HC Deb 08 June 1998 vol 313 cc692-4
3. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

If she will make a statement on the actions the Ministers for Women are taking to ensure that new employment opportunities are designed to fit in with family responsibilities. [42930]

11. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

If she will make a statement on the Government's plans for family-friendly working arrangements. [42938]

The Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women (Ms Harriet Harman)

Family-friendly employment is a Government priority. We are encouraging good practice and underpinning it with a legal framework of rights to enable parents, both mothers and fathers, to balance their home and work responsibilities.

Helen Jackson

Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that there will not be full-time full employment in the 21st century and that the fact that partners in families choose to work three or four days a week is good for families and for job opportunities? Will she ensure that future legislation—on sickness, holidays and pensions—offers incentives to partners in families who choose to take up part-time employment?

Ms Harman

We want to ensure that people have as much choice as possible in how they balance their responsibilities to care for their children at home with their need to provide for their children by going out to paid work. Part-time work is an important option, which is particularly taken up by women when their children are young. It is important not only that part-time work is available but that women are not discriminated against in terms of pay and conditions when they take up the option of part-time work.

Jane Griffiths

Is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State aware that my constituency of Reading is one of the few places in the country where there is nearly full employment? Does she agree that employers should be aware that the long hours worked by both men and women are causing considerable difficulty to family life and that they should take steps to make their employment practices more family friendly?

Ms Harman

That is absolutely right; it is one reason why we are implementing the working time directive, which puts a ceiling on the hours that people can work. When parents are at work, they need to be sure that their children are well cared for, which is why we have a national child care strategy: we want to ensure affordable, accessible and quality child care. Parents need not only good child care, but time with their children—around the time of birth, if a child is suddenly taken ill or if there is a family crisis involving an elderly relative. When half the work force are women, and most of those women are somebody's mother or somebody's daughter, the world of work needs to recognise that people have family, as well as work, responsibilities. We must have a competitive economy that recognises the importance of strong families.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

The Secretary of State will be aware that, despite all the Government press releases and glossy brochures, the first Government action to help mothers to take up employment opportunities—many of which are part time—by helping families with the provision of child care was the tax break for places in workplace nurseries, which was introduced by the Conservative Government. Is the Secretary of State also aware that the Inland Revenue is now revisiting many of those workplace nursery schemes, removing the tax benefits and causing financial disadvantage to many working women? Does that not give people a mixed message about the Government's real intentions in helping with the provision of child care for women in the workplace? What representations has she made for working women to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that issue?

Ms Harman

I welcome the hon. Lady to the Dispatch Box, and I particularly welcome the point that she has raised. She has highlighted not only child care, which is important, but the tax treatment of workplace nurseries. She is absolutely right: a problem has emerged, which we are discussing with the private sector, particularly with those people who have done most to develop nurseries. We are also, of course, discussing it with the Inland Revenue and the Treasury—I shall keep the hon. Lady informed. She has come to the Dispatch Box and raised an important point.