and that there should not be undue burdens, particularly on employers.
The consultation on additional paternity leave and pay was published on 8 March. I am sorry if not all noble Lords have received a copy or had access to that. If they have not, I shall certainly ensure that they receive the documentation. The consultation sought views on a number of aspects surrounding this policy and in particular views on eligibility requirements for a father to be able to take leave and pay, the administration of the scheme and how it will work. We recognise that how the scheme works and the role of the mother, father and their respective employers is a very important part of the policy. We have committed to keeping the administration "light touch", but
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recognise that this has to be balanced with ensuring that the scheme is robust. Obtaining the views of employers is especially important in developing the administration of the scheme. We have begun engaging with key stakeholders to discuss the intricacies of the scheme to gauge initial views before formal responses are received to the consultation. Following the closure of the consultation, which ends on 31 May, we will be working closely with employer representative groups and specialist HR and payroll personnel to assist in making the administration straightforward in terms of understanding and process.
As I mentioned in Committee, but I think is worth reiterating today, the Work and Families: Choice and Flexibility consultation, published in February 2005, asked for views on the procedure for administering the transferable leave and pay scheme, which was being considered at that time. Three options were given. These were: self-certification by the mother and father of their eligibility; self-certification by the parents combined with confirmation by the mother's employer; and Inland Revenue compliance checks, which would require Inland Revenuenow Her Majesty's Revenue and Customsto undertake an additional check to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the system.
From that consultation it became clear that self-certification by the mother and father of their eligibility, with confirmation from the mother's employer that the mother was entitled to maternity leave and/or pay and had notified her intention to return to work, was the preferred option as it provided a balance between keeping the bureaucracy to a minimum while limiting the potential for errors in payment or abuse of the system, through providing an additional check by employers. This principle can also be applied to the administration of the additional paternity leave and pay scheme.
It is recognised that contact between the mother's employer and the father's employer could increase significantly the burdens on employers and we believe that this can be avoided, but we want to ensure that this is what employers and employees also want and the current consultation should lead us to establishing the wishes of employers and employees.
I respectfully suggest that to pre-empt that now would not be the right way to proceed, when there is still some way to run on the consultation and when we have not yet fully gathered the views of employers and employees. The most straightforward approach would be to build on existing administrative arrangements for maternity and paternity leave, which should mean that many employers already have an understanding of the system and will not have to learn new procedures. If as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, suggested, those procedures are not working properly, I would be pleased to receive further detail on that, and I will certainly have the matter looked into. There is no evidence that existing maternity and paternity schemes experience high levels of fraudulent claims or errors in administering payments, and we do not envisage that happening under the additional paternity leave and
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pay scheme. However, we recognise that we need to consider how to minimise abuse of the scheme as we develop policy. We do not want to make any hasty decisions. I am conscious that this has been around for a little while, but we really are partway through the process.
I noticed the noble Baroness referring to a press article. I have not had the chance to discuss it with my colleague from another place, but I am not sure that it would necessarily accurately reflect her view. I cannot be certain on that.
Nevertheless, the consultation is still open. We do not want to make hasty decisions about who is responsible for providing certain information and how that information is exchanged until we have had time fully to consult and explore the options. This aspect of the scheme should be dealt with in the regulations that will follow, and I assure noble Lords that the issue will be considered fully before the regulations are finalised. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment, since we are still partway through this process.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, first, I thank both noble Baronesses who supported the amendment. I say to the Minister, who suggested that I might not be very happy with his reply, that I am not sure he will be happy with my response to it. I shall have to read Hansard carefully to be absolutely certain, but I think that he said something to the effect that employers would not be particularly happy and they would find it complicated if they got notification from the mother that their employee was the father. That is quite contrary to what those who have briefed me have said. I will take to them what the Minister said, and I will bring this back again at Third Reading.
Given that the consultations will finish after the Bill has passed and the regulations will come in even later, we are having to pass this Bill at a very early stage, which is not the correct way of doing things; even more so with a Bill that had a Grand Committee stage when we could not divide. The first opportunity to explore it properly is Report stage, which would be the normal time when we would divide rather than go to Third Reading. However, in these circumstances, I want to take away what the Minister said. I absolutely reserve the right to bring this back at Third Reading, because it is unsatisfactory. The consultations are not finished, and the regulations will not come until later.
that the noble Lord has not consulted Meg Munn. I would have thought that he would have done so, so that we could have had a definitive answer. We all know that newspapers do sometimes get things incorrect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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