Employment Bill

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Alan Johnson: Future legislation.

4.45 pm

Mr. Hammond: The Minister corrects me, and I accept that there is a case to be made in that regard, but the proper procedure would be to include in such future legislation provisions that, where necessary, modify all past legislation. That would at least ensure that Parliament scrutinises such modifications in the form of primary legislation.

I suspect that the Minister does not want to rule out possible use of the provision to deal with modifications to existing enactments that have yet to be spotted. That gives some cause for concern, as the Bill might have consequences that have yet to be thought through. That, in turn, raises questions about the seriousness with which provisions such as the regulatory impact assessment can be taken. We may be writing a blank cheque. I am not suggesting that the provision is unusual or unheard of; sadly, it is all too common in primary legislation. However, that does not mean that we should not flag up, on a regular basis, the fact that we could be giving Government a wide power to rewrite existing legislation, having failed to draw attention to the impact of the Bill at the right time in Committee. The more that I reflect on the matter—it is difficult to reflect while speaking—the more I think that the argument about future legislation is not good.

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Future legislation should address incompatibility with existing legislation and, on reflection, the Minister might accept that too.

However, I accept that the Minister and his draftsman have not dreamt up this paragraph in a new attempt to subvert the parliamentary process, because it covers an established principle—though that does not mean that we should not have challenged it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): I should like to review where we have got to on clause 3. The principle of adoptive leave is something that all Committee members welcome. In this country, we have not valued as much as we might have done the importance of families in adoption or the role of Government and Parliament in encouraging adoption. The clause is important and we should promote and support it as a principle. Almost all the amendments have been probing and have tried to ensure that the Bill is enacted in a form that is practical in implementation and achieves the consequences that the Minister set out to achieve.

None the less, concerns remain such as the distinction between domestic and overseas adoptions. That might be reviewed in future. My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge also rightly pointed to the worryingly extensive use of regulations, particularly in this clause. I am aware that the Bill is intended to be enabling and is designed as a framework, which the Government can flesh out later, but there are two sides to that coin. That gives the Government flexibility, for which there is a need, but, at the same time, two problems arise.

First, there may be unintended consequences, which makes it difficult for us to understand how the Bill will work in practice, and, secondly, the first problem makes it difficult to ensure that an assessment of the costs of the clause, through the regulatory impact assessment, is accurate. All the assessment can do is assess whether the framework, and not its contents, is accurate and has been quantified effectively. The unintended consequences and the inability of the regulatory impact assessment to be accurate because of lack of detail mean that one still has concerns about the detail of the clause. That notwithstanding, the debate has been important and Conservative Members support the principle of adoption leave.

Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important aspects of the clause is that it allows for the placement of children up to the age of 18 and not just young children. It covers children who may well be coming out of care homes where they have been in an unsatisfactory form of care. If we are to deal with the problems that arise later in life, particularly those of homelessness and children who have come out of care, it is desirable that they should have been brought up in a family environment, which is why this is welcome.

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Mr. Prisk: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting an important point—there are not many others—on which the Bill may be welcomed. I welcome the principle behind the clause. Concerns remain but I hope that they can be ironed out when the regulations are quantified and completed.

Alan Johnson: I am grateful for the comments made by the hon. Members for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) and for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) on adoption applying to children up to 18 years of age.

We were open about our intentions when we published detailed plans as to how we would frame the regulations in November. That allowed people a feel for how we intend to operate, and we included the kind of provisions that we have mentioned. Where a married couple adopts, one spouse can choose to take adoption leave and the other can choose paternity leave. That has led to legislative confusion because a woman could take paternity leave, but it was nevertheless the sensible and correct thing to do. We also consulted with all the adoption organisations and agencies and they unanimously approved our approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made the important point about overseas adoptions that although we would not generally think that the placement of a relative fitted the bill for adoption, that could be the case for adoptions from overseas, of which there will be only around 300 a year. I got my figures confused this morning, Mr. Amess, perhaps because I missed your inspirational presence in the Chair. I mistook the figure for overseas adoptions for the figure for adoptions in total, so I must make it clear that 200 to 300 will be the number of the overseas adoptions. That said, my hon. Friend made an important point that we are considering carefully. He cited a constituent who will adopt a child from overseas—having had no previous contact—who is a relative. We shall examine the issue carefully, and work with the Department of Health to ensure that we address it in the regulations.

I am a little concerned by the comments of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford on the regulatory impact assessment. He might be girding his loins for a later amendment—if we get to it—but the assessment was not a bad stab that is more likely to be accurate than some of the other figures. Assessments are always difficult, but on adoption I remind hon. Members that the cost to the taxpayer will be £10 million. We envisage that the one-off implementation cost will be £1 million and the recurring costs will be between £2 million and £3 million. Not a single employer opposed the measure, and the most common comment was that it is long overdue, a point that has been reflected by Opposition Members.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Statutory adoption pay

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 149, in page 15, leave out line 8.

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Amendment No. 149 seeks to remove new section 171ZL(2)(c). This is simply to establish—once again it is a problem of language—that we are not talking in this case about a person being eligible for statutory adoption pay when that person has ceased to work for the employer in the ordinary sense of the word rather than the tortuous sense of the word that we have previously discussed. It is important for the Minister to clarify that. In our previous debate on the subject, we convinced ourselves that it was probably acceptable—just—to think of someone who had gone away for six months or a year as having ''ceased to work'', although they had a right to come back, but that it was implausible to think that of someone who had gone away for two weeks.

Can the Minister clarify which version of ''ceased to work'' we are talking about and whether the paragraph refers to a previous employer, to a person who has ''ceased to work'' for that employer in the everyday meaning of the term—that is, given up work for good—or to a person who has no intention of giving up working for that employer but has simply gone away to enjoy his or her rights to statutory leave? Can the Minister explain which case we are talking about here? The fact that the question has to be asked underlines the confusion about the language.

Alan Johnson: The purpose of the clause is to ensure that people claiming the allowance are not working at the same time. The amendment would not affect that as it is dealt with in new section 171ZN(3). However, the beauty of including the provision before us is that it establishes up front that someone cannot claim the allowance and carry on working. People get adoption pay for being home to care for the child who has been placed with them. They cannot work and continue to receive payment.

Subsection (2)(c) uses the expression ''ceased to work'' because it is widely understood in the context of statutory maternity pay. The language is taken from existing statutory maternity pay legislation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied enough with that explanation to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hammond: I think that the Minister is telling us that ''ceased to work'' does not refer to someone who has ceased to work altogether, but to someone who is on adoption leave. That person has not ceased to be employed, but is not actually working. If the Minister, following the review that the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) has encouraged him to get going, eventually wants to change the definitions from ''employees'' to ''workers'', a person will not cease to be a worker but will have ceased to work. What the Minister is saying, in a nutshell, is that the provision is intended to mirror precisely the statutory maternity provisions. In that case, it is understandable, if still confusing in its language.

 
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