HC Deb 22 January 2004 vol 416 cc1458-9
5. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab)

What steps she will take to ensure that the recently introduced rights for working parents will be fully implemented in small and medium-sized enterprises. [149735]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths)

The Government have consulted small and medium-sized enterprises fully on these important rights, and are running an awareness campaign that includes the direct mailing of SMEs with full details of the benefits. ACAS has been running employer training seminars.

Mr. Brown

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Maternity and paternity leave can occasionally cause small businesses cash flow problems. Can he offer them any help with that aspect of the new support that we want to give to working parents?

Nigel Griffiths

Yes. To tackle cash-flow problems, small businesses can claim money up front from the Inland Revenue for maternity and paternity pay, and the Chancellor is increasing the threshold for small employers' relief to £45,000 from 6 April.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)

Does the Minister recognise that implementing working parents' rights is not a problem for large wealthy corporations—they might not want to do it, but they can certainly afford it—but that, unless the arrangements are implemented flexibly, it could be the difference between a small business surviving and going under? Will he give us an assurance that there will be flexibility for small businesses, which do so much to create new jobs?

Nigel Griffiths


Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op)

Small businesses in my constituency tell me that one of their problems when introducing new rights or responding to new regulations is that, although information may be provided initially, they do not have the benefit of large personnel departments to provide the information subsequently. What are the Government doing to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises have ready access to advice and information on these rights and on other regulations?

Nigel Griffiths

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Minister for Employment Rights, Competition and Consumers, the Secretary of State and the Department have been at pains to ensure that proper advisory services and guidance notes are available. I have seen the guidance note pack that is being sent out, and it is excellent. It was drawn up in full consultation with the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and others. I know that the Minister for Employment Rights, Competition and Consumers is grateful for their input and takes the point made by my hon. Friend very much to heart.