Employment Bill

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Mr. Hammond: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is making a good defensive case, saying, ''Look, it is 100 quid, and that is better than nothing.'' I agree that it may be better than nothing for some people, but for those who earn above a certain level and do not have the wherewithal to forgo their regular earnings it will be effectively the same as nothing, because they will not be able to claim it. The charge from these Benches to the Government is, ''If you want to talk the talk, walk the walk.'' During the

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past few sittings of the Committee, the Minister has given the impression that the Government are extending to adoptive parents the full of range of benefits that is available to natural parents. Now he is being asked to face up to the fact that their proposals, which are outside the Bill, fall substantially short of that in a way in which will make a material difference to many adoptive parents.

Will the Minister answer my earlier question about expected take-up?

Alan Johnson: Yes, I will come to that. I am just getting into my peroration, for what it is worth, on this matter.

Mr. Hendry: Just before the Minister perorates, will he consider the case of a family who are on the national minimum wage? During the six-week period to which he referred, their earnings would be about £1,100. He is suggesting that if they were adoptive parents they would get £600 over that period. Does he believe that they can sustain that loss of £500?

Alan Johnson: That brings me back to take-up. We expect 100 per cent. take-up because it is currently recommended best practice. All adoption agencies say to a couple who are adopting that at least one of them should take time off work at the time of the placement. The best practice guidance is already usually complied with, which is why it is such a crying shame that it has taken so long for the state to provide any help. The best estimate is that there will be 100 per cent. take-up of these provisions because, based on the advice of adoption agencies, it is already almost 100 per cent.

The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge says that I am making a defence that £100 is better than nothing. Statutory maternity pay, which we shall mirror here, is £75, and statutory maternity pay was stuck at £62 for year after year. In two years we shall have lifted it from £62 to £100, and we are mirroring that payment for both adoption leave and statutory paternity leave. It is a huge advance, and it is recognised as such. We have got that advance in the regulations. There is a difference about the six weeks, of which we have made no secret, and we shall keep the issue under review. It is a significant start on the road to giving adoptive parents help.

I must respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Wealden, which is different but important, concerning people who have more than one job. I need to clarify the situation of someone who is not moonlighting for the same employer, but who has another job elsewhere. The primary legislation on statutory maternity pay contains provisions allowing us to make regulations about women who work for more than one employer. We have used those provisions to cover a situation in which a woman works for more than one employer at the time that she qualifies for statutory pay.

That is best explained by taking the example of an employee who works for two employers at the time that they qualify for statutory maternity pay. In this case they may, if they choose, return to work earlier with one of their employers than with their other. That applies whether they receive statutory pay from both

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employers or from just one. They cannot work for one employer and receive statutory pay from them at the same time, but they can return to work for one employer and receive statutory pay from their other employer. That applies whether they have received statutory pay from the employer for whom they have returned to work and that has now ceased, or whether they did not qualify for statutory pay with that employer in the first place. That is entirely reasonable. An employee who has two jobs may feel able to return earlier to one employer—perhaps where he or she works only a couple of hours a week. It is the point that I made to the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Lamb). That provision is used in maternity leave in particular to reintroduce people gradually back to the workplace after a long absence. It could just as well be used for adoption leave, which spans the same period. Therefore, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wealden for his prompt to put that clearly on the record.

6 pm

Mr. Hammond: If I have understood the Minister correctly, he is identifying a positive situation in which it could be right for a person to treat his two separate contracts as two separate contracts and deal with them differently. Does he consider that the Secretary of State's power, for the purpose of statutory adoption pay, to regard two separate contracts as one could be significantly disadvantageous for those whom it affects?

Alan Johnson: I would not have thought so. This is a statutory earnings limit debate. Where a person has two separate contracts of employment for the same employer, which happens, they can be aggregated for lower earnings limit purposes. Where a person has two contracts of employment, one with an employer and another with a subsidiary of the company, they can be aggregated. That is what the provisions relate to, so I see no inconsistency there.

I am reminded of a further point, which is one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, about whose intervention the hon. Member for Tatton made a rather ungracious comment. My hon. Friend's intervention was spot on, because the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge noticed a problem in a different part of the Bill. Sometimes that is uncomfortable for Ministers, but it is an important part of the role. However, while the hon. Gentleman is right, the advice that I have received from parliamentary counsel, which we will need to consider, is that this can be treated as a typographical amendment. I thought that I would make it clear that he was right and congratulate him on his vigilance.

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I hope that, with those comments, the Committee will agree to allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

General functions of the Board

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

Mr. Hammond: I want to place one brief point on the record. I referred this morning to the Inland Revenue Regulation Act; I have since found out that it is the Inland Revenue Regulation Act 1890. It is a torture of legislation to be using an Act that was clearly designed for another purpose and it tortures the language and everything else that we do now to bring it within the scope of that Act. I have not looked at copies of Hansard from 1890, but if I wanted to have a guess I would say that the Members of Parliament scrutinising the Inland Revenue Regulation Act 1890—I bet that was a fun one, if they had Standing Committees in those days—would not have had in mind that it should be used to authorise the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to make payments rather than receive payments. It is a rather curious use of language to say that the payment of money to employers in respect of statutory adoption pay should be treated as relating to Inland Revenue and that expressions in relation to Inland Revenue should be treated accordingly.

That is just a general point. It seems to me that, 112 years later and in a world where the Government are making increasing use of employers to act as a network of benefit payment offices, there is probably a need to regularise that situation. My earlier pleas for recognition of the administrative work that employers' payroll offices carry out in acting as a network of welfare state benefit outposts could equally be dealt with in such legislation. I doubt whether the Minister will want to say anything about that, but he might have some information following this morning's exchanges. Perhaps he has had a chance to talk to the Minister with responsibility for small business, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths). Perhaps he has some information on the progress of the review, set up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, into the burdens that payroll operations, especially the payment of benefits through the payroll, impose on business large and small, but particularly on small businesses. The matter is one that concerns his hon. Friend and the Chancellor.

Alan Johnson: I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the 1890 Inland Revenue legislation, although it has not appeared anywhere on my radar screens. On the payroll arrangements, my understanding is that the Carter review does not conclude its consultation period until the end of January. We would expect matters to move on from then.

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Mr. Hammond: Without wishing to be unfair, if the Minister considers the way that his Department behaved in relation to part 3 of the Bill, he would have to agree that the fact that a review or consultation has yet to finish does not always prevent Departments of State from drawing conclusions from it.

Alan Johnson: Touche, as they say across the channel. And I thought that I was being helpful. That is the Carter review out of the way, but I should point out that we have stayed absolutely true to the Inland Revenue Regulation Act 1890—1890 was probably the last time that the Opposition reviewed their social policy—in so far as it governs the way in which the Inland Revenue does its business. The clause simply ensures that the same provisions, standards and practices that apply to the working families tax credit and other aspects of the Inland Revenue will be applied consistently to the provision of standards and practices for maternity leave, adoption leave and paternity leave. The hon. Gentleman says that it is time to look again at the matter, particularly the way in which the language is lifted. That is a different point for another time, but it would be wrong to use this Bill to start changing the process. To do so would cause great consternation among employers.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

 
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