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However, it is interesting to note in the excellent briefing that the right reverend Prelate so kindly gave us that, where parents were in control of their working hours, that work was seen as beneficial. The issue of being in control of our lives is a vital component of the whole area of general well-being. Flexible working—one of the great themes in our debates on the Work and Families Bill—is one area where people feel in control of their working lives, and where they can balance work and family life. The right to request flexible working has undoubtedly been a success, with the vast majority of requests being accommodated.

When we were discussing the subject of extending the right to request flexible working to those with children under the age of 18 during passage of the Work and Families Bill—and I fully acknowledge that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, fought the good fight on this issue—my party was looking carefully at a whole raft of employment issues. However, the timing was just wrong for that legislation. As noble Lords will know, I was personally sympathetic to this extension. I was therefore delighted when David Cameron announced that our party policy would be to extend the right to request flexible working to all parents and that we would make sure that the public sector—Britain’s biggest employer—becomes a world leader in providing flexible working opportunities.

As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, research shows that the long-hours culture in many organisations stops parents taking as active a role as they would wish in bringing up their children—such as taking part in after-school activities, helping with homework, putting their children to bed and reading them bedtime stories.

It is imperative, however, that we take business with us. Can the Minister say how many hours per week a small to medium-sized business spends on compliance with regulations, filling in forms, endlessly trying to reach government departments and pressing buttons one, two or three? This has a damaging effect on family life. Deregulation is a family policy too.

If employers felt less frustrated by regulation and more able to concentrate on their core business they would be less stressed and happier when they returned home. Freeing up that time might help small to medium-sized businesses think outside the box and consider more family-friendly policies for their employees. Research suggests that a majority of managers are not yet comfortable with flexible working. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to make the case for greater flexible working to the business community?

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There is a whole host of other things we need to look at. Perhaps I may give just one example. I recently received a letter from a teacher in the north-west, a single mum who is prevented from spending time with her children because of the different ways that neighbouring local authorities plan their holidays. Can the Minister comment on that? The odd arrangements over the Easter holidays are a classic case in point. I do not favour national standardisation but some common-sense contact between neighbouring authorities might help.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that it was good news when the Government brought together under one department children, schools and families. He should try saying DCSF as a dyslexic. The Conservative Party thinks that it is of the utmost importance that we do our bit to raise children and family issues up the political agenda. It is essential that we give our children time and space to grow up and that parents are able to give them their time and support as they are growing up.

8.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the House is indebted to the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham for securing this debate. When I first read the Question on the Order Paper asking Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to help parents of school-age children spend quality time with their children at weekends, I was wondering whether the right revered Prelate was rising to complain about having had to spend a clerical career working on Sundays. Indeed, I was not even sure what the reference to “especially those on low incomes” meant and wondered whether this was him asking the Archbishop, through the House, for pay rises all round. However, I am glad that he is inviting us to trespass on the affairs of the nation and not on the affairs of the church. He did so in a typically powerful and thoughtful speech, to which I am glad to be making a response.

As the right reverend Prelate rightly said, parenting is now generally recognised as the single greatest factor in a child’s personal development and educational attainment. It outstrips class, ethnicity and even disability in terms of its influence on the path that children take as they grow up. All of the contributions to this debate have reflected this fact. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, Governments of all political persuasions need no persuading of the importance of parenting to a healthy society. As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, we created the Department for Children, Schools and Families to bring most areas of government action on children and families within the purview of a single department.

I also strongly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about the excellent work of those many public institutions which provide worthwhile activities for children and families at weekends. She particularly highlighted the role of libraries and museums, which do outstanding work, and is quite right to highlight the modernisation in our museum infrastructure in recent years. She asked what we are doing to promote access to museums for those on lower incomes. I can

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immediately respond that the abolition of entrance charges to museums is one of the most worthwhile changes we have made in recent years to promote access to museums for those on all incomes.

I first emphasise the Government’s commitment to supporting parents and the fulfilment of parenting responsibilities, not just with words, but by describing the actions and the substantial public investments we have made in recent years. We have increased maternity leave from just 14 weeks in 1997 to a year and doubled statutory maternity pay to £112.75. We have introduced two weeks paternity leave, paid at the same rate, and we are consulting on extending this further. We have invested more than £21 billion in early years and childcare since 1997, increasing spending fourfold, so that, today, every three and four year-old has a right to free nursery education. Children on lower incomes have a right to full-time placements where appropriate and wanted by their parents. From April 2010, when the latest changes come into effect, the average household with children will be £2,000 better off in real terms as a result of the Government’s reforms to the tax and benefit system since 1997.

We have also, for the first time as a matter of law, made it possible for parents to request flexible working. It is hard to think of a more universally applauded reform, as we have seen in the debate this evening. The right reverend Prelate focused his remarks particularly on flexible working, so I shall do the same in response. Recent years have seen a revolution in employment patterns. Many more women and significantly more men are now combining parenting with paid work. More and more parents are caring for elderly relatives as well as bringing up children, and working hours are much more varied than they used to be. These developments are largely positive for society. They offer workers, especially women, more flexibility, opportunity and independence than they have ever had before, and they make for a larger, more diverse workforce and a more dynamic economy. However, they also put pressure on family life. We know that parents want to be able to spend more time with their children, but it can sometimes be hard to find the time.

It is for precisely that reason that, in 2003, the Government—with the consent of Parliament—gave parents with children under the age of six, or disabled children under 18, the right to request flexible working and have their request taken seriously. In April of last year, we extended this right to carers of adults. The right reverend Prelate has already described the broad success of this policy. It has contributed to a culture change in our workplaces, with 14 million people—some 56 per cent of all employees—now working flexibly, or having done so at some point in the past year, regardless of whether they have the statutory right or not. Comparison with our European neighbours makes this positive impact clear. In 2007, the European working rights survey found that 85 per cent of UK workers said that their working hours could fit well with their family or social commitments, compared to the European average of 79 per cent.

The changes have been good for employers, too, for the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. They have benefited from access to a larger pool of

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skills and talents in the workforce, improved recruitment and retention, and increased staff morale and productivity. In November, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that we are looking to extend flexible working further, for parents with older children. We know that we must act sensitively in this area for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. We want to minimise any potential negative impact on businesses of extending this right and, above all, we want to retain the willing engagement of employers. Without it, the law, which provides a right to request flexible working, could be less effective. The current law is supported by employers; they accept four out of five requests for flexible working. As we seek to extend this right to parents of older children, we are anxious to maintain employer support.

It is for precisely this reason that the Prime Minister has asked Imelda Walsh, the director of human resources at Sainsbury’s, to lead an independent review to recommend a new upper age limit. This review will report in the spring and there will then be a public consultation before the Government recommend to Parliament firm proposals for change. I hope that the right reverend Prelate and all other noble Lords who have contributed to this debate will make their views known to Imelda Walsh at this highly formative moment in the development of national policy on flexible working. I will certainly ensure that she receives a copy of the Hansard report of this debate where the views of the House are fairly strongly made.

As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, flexible working can be a particular challenge for low-skilled families on low incomes. Let me stress that flexible working does not necessarily mean parents working fewer hours for less money; it can and does often mean matching working hours to family life. However, it is true that low-paid jobs can often involve working unsocial hours and weekends; low wages can force parents to work long hours; and our own research suggests that those on low incomes are less likely to have access to flexible working.

I should like to make two points about this issue. First, although work can have disadvantages and the work/life balance is often a real challenge, the disadvantages of unemployment are far more serious. A child’s risk of poverty, with all the negative consequences that this entails, falls from 58 to 14 per cent where one or both of his or her parents are working. So the Government, I believe, are right to continue their policy of promoting sustainable work as the surest way out of poverty. Secondly, for low-income families, especially those who cannot afford to work anything other than long and unsocial hours, the right to request flexible working is certainly not a cure-all. Low-paid parents also need more fundamental support to help them spend more time with their children and to improve their quality of life more generally.

This is why we have introduced the national minimum wage, significantly boosting the wages of the low-paid; it is why we are doing more to promote job search by the low paid and, through schemes such as Train to Gain and local employment partnerships, to help those without skills to access the training they need to improve their job prospects; it is also why we are

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providing increased direct financial support to those on lower incomes. Last week’s Budget mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, included an extra £950 million over the next three years to increase support to low-income families and to make those most in need better off in work. From April 2009 we will increase child benefit to £20 a week and no longer count it as income when calculating housing and council tax benefits, we will increase child tax credit by £50 per year in real terms and we will invest £125 million in piloting new approaches to supporting low-income families in the long term. These changes, together with others since 1998, will mean that from April 2010 households with children in the poorest fifth of the population will be £4,500 better off in real terms compared to the position in 1998. Flexible working can help all families to spend more time together but for those on low incomes, the Government are also seeking to provide the wider support they need, including increased direct financial support, to enable them to bring up happy and healthy children and to get a better work/life balance.

So far I have spoken mostly about income and helping parents to spend a greater quantity of time with their children. The Government are also seeking to help vulnerable parents improve the quality of their parenting. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to the importance of parenting support. It is precisely for this reason that we are improving general guidance—for example, investing in the Parent Know-How service which draws together existing and new information and advice for parents, making it available through telephone helplines, on the internet and through innovative challenges such as text messaging. The Government are also seeking to ensure that families have access to better community facilities for children and teenagers. This is one of the reasons behind my department’s new focus on play and also the continuing importance of sport and youth services mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The noble Lord particularly mentioned community sports and I am glad to be able to tell him that to sustain and develop community sport, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced in September £5 million of investment over the next three years, specifically focused on enabling 10,000 parents and others in 70 of the most deprived areas in the country to become volunteer sports coaches in order to stimulate the sports activity on which he rightly placed so high a premium.

In conclusion, I once again thank the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate. We have had a timely reminder of the arguments for further extending the right to flexible working. We take those arguments very seriously, which is why we appointed the Walsh review. The benefits of helping parents to spend time with their children as they grow up are undoubted and the Government are committed to doing all that we reasonably can to advance this cause.

Lord Elton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will the consultation of which he spoke take on board the fact that 47.1 per cent of all people employed in industry and commerce are employed by small

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employers who have much greater difficulty in providing flexible time? If it does not, can he tell us how else we can address this problem?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the independent review will take full account of that issue. Indeed, it is because of the need to balance the needs of employers with those of parents that the Government have stood back from this issue and asked for independent advice before reaching a decision.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.26 to 8.30 pm.]

Climate Change Bill [HL]

Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach moved Amendment No. 224:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am not sure why this amendment finds itself in this position on the Marshalled List, for it is a general purpose clause which covers wide-ranging elements of the purpose of the Bill. Indeed, it refers to the primary aim of the Bill, but there it is. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to it.

The amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State such that all secondary legislation that comes from the powers created in the Bill is compatible with the primary aim of the Bill: stopping climate change. Your Lordships decided to include a specific primary aim in the Bill, and that primary aim is the anchor of this further amendment.

This is very much a framework Bill. Much of the efforts that will be made to reduce emissions and stop global warming will come through secondary legislation, much of which will be highly specific. It is of the utmost importance then that all regulation coming from the Bill be tethered to its primary aim. We have spent a long time examining this Bill: eight days in Committee and we are now on the fourth day of Report. I believe that our scrutiny has been worthwhile. However, when it comes to putting the Bill into practice, when the orders start being made, we need to have some way to ensure that the overall goals that have energised our debates on the Bill are still considered with the same force.

We want to avoid situations where we are failing to see the forest for the trees and sometimes contributing more to climate change through our actions than stopping it. The case of biofuels is the famous example—

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denuding entire landscapes of forests in the interests of producing carbon-neutral fuel. The amendment aims to stop that sort of thing from happening. In practice, it would put pressure on the Secretary of State to consider carefully all of the implications of each statutory instrument and its potential effect on the environment. I know that that should happen now. However, this amendment seeks to place a guarantee in the Bill that every effort made is an effort in the right direction. We want to take out the room for excuses and ensure that real progress is made to stop climate change. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, suggested that this was a general purpose clause, but it is more a general non-purpose clause from the Government’s point of view. The amendment would prevent the Government bringing forward any secondary legislation that was not strictly “necessary” for the “proper operation” of the Act, or which was not compatible with the 2 degrees centigrade goal.

The noble Lord made clear, and I understand, the spirit behind his amendment. We debated its intention in Committee. My noble friend Lady Morgan said that the amendment could have a very significant effect on the Government’s ability to meet targets and budgets set under the Bill. Requiring all secondary legislation to be “necessary” for the operation of the Act would prevent trading schemes being introduced under Part 3, or the amendment of targets and budgets—just to give some examples. The Government would be liable for judicial review if we did not meet the tests set out by the amendment, and the court could order that any secondary legislation that did not meet those tests should be quashed.

I entirely understand why the noble Lord is seeking to be specific in the amendment and to ensure that the main principles of the Bill are realised. The Bill’s powers to make secondary legislation have been scrutinised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and we have been able to accept virtually all its recommendations; so there has been a proper process to ensure that the powers in the Bill are appropriate. I note that the majority of powers to make secondary legislation use the affirmative resolution procedure, so they will have to be debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament. That is the essential parliamentary safeguard on the majority of secondary legislation that could come forward under the Bill, and there is ample opportunity for scrutiny. The Government have introduced a significant number of amendments on Report that would strengthen Parliament’s role, and we have debated a number of them today. In some cases, for instance with regard to parliamentary oversight of the carbon accounting rules, we are actually going beyond what the Delegated Powers Committee recommended. We have also made commitments about the scope for further parliamentary debates on climate change.

Amendment No. 224 requires all secondary legislation to be compatible with limiting the average increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees centigrade. As we discussed in Committee, the idea of a compatibility test would have limited practical effect. It would be

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ever so difficult to establish that a single piece of secondary legislation was, on its own, incompatible with the Bill. Even if a particular statutory instrument could lead to an increase in emissions, that would not in itself necessarily be incompatible with the aims of the Bill, because there would be nothing to stop compensatory action being taken in another area. So, in that respect, we could honestly say that no Government with an order or statutory instrument, if looked at in isolation, could be accused of producing something that was not compatible with the Bill.

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