Employment Bill

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Norman Lamb: I have little to add. Will the Minister deal with my point, to which the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge alluded, about people who have more than one contract of employment with different employers? The regulations must cover those who do low-paid work in different jobs. An employee may go out each morning to clean an office block and then, in the afternoon, wash up in the kitchen of a local organisation. They may choose to give up one of those jobs, but not the other, during the two-week period immediately following the birth of their child. [Interruption.] I can see that I am boring some people. It is important that the regulations should ensure that people can continue to receive pay for one job and paternity pay for the other job that they give up for two weeks.

Alan Johnson: I ask the hon. Gentleman to forgive me. I just noticed that the Annunciator said that I was taking part in a debate in Westminster Hall.

Rob Marris: He has two jobs.

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Alan Johnson: I shall try to cover the waterfront on the issues that were raised.

I thank the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge for mentioning people qualifying for leave and for pay. I should clarify whether we expect precisely the same groups of people to qualify for statutory pay as qualify for statutory leave. Members of the Committee may remember that when we debated amendment No. 130, some confusion arose owing to a typo on the original Amendment Paper that led me to believe that the hon. Gentleman wanted to delete four pages of the Bill, although it was actually much less. We found ourselves talking at cross-purposes for a while. As I understood it, his main concern was that the 26-week period of qualifying service that is stipulated in the Bill in respect of paternity pay is left to regulation in respect of paternity leave. He repeated that point this morning.

I undertook to check the respective roles of primary and secondary legislation, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of doing anything other than imposing the service requirement in respect of both leave and pay, wherever the figure may appear in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman went a little further and asked me whether the Government intended that precisely the same groups of people should be entitled to leave as to pay. I said yes, with the exceptions that we have discussed—that is, those who earn below the lower earnings limit. In terms of broad policy intentions, I hope that my answer was not misleading. We certainly do not intend to regulate on qualifying criteria in a way that makes any deliberate distinction between the two. However, there may be some people at the margin who qualify for one right but not the other. It would be difficult to harmonise the qualifying conditions for statutory pay and statutory leave completely, in any technical legal sense, as they derive from social security legislation and from employment legislation respectively.

Mr. Hammond: One easy way to harmonise them at a stroke would have been to accept my amendment and use the terminology in new section 171ZA that I suggested, which would make the entitlement to statutory paternity pay an entitlement of anyone who qualified under new section 80A for statutory paternity leave. I fear that some Labour Members have missed the Minister's important point, which is that not everyone who qualifies for paternity leave would necessarily be entitled to paternity pay.

Alan Johnson: It is an important point, which is why I am taking some time to read this into the record.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment would not have resolved the problem. Obviously he thought that it would because he tabled it, but we did not take the same view. We have a technical legal problem with harmonising these arrangements. Pay and leave regimes operate on slightly different concepts, namely the notion of an ''employee'' in employment law and an ''employed earner'' in social security law. As I explained, it would be hideously complex to harmonise those definitions as that would entail reviewing all existing legislation in those areas to ensure that in harmonising definitions for the purposes of the current rights we did not create worse anomalies

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elsewhere. We must therefore live with these minor discrepancies. For almost all practical purposes, ''employees'' and ''employed earners'' are one and the same people. Any slight differences will merely reflect the position as it already applies to maternity rights, where it has not proved to be problematic.

In parallel with our consultations on paternity and adoption rights, we conducted an extensive consultation on how we could simplify maternity rights. Not one respondent told us that the discrepancy between the legislative base for the pay and leave regimes was a source of confusion, and no one said that the technical differences in the definitions used for pay and leave purposes caused practical concerns. When we asked people how they wanted the systems for paternity and adoption rights to be designed, without exception they wanted us to mirror the current provisions on maternity rights wherever possible. There is no issue of substance, but I wanted to set the record straight because it is possible that there will be some people—not many, but some—whose precise conditions of employment are such that they qualify for leave and not pay or vice versa.

It might help, Mr. Benton, if I try your patience a little longer and give an example. It is not always easy to give examples because they depend on an individual's details, but, for example, police officers currently qualify for statutory maternity pay but not leave. They receive an equivalent to the statutory leave provisions by virtue of separate police regulations, but they are not technically covered by the normal statutory right to leave because they are not ''employees'' in employment law, but ''office holders''. The same is true of other classes of people such as the judiciary. There is no need for Labour or Opposition Members to be concerned that there is a hidden difficulty here; this is simply a technical problem. Last week I said that everyone who received leave would qualify for pay in the same way. It was important that I set the record straight and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge for allowing me to do so.

The second question concerned new section 171ZE(5). The hon. Gentleman asked for examples of where there would not be a liability to pay statutory paternity pay in respect of a week. There would be no such liability if the individual were in prison or if they had unfortunately departed this earth—if they were dead.

The next question concerned the definition of contractual remuneration, which is a matter that we dealt with last week. In simple terms, it is wages and salary. That is what we say in respect of maternity pay, and that is what we put into these provisions. The hon. Gentleman asked about the NHS provisions from his experience in opposition of dealing with the subject. I wish that I were dealing with the landfill tax with the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) in Westminster Hall, but let me have a stab at the points that he raised.

First, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge is right that the subsections enable us to make regulations allowing contracts with two or more NHS trusts to be treated as one to qualify for statutory

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paternity pay. We believe that the provisions are rightly included in the Bill in the interests of equity and fairness. There was no real argument about that. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be having an ''I told you so'' moment from his previous role.

Mr. Hammond: The question is whether it should be in the Bill, because clearly the power already exists in new section 171ZJ(4). Why then do the Government list a specific example that takes up two more subsections? We could probably all think of specific examples in which it needs to apply. The regulation-making power exists.

Alan Johnson: I understand that this approach has been taken in relation to statutory maternity pay in the Statutory Maternity Pay (National Health Service Employees) Regulations 1991 and we have sought to mirror it in relation to statutory adoption pay. We believe that it should be in the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman also asked how we use new section 171ZJ(4) in respect of two employers. Two different employers are treated as one for national insurance purposes, so the rules in respect of statutory maternity pay follow that. It is not a question of anti-avoidance, but of consistency. In other words, the two related employers can be treated as one and employees' contracts aggregated in order to qualify for statutory paternity pay.

Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister explain how the payment would then be made? Would one employer be responsible for making the payment? If so, how would the equity issue be addressed when, in the case of a large employer at least, he would not recover 100 per cent.?

Alan Johnson: We would mirror exactly the regulations for statutory maternity pay, so I presume that we would just carry those over into statutory paternity pay—a good answer, and the only one that I am qualified to give.

There was a rush of points, but I believe that the hon. Gentleman asked about deductions from wages. To make the issue clear, the deductions of pay that we are talking about in subsection (2)(b) generally relate to matters such as interest-free travel loans, additional voluntary pension contributions, trade union subscriptions and so on. Those are the kinds of payment that we are looking to safeguard in those circumstances.

The hon. Member for North Norfolk raised a point about two employers. It is feasible that an individual may work for two employers, will take statutory paternity leave and receive statutory paternity pay, but will continue to work in the way described. We do not want to make any changes to the arrangements for statutory maternity pay that are well tried and tested and we intend to write the same regulations into the paternity pay provisions.

 
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