HC Deb 21 July 1976 vol 915 cc1807-8

4.3 p.m.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to permit fathers to be absent from work due to the pregnancy or confinement of their wives without loss of pay or holiday entitlement. This Bill seeks to permit fathers to be absent from work, due to the pregnancy or confinement of their wives, without loss of pay or holiday entitlement, in a way that already exists in a number of European and other countries.

On 1st April 1977, thanks to the Employment Protection Act, maternity pay will become available to all working mothers for a period of up to six weeks and at a rate of nine-tenths of their normal pay minus maximum statutory benefits. At the same time, there is no provision for fathers to be allowed time off to be with their wives, either when wives are in labour or are confined, or afterwards when they come home with their babies. The Bill seeks to give fathers up to three days' leave within 28 days of the wife's confinement.

The present situation is that salaried employees who have decent and kindly employers often receive this leave without their pay or holidays being affected. Hourly-paid workers seldom receive such benefits. Strangely enough, the people who suffer are not the fathers but the mothers, who wish to have the fathers with them when they are in labour, while the child is being born, or when the child comes home. If the father wants to be with the mother or child, he must forfeit pay or his holiday, and he must do so at a time when his pay is most needed.

We have no arrangement to grant paternity leave, although the cost to the employers would be absolutely minimal. It would amount to perhaps about two and a half weeks' pay in a man's working life.

Paternity leave already exists in many European countries. In Belgium, a father is allowed two days off within 12 days of the confinement. In France, he is allowed three days within 15 days of the confinement. There is no statutory provision in West Germany. However, most collective agreements in nearly all industries grant up to two days' paternity leave. In Luxembourg, the period is two days. In Norway, there is a current proposal that husbands of working wives should be entitled to between two and four weeks' child-care leave during the first year of the baby's life.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will know of the position in Sweden as we were both there for discussions a short time ago. Sweden is well in advance of us in many ways. Swedes are entitled to 10 days' paternity leave and, since 1st January 1974, postnatal leave of up to seven months for either the father or the mother, or both alternately. I ask for no such alternate leave. I ask for no arrangements under which there would be months off. I merely ask for the brief period of a few days so that the father and the mother may be together at a time which is of the greatest importance to the family, to the father, to the mother and to the child.

The present system is inequitable and unreasonable. The provision of maternity pay and the absence of paternity pay provide a further example of the way in which men are becoming progressively less equal than women. This modest reform, which I ask leave of the House to introduce, would be an indication that the House recognises that men, too, have rights, not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of their working wives.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Greville Janner, Mrs. Barbara Castle, Mrs. Helene Hayman, Mrs. Renée Short, Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Ms Maureen Colquhoun, Miss Joan Maynard, Miss Jo Richardson, and Mr. Ronald Atkins.