Draft Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2001

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Sandra Gidley (Romsey): The Minister says that the provision has been used by women who, for example, have lost their nanny—but I would suggest that the man, too, could stay at home. The provision is not very useful if the employer can defer it for six months. In such a case, will an individual have redress?

Alan Johnson: No. However, we should not forget the widely recognised point. If businesses cannot provide flexibility, employees—particularly women—who are trying to balance a job with domestic responsibilities will leave and work for somebody else, or take their skills out of the labour market, which would be to the detriment of the economy. A very good study by the Royal College of Nursing revealed that one in five nurses leaves the NHS because even the health service is unable to strike a balance in such matters. The issue to which the hon. Lady refers has not been reported as having arisen in any of our extensive consultations on work and parents.

I was pleased to discover that the hon. Member for Lichfield, from whom we heard another ripping yarn, broadly welcomes the regulations. He asked whether we could guarantee that we will not need to return to discuss such matters. There are no guarantees and no apologies, and I am certainly not apologising for a provision that marks a huge step forward for family-friendly policies. We shall not be coming back time and again, and we should remember that this is the first time we have introduced such a provision, which other European countries use. The Netherlands, for example, which has a very successful economy, has used it for the past 30 or 40 years. We have gained no such experience—certainly not during 18 years of a Conservative Government who spent their time on family-friendly measures such as getting rid of wages councils.

What we are saying is that we should see how the provision works. On the question of its applying to children born after 15 December, we have said that we will monitor the situation, and that is what the work and parents taskforce was about. We are not saying that we should introduce paid parental leave, or change measures that offer the flexibility that businesses welcome; we are introducing the provision in question and changing the disability element, and those changes have been widely welcomed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) mentioned children with special needs. We have decided that the employer should not be left with the horrendous problem of deciding whether a child is disabled. We have linked the provision to disability living allowance so that the onus is taken off the employer and everyone understands the situation. All disability groups have said that that is working okay.

Mr. Hammond: The apology that I sought was particularly for having wasted public funds. The Minister has carefully avoided telling the Committee how much money was paid to the TUC in the legal settlement of May this year. Will he tell us how much public money was spent?

Alan Johnson: No. The subject is still under negotiation. No settlement has yet been made.

Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister undertake to write to me when the matter is settled to say how much money is paid to the TUC? I am sure that he appreciates that there is a wider concern: the TUC is not just another litigant, but a body with close political links. The amount of public money paid to the TUC to settle this matter is a legitimate matter of public interest.

Alan Johnson: No, I will not. This is the first time that I have heard that argument from anyone, so I do not think that it is huge issue on the streets of Hull, West and Hessle, or even in Runnymede and Weybridge. Such discussions, as I understand it, have an element of confidentiality, which is why I will not give a commitment to supply the figures that the hon. Gentleman asks for.

I believe that the Conservative party is concerned about where it stands on family-friendly issues, particularly after the general election. The man who refused to sign the social chapter—the former right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, who is now the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea—experienced a conversion on the road to Damascus, and now supports the minimum wage. He tried to change Conservative attitudes on such issues, but as a result, he is not the leader of the Conservative party. I say to that party: do not listen to me or the Liberal Democrats, but to party members. Here is a newspaper story, under the heading, ``Tories told to change policy on women'':

    The Tory leadership came under fire yesterday for ignoring advice by its ranks to change the party policy towards women after the Tories opposed parental leave.

    A highly critical report by the Centre for Policy Studies, launched by Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph in the 1970s, accused today's Tory party of having `outdated' views on women. `Many women are having difficulty balancing work and family,' the report said. `And many in the party hanker for the days of the subservient family woman.'''

That sums up a strain running through the Conservative party, which I hope the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge will help to change. If it does not, the party will spend a long time on the Opposition Benches.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2001.

        Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Griffiths, Mr. Win (Chairman)
Cotter, Brian
Fabricant, Michael
Gidley, Sandra
Hammond, Mr.
Havard, Mr.
Johnson, Alan
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Lyons, Mr.
McDonagh, Siobhain
Pearson, Mr.
Quinn, Lawrie
Ruane, Chris
Truswell, Mr.
Wiggin, Mr.
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Woodward, Mr.

 
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Prepared 7 November 2001