HC Deb 05 August 1975 vol 897 cc274-87

Amendment made: No. 68, in page 27, line 40, leave out 'provisions of this sections' and insert ' following provisions of this Act'.—[Mr. Harold Walker.]

Mrs. Helene Hayman (Welwyn and Hatfield)

I beg to move Amendment No. 69, in page 27, line 45, at end insert— ' (c) to paid leave when absent from work on the advice of a doctor, in order to obtain ante-natal or post-natal medical care'. The discussions in Committee on the maternity provisions of this Bill were somewhat limited. Perhaps this was because of the absence of any lady Members from the Committee. It is in response to that limited discussion and to what some of us felt were some inadequacies in the maternity provisions that this amendment and others stand in the names of some of my hon. Friends and myself.

This amendment deals with the question of time off with pay for pregnant employees and those who have just given birth, in order to receive the appropriate ante-natal and post-natal care. I do not think any of us would argue that a piece of legislation such as this should cover all of the problems of the pregnant woman, the nursing mother and the working mother with young children. We must welcome the steps that have been taken by the Government in this respect and the fact that for the first time the rights and the needs of working women who become pregnant, who have children and who wish to continue at work have been recognised and put into statutory form. We ought to pay tribute to the work done which, in this country at least, is pioneering work.

However, there is one aspect which has not been covered in the Bill relating to ante-natal and post-natal care which is extremely important. I would not think it necessary to convince any Member of this House of the importance of medical care for the health of both mother and child. We see in this Bill provisions which are rightly included for employees to have time off to enable them to fulfil trade union official duties and public office duties. I think most of us would also say that there is a duty on a mother to see that her child when she is pregnant receives the right form of medical care.

It is undoubtedly true that at the moment the women most likely to miss out of ante-natal and post-natal care are the women most likely to give birth to babies under weight and who will suffer from the lack of that care throughout their lives. They are also the women most likely to be hourly paid and most likely to worry about having to take time off work, becauses of the economic consequences of so doing. This is the reason why we think it is extremely important to include in this Bill a provision to the the effect that women seeking ante-natal and post-natal care on the advice of their doctor should be entitled to that care and should not lose money because they get it.

In particular we think it is important that this provision should apply to all women. We shall obviously be arguing later about the length of time that a woman ought to have been with a single employer before she is eligible for maternity pay, and the qualifications that a woman should have before she should have the right of reinstatement. But this basic and primary right, affecting not only the mother but also her child, is one that we believe should be available to all employees.

I accept that this amendment may be badly drafted and may not even be in the correct place in the Bill. On that basis, if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would be happy to re-draft it and intro- duce it in another place, I would be delighted to hear it.

Mr. Harold Walker

After our very quick sprint through the preceding half-dozen or so amendments, the House and certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) will want me to deal rather more fully with this important amendment.

I thank her for her warm remarks about the Bill. I hope that she will not assume that because neither she nor her lady colleagues were represented in the Committee there was a lack of understanding of the woman's point of view. I can assure her that not only the wives of my hon. Friends and myself make sure that we are kept very sharply aware of the woman's point of view, but we also have in my Department women officials who make sure that we are fully informed of the woman's point of view.

My hon. Friend argued persuasively, but notwithstanding her persuasiveness I cannot go along with her argument. I will explain why. The maternity allowances paid by the State under the social security scheme are aimed specifically to allow the employee to stop work completely, while continuing to receive an income, in sufficient time to make the necessary arrangements for child care, and to remain out of work long enough to recover from child birth and to make any necessary arrangements for the future care of the child on her return to work. The return to work provisions of the Bill are also aimed at providing the necessary time by providing for absence for up to six months after confinement.

It does not, therefore, seem necessary to make additional provision for paid post and ante-natal leave as it would normally be covered by the period of State payments. If an employee continued to work and needed time off to attend antenatal clinic, or needed it before she had reached the qualifying time for State allowance, any reasonable employer would normally be expected to allow her the time—which would probably amount to no more than a few hours a week. A similar position would apply to an employee returning to work early, following child birth, and who needed time off to attend post-natal clinic.

If the employee's need for ante or postnatal care, not covered by a period of maternity allowance, was such that a doctor certified that she was incapable of working, which is the normal "sickness certificate" provided by a doctor, she would, of course, be entitled to sickness benefit, plus any sick pay that her employer might provide under his own scheme. Certification would not cover the odd hours off that the employee would require to attend ante or post-natal clinic. The use of the word "advice" in these circumstances is unhelpful as it is an imprecise expression, but I make nothing of that.

I hope I have said sufficient to show my hon. Friend that notwithstanding the persuasive way in which she advanced her case, her argument is insufficient to convince us that we ought to go along the path which she has outlined.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I was much impressed by the amendment when I first read it, but it struck me that this is a matter which should be covered by the State and not by the employer. This, I understand, is the view of the Government, and it is a view with which I sympathise.

Do I understand from the Minister that he is satisfied that there has been no complaint from pregnant women about their treatment under the existing regulations, which he quoted at some length? If that is so, it would seem to me that this is not an obligation which should be laid on employers but should be placed on the State. I take it that he has had no representations that there are deficiencies in the present arrangements.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

The House is grateful to the hon. Lady the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) for raising this point. We have had a short interesting debate, and there are one or two further points which the Government might consider here or in another place.

The hon. Lady recognises that this Bill cannot cover all the problems relating to maternity leave and ante-natal and postnatal care. Have the Government considered discussing this matter with the Employment Medical Advisory Service? Have they received a report from the service? I assume it would be within the power of the Health and Safety Commission to issue a code of practice about this matter and to lay down guidelines. The Minister said that most employers would be reasonable and that only four or five hours a week would be involved for post and ante-natal care, but I think employers would be more willing to grant time off if there were a code of practice issued by the commission.

The Minister also referred to the question of sickness benefit and I understood him to say that if a woman needed five or six hours a week for this purpose, it would be covered by sickness benefit. Perhaps the supporters of the amendment could discuss this matter with the Department of Health and Social Security and perhaps the Government could give us a little more clarification?

Mrs. Hayman

I was a little disappointed with the response of my hon. Friend. If the vast majority of employers grant leave at the moment, it would do no harm to legislate for the bad employers who do not.

On the question of the State providing care, we are talking about perhaps two hours a week or a fortnight at the beginning of pregnancy. The essence of the maternity allowance is that one will be off work full time. We are talking about the continuing care that is necessary throughout pregnancy, and that would not be covered by State benefits or sickness pay. We should not just rely on employers being reasonable and recognising the needs of employees in this situation. If, as we are told, the majority of employers permit this leave at the moment, perhaps the idea of a code of practice is one to which the Government will respond.

Mr. Harold Walker

There are one or two points to which the House would wish me to respond. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked whether I had received any specific complaints. There may well be problems in some circumstances of employers being reluctant to allow women short periods off work. I cannot say off hand whether we have received specific complaints. My own experience in industry suggests that there might be problems in this area, but whether this is the right way to tackle it is another matter.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman), one of the problems we have is the difficulty of deciding when a doctor is deemed to be giving advice. The obligation of a doctor is to certify incapacity for work and, in those circumstances, a medical certificate would be issued and an employee would frequently qualify for sickness benefit.

The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) asked me about the Employment Medical Advisory Service and the Health and Safety Commission. I rather doubt whether they have the necessary resources, understanding or expertise and I doubt whether they have ever envisaged being involved in the problems arising from pregnancies of employees. However, I do not see why we should not give some consideration to this point about the possibility—I put it no higher than that—of considering whether there is not scope eventually for a code of practice. I am responding to an idea put forward by hon. Members. It will need careful scrutiny, but I think we ought to consider it.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Madel

I beg to move Amendment No. 70, in page 28 line 1, leave out 'both'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss the following amendments:

No. 71, in page 28, line 4, leave out 'either right' and insert 'the rights'.

No. 75, in page 28, line 17, after 'and' insert: ' in the case of the right to return to work'. No. 79, in line 28, leave out "either right" and insert "exercise the right to return to work".

We may also discuss Government amendments Nos. 72, 74 and 78.

Mr. Madel

The Minister will recall that we discussed this matter in Standing Committee when he said, I therefore recommend to the Committee that it accept the principle and spirit of the amendment. I understand that redrafting would be necessary, but the Government accept the amendment in principle and concede the point."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 24th June 1975, c. 716.] On that undertaking, we withdrew our amendment. We have moved it again now and would like a Government response.

Mr. Harold Walker

An amendment standing in the name of the Secretary of State, which is being taken with this amendment, is intended to be our recognition of the points made during the Standing Committee and our response to them. I hope the Opposition will feel that this is an adequate response to the points raised by them in Committee and returned to today.

Mr. Madel

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 72, in page 28, line 9, at end insert 'and'.—[Mr. Harold Walker.]

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

I beg to move Amendment No. 73, in page 28, line 11 leave out 'two years' and insert 'one year'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss the following amendments:

No. 77, in page 28, line 27 leave out 'two years' and insert 'one year'.

No. 80, in page 28, line 36 leave out subsection (5).

Miss Richardson

In the original consultative document the period for which a woman had to have continuous service with an employer was one year. Many women's organisations and individual women were pleased to see this provision and were extremely surprised and perturbed to find that, when the Bill was published, the period had been doubled to two years. In some professions, two years would be a reasonable period, but I need not tell Ministers that in manual and clerical work the turnover is very much quicker than two years.

Some of us would have liked the period to be six months, but I accept that there is the argument that a woman might be pregnant and go to work in order to take advantage of the opportunities provided under the maternity provisions of the Bill. We are not pressing for that kind of period although there is an argument for it. We would, however, like to see this two-year period returned to one year. It is quite unrealistic to have this two-year qualifying period.

The new earnings survey of 1974 shows that of full-time female employees, over 18, 23.6 per cent. in manual work and 25.1 per cent. in non-manual work will have been with the same employer for less than a year. We have only to look at the huge lists of advertisements in evening newspapers in most of our big cities, including London, to realise that women in these kind of jobs change them very much more frequently than is recognised in the Bill. Already in some parts of the public sector there is a 12-month qualifying period. In local government, the National Heath Service, the water, gas and electricity services and in universities there is a 12-month period.

I should like to hear from the Government Front Bench what is behind the increase from the period of one year, which was originally proposed, to a two-years period. I can imagine that some pressure has been put upon Ministers by employers who will naturally realise that they will have fewer women to cope with in this situation. However, this is no argument to those of us who have tabled this amendment. We are concerned to ensure that women who become pregnant, who want to work and who want to qualify under this important Bill should be able to do so and should not be cut out of it altogether by a rather absurd and lengthy period.

Mr. Harold Walker

I fully understand the strength of feeling behind the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson). She is right to remind us that the consultative document proposed a one-year qualifying period, with four weeks' maternity pay. The period of maternity pay was heavily criticised on the ground that it was totally inadequate. Yet the only way in which we could increase the period without increasing the already heavy cost to employers was by extending the qualifying period to two years. It was decided that this should be done.

The original proposal for four weeks' pay after one year's qualification was estimated to cost about £14 million. To vary it in the way we have and to make it six weeks' pay after two years' qualification is now estimated to cost a little more—£14.4 million. However, to reduce the qualifying period to one year while maintaining the six weeks' pay period would boost the cost to approximately £17½ million.

I am quite sure that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) will return yet again to this issue of costs before we finish dealing with this part of the Bill, and criticise us on that ground. I may be wrongly anticipating—

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman will find that we shall not criticise him on the ground of costs in general but on the ground of costs to an individual employer because we believe that this should be borne by the State and not by the individual employer.

Mr. Walker

I understand and I look forward to listening to the right hon. Gentleman deploying his argument on this point. It is a straightforward issue of costs. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking and her hon. Friends have tabled amendments to deal precisely with this point. I point out to her that the Secretary of State has powers under the Bill to vary by order the length of the qualifying period. No doubt when economic circumstances improve and permit we shall give the fullest and earliest consideration to reducing the qualifying period.

I hope that those final words will sufficiently reassure my hon. Friend to persuade her to withdraw her amendment.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

The figures that the Minister has disclosed underline the arguments deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) about this problem. If we have a two-year period of qualification the figure would be inflated. The purpose of this provision in the Bill is to include as many women as possible. The argument deployed by my hon. Friend indicates that this may be an area that will be omitted and therefore a hard-core section of women could face the problem which my hon. Friend has raised.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Walker

I conclude my remarks by reiterating my sympathy for the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking and what lies behind it. The Government are torn between, on the one hand, their inclinations as reflected in the fact that these provisions are in the Bill at all, and, on the other hand, the severe criticism that we have had to face on the ground of the additional cost that this would impose on employers and others. We have had to strike a reasonable balance between these two contending forces.

However, I believe that the provision which enables the Secretary of State to vary the qualifying period by order and I hope my assurance about our eagerness to look sympathetically at the arguments we have heard this afternoon when economic circumstances improve and permit will satisfy my hon. Friend and the House.

Mrs. Hayman

I assure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that he will not hear from the benches behind him criticisms that these provisions are too expensive for employers. I accept absolutely the sincerity of his assurance that he would like to reduce the qualifying period as soon as possible. However, I am getting increasingly depressed and chary whenever I hear the phrase "when economic circumstances permit" used as a reason for not putting a measure on the statute book.

My concern is that the women who will not qualify under the Bill are the most vulnerable women. They will be the poorest women, the women who are young and have not been two years in employment, the women in jobs which have a rapid turnover and, if they are the women who have already opted for the married woman's insurance stamp and have been employed for one year, they will not even be getting the maternity allowance from the State, which would in any case be taken away, even if they received it, from the maternity pay to which they are entitled.

I am concerned that the people who would lose out if we were to have a two-year qualifying period would be the very people who need the maternity pay most. That is why I cannot accept the assurances that have been given.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)

I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friends—I am inclined in this context, to say my honourable sisters—who

have spoken today. It is not accidental that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke about complaints which would arise about the cost of these measures he said that we should have complaints from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen—and he meant that literally. It is no accident that the Government feel more pressed by the voices of employers on this and other issues than they do by the voices of women, who are so under-represented in this House.

I should like to reinforce the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) about "when economic circumstances permit". We have heard these words all our political lives and we know that economic circumstances never permit the improvements in their lives that working people want, particularly those that working women want. The Government and employers should be reminded that if women did not indulge in maternity, which they do not do single-handed incidentally, there would be no one for employers to employ. Employers should be faced squarely with the fact that maternity is a responsibility of society. Employers make their profits out of the work of employees, and maternity undertaken by women is therefore essential to employers.

The Government should accept this amendment, which will not be withdrawn.—it will be pressed. We urge the Government most seriously to recognise that in the face of the benefit that this would mean to so many women, the extra cost is quite small. In comparison with the many millions of pounds which are often involved in discussions in this House, the cost of this is quite small. I urge the Government to accept the amendment if they do not want to be placed in the position of dividing the House against the Labour women on the back benches.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 56, Noes 181.

Division No. 324.] AYES [5. 50 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Bidwell, Sydney Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Ashton, Joe Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Edge, Geoff
Atkinson, Norman Crawford, Douglas Evans, John (Newton)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Faulds, Andrew
Flannery, Martin Maynard, Miss Joan Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlingon) Mendelson, John Torney, Tom
Grocott, Bruce Mikardo, Ian Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Hatton, Frank Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Heffer, Eric S. Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Watkinson, John
Henderson, Douglas Newens, Stanley Watt, Hamish
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Noble, Mike Welsh, Andrew
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Parry, Robert White, Frank R. (Bury)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Whitehead, Phillip
Janner, Greville Rodgers, George (Chorley) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Rooker, J. W. Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Lamond, James Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Litterick, Tom Skinner, Dennis
Loyden, Eddie Snape, Peter TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
MacCormick, lain Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) Mrs. Helene Hayman and
Madden, Max Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W) Miss Jo Richardson.
Anderson, Donald Freud, Clement O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian
Archer, Peter Garrett, John (Norwich S) Orbach, Maurice
Armstrong, Ernest Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Ovenden, John
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Gilbert, Dr John Palmer, Arthur
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Ginsburg, David Pardoe, John
Bates, Alf Gould, Bryan Park, George
Bean, R. E. Gourlay, Harry Parker, John
Beith, A. J. Graham, Ted Pavitt, Laurie
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Grant, George (Morpeth) Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Bishop, E. S. Grimond, Rt Hon J. Pendry, Tom
Booth, Albert Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Penhaligon, David
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hardy, Peter Perry, Ernest
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Harper, Joseph Phipps, Dr Colin
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Harrison. Walter (Wakefield) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Bradley, Tom Healey, Rt Hon Denis Price, William (Rugby)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hooley, Frank Radice, Giles
Buchanan, Richard Hooson, Emlyn Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Horam, John Robertson, John (Paisley)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Roper, John
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Mark (Durham) Sandelson, Neville
Cartwright, John Hunter, Adam Sedgemore, Brian
Clemitson, Ivor Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Cohen, Stanley Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Conlan, Bernard Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sillars, James
Corbett, Robin Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Small, William
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Johnson, James (Hull West) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Crawshaw, Richard Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Spearing, Nigel
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Spriggs, Leslie
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Dan (Burnley) Stallard, A. W.
Davidson, Arthur Judd, Frank Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Kelley, Richard Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Kerr, Russell Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Deakins, Eric Lamborn, Harry Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Tinn, James
Delargy, Hugh Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Tomney, Frank
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Luard, Evan Tuck, Raphael
Dempsey, James Lyon, Alexander (York) Urwin, T. W.
Dormand, J. D. Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McCartney, Hugh Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Duffy, A. E. P. MacFarquhar, Roderick Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Dunn, James A. Mackenzie, Gregor Ward, Michael
Dunnett, Jack Maclennan, Robert Watkins, David
Eadie, Alex McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Weetch, Ken
Edelman, Maurice Magee, Bryan Weitzman, David
Ellis, John (Brlgg & Scun) Mahon, Simon White, James (Pollok)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Marks, Kenneth Whitlock, William
English, Michael Marquand, David Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Ennals, David Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Woodall, Alec
Faulds, Andrew Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Woof, Robert
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Millan, Bruce Wrigglesworth, Ian
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Young, David (Bolton E)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Molloy, William
Forrester, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Moyle, Roland Mr. David Stoddart and
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Mr. James Hamilton.
Freeson, Reginald Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 74, in page 28, line 13, leave out (c) she informs her employer and insert in the case of the right to return, unless she informs her employer (in writing if he so requests".

No. 76, in page 28, line 19, leave out "fairly".

No. 78, in page 28, line 28, leave out either right unless she informs her employer and insert the right to return unless she informs her employer (in writing if he so requests)".—[Mr. Harold Walker.]

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