HC Deb 21 January 1999 vol 323 cc1003-4
1. Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)

What assessment he has made of the impact on families of the new rights proposed in the Fairness at Work White Paper. [65190]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney)

The measures in our proposed legislation will encourage a partnership approach and a fairer workplace environment, which will benefit all employees and their families.

We are introducing nine specific measures, which will help parents and carers to balance work and family life by providing three months' parental leave for mothers, fathers and adoptive parents, by providing domestic time off in emergencies for all employees and by simplifying and improving women's maternity rights.

Our proposals were developed in consultation with the key stakeholders. Four out of five employers who commented on the White Paper's family-friendly employment proposals supported them in some measure. Our proposals to simplify the maternity provisions received almost universal support.

Mr. Borrow

I am sure that many families will welcome the White Paper. Does my hon. Friend agree that employers in both the public and private sectors benefit from the operation of family-friendly policies? Will he influence his Department to spread best practice from both public and private sectors to employers who do not yet operate family-friendly policies?

Mr. McCartney

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Our fairness at work proposals have received a great deal of support throughout government, employers' organisations and trade unions, which are working together to improve best practice. The Bill will result in a significant change in culture, with the support of virtually every employer in Britain.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Has the Minister assessed the impact of parental leave provisions on the employment of women in the future, given that his departmental assessment is that those provisions will cost £110 million?

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Gentleman should realise that the parental leave directive was agreed by employers and trade unions, which made joint recommendations. As a consequence, the overwhelming majority of employers support the measures, which will at last give men and women a chance to balance their work responsibilities with their caring responsibilities at home.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Does my hon. Friend accept that many family members work in companies that employ fewer than 20 people and that, in some cases, those are among the worst employers in the country? In view of that, will he give further thought to reducing the number of employees in a company who are excluded from the provisions of the proposed legislation?

Mr. McCartney

The proposals are comprehensive. My hon. Friend is asking about a different issue, which will be dealt with in the fairness at work Bill under recognition issues. There will be no change in those proposals. Employers of whatever size will have opportunities to be represented on issues of discipline and grievance procedures. Application of the proposals will be universal and parental leave has the support of employers' organisations.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

May I take this opportunity to welcome the new team, although it is nice to have to deal with one of the old lags first. Will the Minister enlighten the House in two respects? First, will he clarify which is the authorised version of the recognition proposals—the version according to Derby, South or the version according to Hartlepool—that has finally been adopted?

Secondly, on fairness at work more generally, will the Minister explain how he can make statements about universal support and a wide welcome for his family-friendly policies when he seems incapable of producing an overall assessment of the compliance cost to British industry?

Mr. McCartney

From one old lag to a very old lag, I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming my continuing presence at the Department. I may qualify for unfair dismissal under the Bill.

Opposition Members must realise that we have taken into account the effects of the proposals on all workers in Britain. The hon. Gentleman is a little off-beam. He simply cannot accept the changing culture in the workplace, with employers and employees striving for better partnership arrangements, including a partnership that reflects their rights and responsibilities. When we publish the Bill soon, he will see in the round the comprehensive nature of our proposals and the overwhelming support that they will receive from people in the workplace—both employees and sensible employers.

Forward to