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Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 11:


"ORDINARY PATERNITY LEAVE: DURATION AND FLEXIBILITY
(1) Section 80A of ERA 1996 (entitlement to paternity leave: birth) is amended as follows.
 
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(2) In subsection (3), for "at least two weeks' leave" substitute "at least four weeks' leave".
(3) In subsection (4), for "a period of at least 56 days" substitute "a period of at least 182 days, and of no more than 365 days"."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will speak also to Amendment No. 12, which is grouped with it. The purpose of Amendment No. 11 is twofold—to increase the entitlement to ordinary paternity leave that is set in regulations from the current level of two weeks to at least four weeks with the potential to increase it further and, secondly, to extend the period during which such leave has to be taken from the current period of eight weeks after the birth to a minimum of six months and a maximum of 12 months after the birth—the period again to be set in regulations. Ordinary paternity leave needs to be of longer duration than at present and it certainly needs to be more flexible in terms of how it can be taken. The amendment deals with part of that flexibility and Amendment No. 12, to which I will come in a moment, deals with another aspect of that flexibility.

The amendments would meet with the spirit of the Government's declared intention to provide more support and choice in the first year of a child's life. I was encouraged to get a little support for that belief by the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, on 22 of March when she responded to a Starred Question by saying:

to which I say, "Hear, hear". A similar amendment could—and should—be made in relation to Section 80B of the ERA 1996 which deals with entitlement to paternity leave: adoption.

Making paternity leave a little longer and allowing parents to choose over a longer period when it should be taken would better meet the needs of working fathers and their families than the Bill's provision in respect of ordinary paternity leave. Relying on the new additional paternity leave to give fathers more opportunity to support the mother and bond with their children is not valid. The Minister relied on evidence in Grand Committee that most fathers take time off after the birth and are satisfied with the amount of leave that they have. What he did not give us was a breakdown and analysis of what sort of leave they take. Many of them take some of their statutory holiday or a few days of compassionate leave that a generous employer might give them or a mixture of both plus some of the ordinary paternity leave.

There was some dispute among us about the actual figures for uptake of paternity leave. My figures are based on the number of fathers who take the full entitlement to paternity leave because the fact that you have to take the two weeks together—if you take only one week you lose the second week—means that many fathers are not taking that full entitlement. That is a lack of flexibility that I regret.

The Minister also relied on the entitlement to 13 weeks' unpaid leave to which the father has the right up to when the child is five. Since that is unpaid, it is not a realistic option for most families. If the
 
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Government really want fathers to have the opportunity to support the mother at a time when a child is very young, to bond with the child and to develop the feelings of fatherhood which will add to his commitment to support the child right through his or her childhood, we must focus on ordinary paternity leave rather than the additional paternity leave which many fewer fathers will be taking—welcome though it is.

In Grand Committee on 9 March, the Minister said that the Government wanted to stick to their eight weeks during which the ordinary paternity leave must be taken,

In insisting on that, the Government are making the decision for the family. It could very well be that it is not in the first few weeks after the birth that the mother really needs the support. She may well have the support of her own mother at that time, or the father's mother. It may be later on, perhaps when she has some reaction to the birth of the child, as some mothers do, or when she decide to change the method of feeding the child—from the breast to the bottle. There are many examples of why it may be much more appropriate for some families to choose to take the leave a little bit later.

The Minister mentioned that he was concerned about the effect on businesses of extending the period over which the father can take ordinary paternity leave. I fail to see why this disadvantages them to extend that period. We are talking about only a very short period. Unless the part of my amendment that doubles the entitlement is agreed to—and I am somewhat doubtful as to whether the Government would accept that—we are just talking about two weeks. It is the same as the period of a normal family holiday. It would be of little disadvantage to a business to allow the father to take that leave at another time, a little bit later on in the child's life.

I turn to Amendment No. 12. The purpose of this amendment is to increase the flexibility for the arrangements for the ordinary parental leave entitlement by reducing the period of notice required for the employee to give to the employer up to a maximum of,

Today, fathers are entitled to take up to two weeks of ordinary paternity leave but they must give their employer notice of their intention to take leave by the 15th week before the baby is expected. We are talking about 15 weeks' notice for a two-week absence.

The current period of 15 weeks is out of proportion to the amount of time off allowed. According to Regulation 15(1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998, an employee wishing to take annual leave should give twice as many days' notice as the amount of leave he or she wishes to take. So, for a two-week holiday
 
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period this would equate to four weeks' notice. The introduction of ordinary paternity leave has been important and I commend the Government for encouraging fathers to take time off to spend with their young child. However, many fathers have found that the 15-week notice period has frustrated their intention to take such leave because they have not really been aware that they had to give it. Some employers who are reluctant to grant ordinary paternity leave have stood by their rights and said, "You have only given me five or six weeks' notice and I am entitled to 15, so you are not going to have it".

In the draft regulations on additional paternity leave and pay which appears later on in this Bill, it is proposed that an eight-week notice period is sufficient for a father notifying his employer of his intention to take a much longer period of leave—up to 26 weeks. Therefore, 15 weeks' notice for a two-week period is both excessive and illogical and completely out of proportion. Most importantly, reducing the notice period for ordinary paternity leave to a maximum of four weeks for the current entitlement of a two-week leave would further improve the take-up by fathers, to the benefit of the whole family. Although there was some dispute between us as to how many fathers take up paternity leave, we cannot be satisfied until 100 per cent of those who want it actually manage to get it.

The Government have talked of the need for consistency. It is just as easy to be consistent about the period of notice required for holidays or, slightly longer, the notice period required for additional paternity leave, rather than be consistent with the regulations for the notice period that the mother has to give her employer. After all, they are probably two different employers, so the benefits of consistency between notice periods for paternity and maternity leave are unlikely to be felt. Moreover, here we are talking about a much shorter length of time. The mother can take six months' leave; that is soon to rise to nine months and eventually, it is hoped, to 12 months. It is right that an employer is given plenty of opportunity to plan for cover. He may need to recruit someone. But the father has only a short period of leave—no more than would normally be taken for a family holiday. It is therefore perfectly consistent that the same rules should apply to the amount of notice given. I beg to move.


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