Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Points of Order

3.30 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry not to have given advance notice, but have you received any information on whether the Government intend to make a statement on progress on the Palestine-Israel peace process? Are we to get an opportunity to question the Foreign Secretary on the continuing export of arms to Israel via the United States or any other country? Those matters are important and the House will want some discussion of them before the recess.

Mr. Speaker: I have not had any approach from any Minister.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given prior notice of my point of order, albeit late—I was still hoping to hear from the Member involved. You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that there is a meeting in Room 8 at 6 pm, organised by someone styling himself as the parliamentary spokesperson for Hemel Hempstead. The invitation, bearing the portcullis of the House of Commons, has gone out to every new elector in my constituency from a Member representing another constituency. I should be grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you would inform me that such a prima facie breach of privilege should at least result in my being invited to that meeting so that I can meet my own constituents.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has sent me a letter, which my secretary received while I was dealing with questions. I promise to look into the terms of his letter with urgency.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), Mr. Speaker. Given the

8 Jul 2002 : Column 608

importance of the issue which, I believe, has been dealt with in a written answer by the Foreign Secretary, is it still in order to seek to ask a private notice question on the issue tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker: Any hon. Member is entitled to submit a private notice question before 12 o'clock, but it is at my discretion whether I grant that.


Health (Air Travellers) (No. 2)

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan, supported by Mr. Charles Hendry, Mr. David Wilshire, Dr. Julian Lewis, Mr. Julian Brazier, Mr. Stephen O'Brien, Mr. Peter Luff, Mr. John Randall and Miss Anne McIntosh, presented a Bill to make provision for research and development, and dissemination of information and advice, relating to flight-related deep vein thrombosis and other medical conditions affecting air travellers; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 July, and to be printed [Bill 165].



8 Jul 2002 : Column 607

8 Jul 2002 : Column 609

Orders of the Day

Employment Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Mr. Speaker: I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7, 9 to 15, 17, 21 to 24, 76, 77 and 79, which are to be considered today. If the House agrees to these Lords amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Clause 2

Statutory Paternity Pay

Lords amendment: No. 1.

3.34 pm

The Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions (Alan Johnson): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) voiced concern that the Bill as drafted may not clearly give effect to our policy intention on an employer's liability to pay paternity pay to an employee in certain circumstances. Such circumstances were those in which an employee leaves his employer's employment at some point before the child is born, or placed in the case of adoption.

I undertook at the time to examine clause 2 closely to ascertain whether any amendments were needed to give effect to our policy intention in that regard. I do not think that there was or is any disagreement about the fundamental policy intention—that is, that it would not be right for an employer to be liable for payment of paternity pay to an ex-employee who had left his or her employment some time ago. However, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge made a valid point, and we agree that the Bill as drafted did not set out the policy unambiguously.

The hon. Gentleman will have noted that our package of amendments subsumes some of those that he suggested in Committee, but that, to give full effect and ensure consistency throughout the Bill, they are somewhat more comprehensive. We tabled this group of amendments in the other place, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they make it crystal clear in the Bill that an employee will be entitled to statutory paternity pay from an employer only if he or she is working for that employer up to the date of birth or placement of the child, and not if he or she has left that employer's employment at some point beforehand.

Amendment No. 22 stands slightly apart and simply tidies up part of new section 171ZE to ensure greater consistency with statutory maternity pay and statutory adoption pay.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks so far. He is right that this set of amendments clarifies beyond doubt the aim of the Bill. The concerns expressed in Committee arose because the language used in drafting the Bill had been picked up from other legislation dealing with statutory maternity pay.

8 Jul 2002 : Column 610

Statutory maternity pay covers a considerably longer period than that proposed for statutory paternity pay, and some of the expressions used in the original drafting language implying that a person who went on statutory leave had ceased their employment might be appropriate phraseology where the person will be away from the workplace for a period of months, but members on both sides of the Committee, including the Minister, felt that the wording was not appropriate if the person is to be absent from the workplace for a maximum of two weeks. The Minister said at the time that he would study the wording carefully and ensure that what was written into the Bill did indeed give effect to the policy intention, about which there was never any doubt in anybody's mind.

That is a good example of the way in which consideration in Committee often throws up valuable insights into drafting. The draftsman clearly understood what he was being asked to do, and for understandable reasons modelled the wording on that for the statutory maternity pay regime, but it was evident to those of us who were not involved in the drafting process and who were reading the Bill as laymen that there was the possibility of misinterpretation of the language used in the clause. I am pleased to say that the amendments tabled by the Government in the other place, which went rather farther than the amendments proposed by the Opposition in Committee, clarify eligibility in relation to former employment and leave anyone who reads the Bill in no doubt about the intention.

Graciously acknowledging the validity of the points that we had raised, the Minister said in Committee that, having considered the matter,

that is, my amendment—

The Minister is generous in the extreme, but I have to tell him that no brown envelope has yet come winging its way to me with any royalties.

Alan Johnson: Blame the post.

Mr. Hammond: The Minister anticipates the remark that I was about to make. He is, of course, an expert on these matters, and with or without credit and royalties, I am delighted that we have resolved the issue.

However, a second substantive point arises from this group of amendments. I will call it the motive test. One of the amendments deletes subsection (2)(c) of new section 171ZA to the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, which stated:

The same provision is deleted in relation to birth and adoption entitlements. Clearly, the primary reason for such deletion is that the reference to ceasing to work for the employer is no longer relevant as a result of the substantive amendments in the group, to which the Minister referred. On the face of it, however, that leaves us without a motive test. It was always intended that paternity pay would be payable only where the purpose of taking the leave was caring for the child or supporting the mother in the case of birth, and caring for the child or supporting the adopter in the case of adoption.

8 Jul 2002 : Column 611

The amendments provide an alternative method of introducing a motive test, but they include it in a different provision: new section 171ZE to the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, which deals with rate and period of pay. It seems that we are being asked to delete the concept of a motive from the definition of entitlement and to put the motive test back into the new section that deals with the rate and period of pay. As I understand it, the effect is that under new section 171ZA—and, indeed, under new section 171ZB in relation to adoption—somebody could be entitled to maternity pay, but might not receive it because section 171ZE reintroduces the concept of a motive test at the point at which payment is dealt with.

Has the Minister thought through the question whether there are any implications of moving the motive test from the sections dealing with entitlement and including it instead in new section 171ZE? The provision could have been left where it was; there is no reason at all why the motive test could not have remained in new sections 171ZA and 171ZB. Presumably, somebody has taken a conscious decision to reinsert it in a different place, and before we decide how to proceed, I would like to be sure that that has no significance.

While we are dealing with these amendments, perhaps we could again touch on the issue of policing and enforcement, about which we had a little discussion in Committee. Clearly, new section 171ZE includes a motive test that will apply before payment is to be made. I am concerned to ensure that employers are not required to police the test and make what could be very difficult subjective judgments about whether the employee intends to care for the child, mother or adopter in taking statutory leave and receiving statutory pay.

In particular, will the Minister explain how he intends to ensure compliance with that motive test? For example, will a self-certification requirement be included in regulation, so that an employee who announces his intention to take statutory paternity leave and asks his employer to pay statutory paternity pay will make some form of simple declaration to the employer to the effect that he intends during the course of that leave to care for the child, mother or adopter? In those circumstances, I would imagine that the employer would be exonerated if it turned out that the employee had gone on a fortnight's holiday to Las Vegas during the period of statutory paternity leave. Any redress against the individual would be a matter between the Inland Revenue as the reimbursing authority and the person taking the statutory leave and receiving the statutory pay.

Next Section

IndexHome Page