HC Deb 14 May 1981 vol 4 cc919-20
Mr. Buchan

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 3, line 32, leave out from 'there' to end of line 37 and insert 'the fraction of ten-tenths'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Government amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16.

Mr. Buchan

The amendment arose from a technical matter that was discussed in Committee. We want to ensure that the Government's intentions are clear and that with the phasing out of the earnings-related supplement they intend to increase the amount and not decrease it. Our amendment gives the Government the opportunity of replying.

6 pm

Mrs. Chalker

I am glad to have this opportunity of speaking, not to amendment No. 13 but to Government amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16. I hope that I shall move them formally later. Right hon. and hon. Members will remember that when we were debating the possibility of replacing that which was taken from the maternity pay by the abandonment of the earnings-related supplement we were considering introducing into the Bill, as originally worded, maternity pay to compensate for that phasing out of the earnings-related supplement.

In Committee, the Opposition were keen to point out that the phrasing of the Bill might mean not just that we could improve the amount of maternity pay but could reduce it. In Committee I was clear in my comments, which can be found in Hansard for 5 March in columns 63–66. We intended to improve the amount of maternity pay in compensation for the phasing out of the earnings-related supplement. I commend the three amendments to the House because they give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment power to alter rates of maternity pay, under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, but only by increasing and not by reducing them. That was the original intention, and the amendments make that clear beyond peradventure.

I repeat that the original wording of the clause would have enabled the Government to adjust maternity pay as part of an overall improvement in maternity pay provisions, especially if it were decided to pay benefit for a longer time. I accept that the wording has aroused genuine fears—and some not quite so genuine fears—but hon. Gentlemen are concerned that the wider powers should be used for positive help to working women. Nothing that I said in Committee or say now detracts from that. The powers should not be used to the detriment of working women.

The immediate need is to give the Secretary of State for Employment the power to vary the rates of maternity pay positively as soon as public expenditure constraints permit.

To achieve the end that was intended and to remove any remaining misgivings about our intentions, we are introducing the amendments. I apologise if the wording seems cumbersome, but the construction is deliberately designed to allow a phased increase in the rate of allowance, should that be necessary.

The timing of the change is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. That, again, depends on resources. I cannot give a firm timetable at present, but with the amendments I give a firm promise to the House that the intention is to improve maternity pay when the earnings-related supplement is no longer paid with the maternity allowance after April 1982, and for new cases after January 1982. That is an important consideration, but it is not the only one. These are modest improvements. I hope that the House will accept them in the spirit in which they are meant to meet the criticisms and concerns expressed in Committee.

Mr. Buchan

I thank the hon. Lady for those remarks. With the rider that we would not welcome the process to be carried out in a piecemeal fashion, or by stages, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 14, in page 3, line 32, leave out 'or reinserted'. No. 15, in page 3, line 34, leave out 'other' and insert `greater'.

No. 16, in page 3, line 36, leave out 'or, as the case may be, reinserting'.—[Mrs. Chalker.]

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