|Draft Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2002 |
Draft Paternity and Adoption Leave Regulations 2002
Draft Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay (Weekly Rates) Regulations 2002
Alan Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend. Small businesses, because of the nature of their business, will
Column Number: 14probably need to tackle paternity and maternity leave—I give the figure from memory—only once every five years, and adoption leave even less often. If the arrangements—including for such things as flexible working, although that is not before us today—are such that women choose not to return to work and are lost from the workplace that has invested in their training and skills, the loss is proportionately much higher for small businesses.
I turn to some specific points that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk raised. He mentioned a failure to return as a possible cause of disciplinary action and dismissal. In some cases, it can be the subject of disciplinary action, if there is no good reason for the employee to turn up on the date when they said that they would; a very big if, given that we are talking about mothers on maternity leave. However, this is nothing new and it relates to many of the other points that have been made. These provisions about maternity leave and pay have existed for years, and we did not want to interfere in areas where businesses told us there were no problems.
Step-parents have been mentioned. The wording of my response is terrible, although I am certainly not blaming my excellent officials for that. The answer to the point is contained in regulation 2(3)(a), which says:
Apparently, that rules out step-parents, although the answer is inelegantly framed.
The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk said that we should have tried harder to harmonise pay and leave regimes. There are a few quirks, and places where those are different. Hon. Members must remember that statutory maternity pay is a right from day one, whereas adopting parents must have worked for 26 weeks, because the need to give a right from day one for mothers to take time off is a health and safety issue. There is not the same issue for adopting parents. There are differences throughout the regime. We tried very hard to harmonise the arrangements but, if employers gave us very good reasons as to why they should not be harmonised, we left them alone.
The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk asked about the definition of seniority. Once again, that is largely defined by case law, where there have been very few problems. If we tried to define seniority any further than we have, we would create more problems than we solved. The hon. Gentleman raised very important points, and I hope that I have addressed them.
I do not agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare about the Small Business Service. It is still very young—about 18 months old—but has made an enormous contribution to the careful drafting of the Bill and the regulations. However, we shall keep the matter under review. We are concerned to find out whether implementation produces any particular problems for small businesses, for which we would have to reconsider the regulation.
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I was pleased to hear that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk thinks that the regulations have been the subject of exhaustive consultation. I am satisfied that our careful consultation picked up all of the major and some of the minor points that were raised, and I hope that the Committee will support the regulations.
Question put and agreed to,
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