Employment Bill

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Mr. Hendry: The wording of subsection (2)(c),

    ''that he has ceased to work for the employer'',

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suggests that he has ceased to work for the employer with whom he was employed before. To my reading, it does not rule out people working for another employer on a part-time basis once they are receiving adoption pay.

Mr. Hammond: When the Minister referred to new section 171ZN, I quickly flipped to that page and found that I had made a note against that paragraph that I should clarify with the Minister whether it referred to a contract of service with that employer or to any contract of service. I think that that is my hon. Friend's point, and it is a good one.

The Minister has clarified the interpretation that we are to put on the rather unsatisfactory phrase ''ceased to work'' in this context, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5 pm

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 150, in page 15, in line 21, leave out from 'him' to 'has' in line 23 and insert

    ''and another person and the other person.'.

I confess that the amendment was drafted before the debate in which the Minister made it clear that only married couples can jointly adopt a child under existing legislation. Given what the Minister has just said about future-proofing legislation, I do not want to pre-empt the Government's legislation on adoption. It is clear that their intention is to allow non-married couples to jointly adopt—[Interruption.] I mean to say jointly to adopt, because, of course, I do not want to be accused of splitting infinitives. Has the Minister considered future-proofing the Bill by making neutral the reference to the civil status of the adopting couple?

Alan Johnson: If we have considered that, we have discounted it. We are discussing not paternity leave but 26 weeks' paid adoption leave for adopters. The drafting may be tortuous, and the hon. Gentleman is right to query it. Couples in a long-term relationship but who are not married cannot adopt at the moment. Only married couples or one person in an unmarried relationship can adopt. A married couple who adopt can choose which of them takes adoption leave and which takes paternity leave. The partner of a single person who adopts can take only paternity leave--there is no choice. The person with the matching certificate takes the adoption leave. Those are the present circumstances. Any couple can enjoy leave. Married couples can decide which of them should take which leave; with an unmarried couple the partner with the matching certificate will take the adoption leave and the partner will have take paternity leave.

Mr. Hammond: I am not sure that I follow the Minister's argument. One condition for adoption pay under subsection (2) is that the person concerned must be a person with whom a child is or is expected to be placed for adoption. That is the first qualification. If subsection (4)(b) is to make sense, therefore, it is

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absurd that to presuppose that the person addressed by the provision is not the adopter but the partner of the adopter. That seems to be superfluous.

Alan Johnson: I may be making a rod for my own back, but without going into the detail of the text I shall explain the problems of drafting legislation in such circumstances. I want to ensure that everyone understands that married couples may choose what leave they take, but that there is no such choice for unmarried couples. The text that the hon. Gentleman wants to amend states the situation clearly. When married couples adopt, only one spouse can choose to receive statutory adoption pay and then only if all the eligibility criteria set out in subsection (2) are met. That is what subsection (4)(b) states. In my view, it does so unambiguously and conveys its message clearly. As the amendment concerns only a difference in drafting, and I have explained that the Bill's wording is intended to provide clarity in a rather foggy situation, I believe that we have dealt with the hon. Gentleman's points and I ask him to seek to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hammond: In so far as one can absorb these things when they are being thrown at one in this way, I am probably persuaded that that makes sense. However, it is a shame that we are passing legislation destined to become obsolete when another Bill being considered just 20 yd down the Corridor, and probably coming out of Committee at about the same time as ours, goes on to the statute book.

My point was whether the Bill should be future-proofed in respect of adoption and the rules surrounding adoption, but I accept that the Minister does not want to explore that avenue any further, so I shall detain the Committee no longer. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 151, in page 15, line 24, leave out from '(5)' to end of line 26 and insert

    'Where more than one child is placed or expected to be placed for adoption as part of the same arrangement, the entitlement to statutory adoption pay in respect of placements under that arrangement shall be as if there were one placement only under the arrangement.'.

This is another probing amendment to establish what is meant by the Bill's wording. It mirrors an earlier debate, but we cannot automatically assume that the Government's position on statutory adoption pay will be the same as it was on paternity.

The Bill states:

    ''A person's entitlement to statutory adoption pay shall not be affected by the placement, or expected placement, for adoption of more than one child as part of the same arrangement''—

in other words, a brother and sister, or a family placement. It is not clear to me whether ''shall not be affected'' means that pay will be treated as if there were only one child or, if there were three children, as if there were three separate placements. The attempt to insert a provision for the avoidance of doubt has created much more doubt. Perhaps the Minister can answer my point quickly by explaining whether, in a

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multiple adoption, multiple periods of paid leave or multiple leave entitlements would be available. For example, if there were two children, would both adoptive parents be entitled to adoption pay? That is the essence of my point.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is right: we have discussed this matter before. The wording that he seeks to amend reflects new section 171ZB(6), which the Committee has already approved. That provision deals with situations in which more than one child is placed as part of the same arrangement. It usually occurs with sibling groups, where two or three brothers or sisters may be placed together as part of a new family.

Mr. Hammond: Lest the Minister convey the wrong impression to the Committee, may I point out that he is right about new section 171ZB, but that deals with paternity leave for adoption—the two-week period? As I said, the Government will not necessarily take the same approach in relation to the substantive adoption.

Alan Johnson: That is a fair point, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will do so.

Amendment No. 151 would remove subsection (5) and insert words—to the effect that one period of statutory adoption pay will apply no matter how many children are placed together—intended to clarify what will happen,. The amendment is not necessary to achieve that aim. Subsection (5) means that one period of statutory adoption pay will be available if an adoptive parent adopts one child or two or more children together. That reflects the established position for statutory maternity pay. Further periods of adoption pay will be available to that adoptive parent if he or she adopts another child or children in future. The amendment would add nothing; indeed, it was tabled simply to make it clear that we are taking the same approach that we took in relation to statutory paternity pay for adopters. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance, and I hope that it helps him to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hammond: I thank the Minister for clarifying the matter. He has, however, left us in the anomalous and unsatisfactory position that if a married couple adopt a brother and sister, only one of them would be entitled to statutory adoption pay, while an unmarried couple adopting a brother and sister—one adopting the brother and one adopting the sister—would each be entitled to statutory adoption pay.

Alan Johnson: As I understand it, the adoption rules would not allow that to happen. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the unmarried couple would get separate certificates of placement?

Mr. Hammond: My example is slightly hypothetical. The children need not be brother and sister. Nevertheless, if two unmarried people living together as a couple each adopted a child, the Bill would entitle each to statutory adoption pay. Yet if their next-door neighbours, a married couple, adopted two children together as part of the same placement, they would not be entitled to two sets of statutory adoption pay.

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Let me put another case to the Minister. The Bill refers specifically to

    ''more than one child as part of the same arrangement.''

Presumably, therefore, if a married couple adopted two unrelated children as two separate arrangements, perhaps through two separate social services departments, they would each be entitled to a period of statutory adoption pay.

I admit that these are artificially constructed examples. However, we discussed the case of multiple children before and we came up against unacceptable consequences in extreme circumstances where the dice appeared to be loaded against some people.

Alan Johnson: I am advised that it is unlikely that adoption agencies would place siblings separately with two adopters or place unrelated children in the same household with separate adopters. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. It occurred to me that two women living together who were both pregnant and due to give birth would be entitled to separate periods of maternity leave.

We are trying to mirror the provisions that apply in maternity leave and we have to try to cater for all eventualities in regulations. We think that we have done that. I am sorry, Mr. Amess—this is an intervention and I am chattering on as if I were making a speech.

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