HC Deb 15 March 1994 vol 239 cc736-7
10. Ms Corston

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what progress is being made on implementing parental leave.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Arrangements for parental leave are a matter for voluntary agreement between employers and employees.

Ms Corston

Can the Minister explain why the British Government have consistently blocked the European Union parental leave directive? Is not that a disgrace in view of the fact that Britain is the only country that does not provide some form of family leave and that the Equal Opportunities Commission calculated that the cost of 10 days' paternity leave would be the same as one quarter of a day's holiday for the entire work force? Would not that be money well spent?

Mr. Forsyth

I beg to differ with the hon. Lady. Britain is not the only country that has had trouble with the Belgian text of the directive on parental leave. The hon. Lady is also wrong to suggest that Britain is alone in not providing parental leave. There is only one—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady keeps shouting "family leave", but her question is about parental leave. She will know that only Denmark offers paid parental leave to both parents. Other countries have different arrangements and most allow only one parent to have leave. Policies differ as to whether it should be paid. We believe that the issue is best taken forward voluntarily. Some employers, such as Abbey National, have very enlightened policies, in contrast to what we learn about the Chief Whip's Office. That is the way forward.

Mr. Rowe

Did my hon. Friend hear the other day the personnel director of Boots explaining that it was profitable to the company to provide such a facility because it was much better than having a disgruntled work force? Is not it much better for firms to make their own calculation as to whether it is profitable for them to provide such a service rather than have it forced on them?

Mr. Forsyth

I should explain, in case I find myself taking leave, that I was referring earlier to the Opposition Chief Whip's Office and not the Chief Whip's Office. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says. One of the advantages in going forward voluntarily is that flexible policies can be adopted. I mentioned Abbey National as an example of an employer who allows five-year career breaks, provides help with child care and allows flexible working hours. That is the way forward—not to try to write rigid regulations, particularly at a European level.