§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Seebohm rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Parental Leave and Leave for Family Reasons (3rd Report, 1984–85, H.L. 84.)
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the television lights have gone out, but I hope to illuminate the meaning of parental leave and leave for family reasons, which I should think is a mystery to most Members of your Lordships' House. It derives from strong pressure from the equal opportunities lobby in the EEC. The report by the Select Committee refers to a draft EEC directive on parental leave and leave for family reasons. This directive was strongly supported by our own Equal Opportunities Commission and it follows on from the now well established provisions for maternity leave and has two quite distinct but related proposals. The concept of parental leave is to enable an employed parent, either the father or the mother, to stay at home to take sole or principal care of a child after the expiry of maternity leave during the first two years of a child's life; or in the case of an adopted child, during the first two years of the adoption if the child is under five years of age.
§ An employed parent could take parental leave only provided both parents were working, and they could not take leave together. Little research has been done on this subject and so the number of people eligible for this leave at any one time is not known; but it must be small. The committee's attempt at quantifying this suggests that 1 per cent. of male employees and possibly 2 per cent. of female employees might take up the option in any one year. This occurs in Appendix 3 to the report.
§ The draft directive provides for a minimum leave period of three months per child for each parent in the two-year period; that is to say, six months divided equally between them. There is also a part-time option if parent and employer can agree, which would extend the leave period proportionately. Other provisions are that leave could be taken at any time during the two years and that an allowance paid by the state may be made while on leave; but if any payment is made, it must be borne by the state and not by the employer.
§ The second type of leave is leave for family reasons. This would entitle a worker with family responsibilities to short periods of leave for pressing family reasons at any time. The directive gives a few examples of what would be covered, such as a spouse's or child's illness, death of a near relative, or a child's wedding. The directive does not give any indication of 839 the time factor; whether it refers to five years, five weeks or five months is just left vague. Other provisions are that the leave is open equally to men and women and that it would be paid by the employer in the same way as annual holidays.
§ It also provides that there should be more generous leave to one-parent families and families with three or more children under an age limit to be determined—all pretty vague. There was an amendment to the directive which appeared later during our investigations that this leave should be for limited rather than short periods—I am not quite clear what that meant—and that it should cover important as well as pressing family reasons. It also provided that leave should be extended where the worker is responsible for a disabled person living in the same household.
§ The draft directive aroused a great deal of interest, and evidence both oral and written was received from the CBI, the Department of Employment, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Maternity Alliance, the National Council for One-Parent Families, Dame Shelagh Roberts, Member of the European Parliament, and the TUC. The committee also received from 23 other bodies written evidence for which we were most grateful.
§ I shall deal first with the latter proposal—that is, leave for family reasons—as we do not recommend its adoption. As I have said, the definition is vague, and after consulting our legal adviser we believe that it would be very difficult to state in legal terms what constitutes an important or pressing reason; and when there is disagreement between an employer and employee, who is to decide? If it involves a tribunal, it would be costly, and it would probably have an impossible task, frequently acting post facto as family crises often, if not usually, occur without warning. While it is clear that women tend to stay away from work more frequently than men to cope with such crises and may therefore be at a disadvantage from the equal opportunities point of view, the committee do not believe that legislation could or should provide a satisfactory framework for leave for family reasons and consider that the directive should be amended accordingly.
§ Parental leave is quite another matter. The Department of Employment and the CBI, while accepting the fundamental role of the family in society and that the original objectives of the directive may be desirable, say that the draft is unacceptable for three main reasons: first, cost; secondly, that this is not an appropriate area for legislation; and thirdly, that legislation might actually be counter-productive to achieving equal opportunities.
§ There is no evidence as to what might be the cost. The CBI believed that it would be considerable for firms, even though the payment was borne by the state, owing to the disruption it might cause, and that temporary replacements would take time to adjust and to acquire specialist skills. This would inevitably mean reduced efficiency and performance. Those arguments were supported by the British Bankers Association and by the Local Authority Conditions of Service Advisory Board.840
The CBI also argued that the disruptive costs would be particularly hard on small firms. It also pointed out that many large firms operated on a branch basis where some units had only a handful of employees, and that the burden would be particularly hard if the absentee was in a supervisory position. On the second objection, both the department and the CBI argued that the proposed directive should not be the subject of legislation. The department went so far as to say that this is,
an extremely appropriate area for voluntary negotiations",
but nevertheless admitted that the Government recognise that there is a problem. The CBI further stated:
The proposals relate to matters that are primarily the responsibility of parents themselves and society as a whole, but not of employers".
§ To me that is a strange way of expressing these objections and it reminds me of the rather similar objections that were made in 1975 to the principle of maternal leave.
§ The third objection—that legislation would be counter-productive—was also made by the Federation of Business and Professional Women, since they consider that it would be equated by employers as an extension of maternity leave and therefore would prejudice their employment of women. The same objection was made to maternity leave and was proved to be completely untrue.
§ Having considered these objections, the committee examined the attitude of the member states. Apart from Ireland and Holland, they all have legislation already or, as in the case of Greece, are intending to do so, though naturally not on lines identical to the draft directive. It is therefore not something new in the Community.
§ Having children undoubtedly and inevitably disrupts women's working lives. Raising a family is a decision taken willingly, with full acceptance that it may result in returning to part-time and less highly paid jobs. Many women, however, after their 40 weeks of maternity leave, do return to full-time work. Some are able to continue significant careers. However, there is no legislation whatever to facilitate the assistance by men when family problems arise. I myself would rather like to have seen some legislation about paternal leave because I believe that the time when the wife has a child is probably the time when the father's presence is most needed, but that is not part of the suggestions from the EEC. Perhaps it would not matter so much if there were adequate arrangements for child care, but there are not. In 1983, there were under 30,000 places in local authority day nurseries—fewer than one place in 100 for all children under five years. These places are not available for families where both parents work.
In Sweden, where parental leave has been a right for some years, evidence shows that men are increasingly taking advantage of parental leave. The Equal Opportunities Commission, in giving oral evidence, said:
What we have come to recognise is the direction in which social change has occurred as a result of individual choice by men and women".
We seek to provide support for the directive because it seems to us a sensible and practical way of assisting family life as it actually
is in our society today. We have undertaken research which shows that fathers are more involved in family life and they have a growing desire for involvement. We are pressing for arrangements which do not penalise mothers who have chosen to work, or fathers who have chosen to take a greater if not equal share of domestic responsibilities".
§ The committee recognised the force of these arguments, and also considered the effect of these principles on the well-being of the children, particularly in the first two years of their lives. The committee feel that the time has come to take a positive step to establish the principle that what happens in the first two years of a child's life can have a vital influence on his or her entire life, and that both parents should be more closely involved than they have been during this period.
§ The committee have gone a long way to meet the objections of the Confederation of British Industry and the Department of Employment. We do not recommend proposals for legislation for leave for family reasons. We do not believe it would be wise to grant three months leave for parental leave, so we recommend reducing this to one month for a start. We consider that firms with fewer than 20 employees should be exempt. On this basis disruption would be reduced to something quite insignificant, cost would be minimised, and the engagement of temporary staff normally quite unnecessary. Some may argue that this advance is too slow. However, the view of the committee is that the principle needs to be established, and further extensions could take place later if the demand is there and employers find their worries misplaced, as they did over maternity leave.
§ The basic recommendations, therefore, are as follows: there should be EEC legislation for parental leave, but the minimum period should be for one month for each parent when the child is under two years of age: businesses with fewer than 20 employees should be exempt; parental leave should be paid. The method should be left to member states, but the best way would be from public funds as in the case of maternity leave.
§ This is a very shorthand description of the report and its findings. Subsequent speakers will no doubt take up points I have missed, or have under-stressed. The reasons I have been brief are, first of all, the lateness of the evening; secondly, the suggestions we put forward are very modest indeed and I do not think they need stressing very greatly; and, finally, I realise it is quite important that the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, should be allowed to get to her TV set by 10.30 this evening.
§ May I end with a somewhat philosophical comment? Of course, the main thrust of the United Kingdom effort must be to restore and improve the economic wealth of the country. But it is a mistake not to make some modest advance on the social front at the same time. Material progress alone will not improve the quality of life. Money cannot buy everything, nor, incidentally, is misery the prerogative of the poor. To improve the condition of the family, and to encourage the participation of both parents when the children are very young, must have a high priority. I beg to move.842
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Parental Leave and Leave for Family Reasons (3rd Report, 1984–85, H.L. 84.}—(Lord Seebohm.)
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I was a member of the sub-committee which produced this report. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, for his chairmanship of that sub-committee and for the very clear exposition of the report which he has just given to your Lordships. I hope I may be forgiven by him and by the other members of the Committee if I take issue—as I did in the Committee—with some of the conclusions in our report.
Perhaps I may say first that this is indeed a most useful document, full of facts and of arguments. I go along with the underlying theme that parental leave and leave for family reasons is very important indeed for modern parents, men and women, who want to share equally in the upbringing of their children, and in family responsibility generally. It is also good for the children, good for the marriage, good for family life; it is good for tapping the pool of talent which resides among the women of the nation, and it is good for job satisfaction among the work force. Increasingly it should become the norm where it is not so already.
The question is whether the EEC is right in wanting to require member states to legislate for this. I go along with the rest of the committee in saying that leave for family reasons is not a runner for legislation, if only because "pressing reasons" are not capable of being defined in legal terms, as the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, has said. It is right, and I believe courageous of the committee, to say what we do on that, that it is best left to voluntary agreement and mutual trust.
My Lords, I do take issue. however, with the conclusions on parental leave whereby, as the noble Lord has made clear, we are agreeing with the directive that every state should legislate so that every employee, man or woman with a young child, other than those in small businesses, could have paid leave for a month or longer to look after that child, and again for the next child and so on, the payment—as we say in the report—best made from public funds. This seems to me simply to be encouraging us Europeans in our amazing capacity to be our own worst enemy. Our most acute problems in the Community are lack of competitiveness worldwide and the difficulty of enabling new employment opportunities to open up fast enough to match the growing number of people wanting work.
Part of the European solution has to be a much more flexible labour market, freedom for employers and for the aspiring workforce to develop new work patterns to meet new needs in all sorts of ways. It is happening already. For example, in this country there is a massive increase in part-time employment, which we all know about. There is an increase of enormous proportions in self-employment. At present, one in 10 of the work force is self-employed. During the last two years, there has been an increase of 24 per cent. in the number of self-employed women. All over Europe, 843 Governments are looking—as our Government are—for ways to reduce out-of-date constraints on the labour market, out-of-date fiscal arrangements, out-of-date employment legislation; for ways to combine increased competitiveness with room for more people to find employment. Surely it is going completely against the grain to suggest that, instead of encouraging more flexible and up-to-date voluntary arrangements, we should add to blanket employment protection, add to the cost and hassle of employing people, and add to the cost to the taxpayer of paying people.
In our summary of conclusions we say, as the noble Lord has explained, that there is no convincing evidence that parental leave would add to industry's costs. It is true that the costs could not be quantified; they have not been quantified by the Commission, either. The CBI and the Department of Employment agreed that the cost would be substantial—through payment via taxation or national insurance, through dislocation and disruption, and through the need to employ temporary replacements. That view was endorsed by the British Bankers Association and by the head of personnel of Boots.
A number of witnesses compared the arguments with the arguments against maternity leave in 1976 when that leave was introduced. They maintained that fears about maternity leave have proved groundless. It is true that for some employers the direct costs of maternity leave are small. One employer I asked who has 1,300 employees told me that last year only six took maternity leave. The costs were minimal because what costs there were could be recovered from the Government.
But for Tayside Regional Council's education authority, with a population in its area of 400,000 people, 54 teachers took maternity leave last year and nearly all of them had to be temporarily replaced. At current salaries that cost the ratepayers of Tayside £259,000, or 64 pence for every man, child and woman living in the region.
The firmest evidence given to the committee came from Sweden. The CBI put the cost in Sweden at 1.5 per cent. of the total salary bill, and 85 per cent. of that sum is paid by employers through their national insurance contributions. That leave includes leave for family reasons. It seems to me that that is no mean sum. In 1978–81, 22 per cent. of fathers took leave and all mothers—13 per cent. of the whole working population.
It is not easy to assess within the Community what the cost would be. Only Denmark and Italy have paid parental leave for all, and Denmark's scheme is new. As the noble Lord has said, there is no statutory parental leave in Ireland, the Netherlands or this country, neither is there any in Spain. What leave there is, is mainly unpaid, at the moment, in France, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal, except that in France mothers with three or more children receive payment; in Germany there is extended maternity leave for the private sector only; and in Belgium a person on parental leave can receive unemployment benefit if he or she has been replaced by an unemployed person.
844 Thus the extent of the cost involved is hard to ascertain, but surely it is considerable. Surely that cost must to some extent be a disincentive rather than an incentive to employing young parents—men and woman. The cost to taxpayers would of course depend on the levels of payment and on the uptake. The committee says that that would be decided by the member state—but would the cost be 90 per cent. of the salary as in Denmark, 30 per cent. as in Italy, or what? That makes a big difference.
What about the self-employed? They are not mentioned in our report. Are all the 2,304,000 self-employed in the United Kingdom expected to finance employed people's leave out of their self-employed income tax? Or would they grant themselves leave at the state's expense? If so, at what rate?
I suggest that this report is courageous but not courageous enough. The previous EEC Commission which designed this directive had a penchant for social legislation that was not always very close to what the electorates of Europe really wanted or needed. Dame Sheila Roberts told the committee that the last European Parliament was in a hurry to get draft directives into place before their election, and that perhaps they did not look ahead carefully enough at the possible effects of the directive.
I believe it would have been more realistic and helpful if the committee had endorsed with enthusiasm the whole notion of parental leave as a helpful part of admirable new attitudes of caring parents who wish to share their responsibilities equally, and if we had said that legislation or guidelines should be left entirely to member states so that they can take account of what the people in their own states really want in the emerging labour market and with the urgent need for greater flexibility. With these reservations, I commend the report.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Lord McGregor of Durris
My Lords, this report, though having the title, Parental Leave and Leave for Family Reasons, bears most importantly on the situation of women in the labour market. They have always constituted a significant part of the workforce. From early Victorian days until 1951, one quarter of all workers outside the home were women. That percentage is now more than 40 per cent. and is expected to rise until the end of this century. Fifty years ago, only 10 per cent. of women at work were married. Today they amount to some two-thirds.
In the past, motherhood was woman's whole existence. It is now a phase, which for most ceases before the age of 40 and is followed by more than one quarter of a century of active life. Economically active women are usually part-time workers and are therefore still primarily domestic workers and secondary wage earners in their families—except when they are living singly or being a lone parent.
Knowledge of the relationship between motherhood and employment, and between home and the labour market, and knowledge of the sexual division of labour within the family and of women's expectations generally in respect of all these life-regulating considerations, has been greatly extended by the survey Women and Employment: A Lifetime 845 Perspective, by Jean Martin and Ceridwen Roberts. This admirable large-scale survey, undertaken jointly by the Office of Population Census and Surveys and the Department of Employment, is, in one respect, a most depressing document. Its findings reinforce many of the conclusions reached in 1982 in the report of your committee on voluntary part-time work. I will quote a passage from that survey:Many women in our survey experienced the labour market as highly segregated on the basis of sex, with men doing both different jobs and more having more of the supervisory and managerial jobs … women working part-time are more likely to be in lower level occupations; over half of the part-timers are in social classes IV and V … compared with just under a quarter of women working full-time … Overall, part-time workers are less likely to have access to or to have good provision of conditions of employment like paid holidays, sick pay or an occupational pension scheme. They are also less likely to have promotion and training facilities in their jobs and less likely to be a member of, or to have the opportunity to belong to, a union".It is much harder to be a woman than to be a man. Women have to play two major roles in a society which expects them to be mothers and workers and which has done very little, and that half-heartedly, to adapt to the changes that have flowed from the increased share of work outside the home now carried by married women.
In the setting which I have just sketched the subject matter of the report now under discussion is significant because it will make employers come directly to grips with the family responsibilities and commitments of their employees—male as well as female. The employers' evidence to the committee, like that of the Department of Employment, was extremely disappointing. To the proposals of the draft directive to give both parents enforceable rights of leave to look after very young children (I shall restrict what I say wholly to parental leave because the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, explained why the committee had rejected the proposals for leave for family reasons), employers emphasised, among other considerations, the costs and their effects both on Britain's competitive position and on small businesses and the inappropriateness of legislation for purposes better achieved by voluntary negotiation.
Your Lordships' committee could not test the views of the Government and the CBI on costs because no data were brought forward. It was indeed surprising that the Government made confident assertions about costs and competitiveness without having inquired into, or assembled, empirical evidence. One is, therefore, left with a historical comment which, I think, bears upon the criticisms of the committee's report made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. From the 18th century Quaker ironmasters, through the policies of people like Robert Owen and Titus Salt, or Joe Chamberlain in Birmingham, the Cadbury's at Bourneville, Lever at Port Sunlight, and all their 20th century successors, welfare capitalism always had its critics who prophesied that the time was not ripe and that the costs would lead to bankruptcy through inability to compete. That has not been the substance of the story, in my view, then or later.
The likelihood is that when workers enjoy better conditions and greater psychological security there will be higher productivities and such economic advantages as the flexibility in the labour market 846 which the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, seeks. We are talking now, let us not forget, of a statistically large portion of the labour force—women part-time workers. I shall not find arguments on costs persuasive until they are quantified.
The other main argument against the proposal was that it should be left to negotiation between employers and workers. But all the evidence is that this cannot happen. We are dealing mainly with women part-time workers who, of all workers, are the worst represented and least able to negotiate voluntarily. The inescapable conclusion from many recent studies of women's experience in trying to reconcile the claims of marriage, motherhood and work is the existence of a firmly rooted double standard of occupational morality. This proposal would be a small step in the direction of that equality which society promises to women but denies to them in the labour market. It would bring fathers actively into the task of organising work and child care in partnership with their wives.
For the 750,000 lone parents and their 1,500,000 dependent children, parental leave will be a great benefit. I should like to quote a short passage from the evidence which the director of the National Council for One Parent Families gave orally to the committee. Dr. Smart said of the proposal for parental leave:One might wonder how that would help lone parents. Lone parents have not got that possibility of bringing in another partner to share in that care. But it does have a value precisely because it can help parents remain in that employment which is so important to the lone parent who has made the choice to go out to work. That lone parent does not have another wage on which she can depend. Giving up work because it is difficult to combine child care and work can lead to a serious decline in the standard of living, and any decline means a decline in the standard of living of the child in that family. I think what is more the Parental Leave proposal allows for a staggered period for a lone parent to go back to work. In other words, the work can be part-time for a given period. This we regard as absolutely vital in that transitional stage".This really applies to all women. The crucial factor is bridging the transition from child-bearing back into the labour market and this proposal represents a very small step to that end.
The Government seek to make citizens independent and to stand on their own feet. That is why half the female lone parents in the country are at work. The alternative for them is long-term supplementary benefit; and those who can do so, work in order to avoid that stigma. Hence the imperative need for assistance in bridging the transition from motherhood to work.
The committee's recommendations are very modest. That is the word that its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, used. They would entail the establishment of a principle and not the development of major policy; they accept the difficulties that might be faced by small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, which are excluded; and they set the period of parental leave at one month.
The foundations of economic change are social as well as economic. It would be unrealistic of the Government to espouse technological and economic innovation but at the same time to demur over new social recommendations. The one promotes the other.
I cannot conclude without expressing how much the committee owed to its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, who has now retired from the chair. He led 847 the committee from a wide knowledge of the social results of economic enterprise and a shrewd assessment of the strength and weaknesses of arguments. His urbanity and intellectual penetration are reflected in the reports written under his chairmanship, and his capacities were admired greatly by his colleagues.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Platt of Writtle
My Lords, it is a matter of great pleasure to me and to the Equal Opportunities Commission that the Select Committee has come out positively in favour of the directive for parental leave. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, for his lucid and highly supportive exposition of the report. That for us is a matter of great importance, and we hope that it will influence the Government also to support such a directive.
Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, talked of, "One small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind". If this directive becomes law in the form that the committee suggests, that, too, will be one small step of great significance and a leap for man and womankind, too. It is a very necessary step towards achieving full equality of opportunity at work for men and women.
The European Community right from its inception has been very sympathetic towards equal opportunities for men and women and has through the use of its treaties and directives ensured progress which would otherwise not have been made. Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome and its ensuing effects have helped the cause of equal opportunities considerably.
Our own country took the lead with all-party support for the Sex Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act and the resultant setting-up of the Equal Opportunities Commission almost a decade ago. In those days much of the Act and its effects were novel and many people did not take it seriously. Only a decade later people take it far more seriously and see the matter of equal opportunities in employment and other fields in a more balanced light. By the end of the century I venture to prophesy that the whole question of equal opportunities will be taken very much more for granted.
I have been chairman of the EOC now for nearly two years and I have had a great deal to learn on the matter of equal opportunities for men and women generally which it is the duty of the commission to promote. It is important to give young people equal opportunities in education, to encourage them to acquire precious skills and qualifications, to enter worthwhile careers and to contribute to the life and prosperity of our nation. In following that course, women as well as men acquire knowledge and experience of great value in a time of crucial shortage of skills, especially in the new technologies. Last year was Women Into Science and Engineering Year. More women and girls are already entering those fields of work with great success, and their employers are very grateful for their contribution.
As I mentioned in the earlier debate, in 1981 there were 900,000 18 year-olds. In 1995 there will be only 600,000. We are already desperately short of technological skills, as the other report brought to your 848 Lordships' House this afternoon states categorically. As a result, that committee emphasises the need to continue the campaign to encourage girls to acquire qualifications and experience in these fields.
I have already referred tonight to a film that will go out on Central Television encouraging just that action among girls. I do not actually think that I shall see it, but I have met the girls taking part, who at around 20 years of age already have BTec National Certificates and are working for Higher National Certificates in electronic engineering. The anxiety that they express to me is how they are to retain their hard-won skills and knowledge if they marry and have a family. I venture to suggest that their employers will be anxious, too.
The Engineering Council has set up a career break working party to study that subject, of which I am a member, so as to issue a policy document later this year to provide a variety of options to employers to help young married women to care for their families and to continue to contribute their scarce skills to the prosperity of our engineering industry. As several Ministers have stated categorically, that is a vital need as our oil reserves decrease in the coming decade. The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology also emphasises that that matter is of great importance.
Naturally, with the dramatic drop in the number of 18 year-olds by 1995 to which I have referred, there will be increased competition among employers in all fields to recruit able young people, girls as well as boys. Whether it be in the professions or in such fields as banking, commerce in general, the service industries or the public sector, there will be a greater need for able young people capable of applying the new technologies, coupled with their own specialist knowledge. Young women will have to be educated and trained and attracted into these skilled fields of work far more in the future than in the past. If they and the country have invested resources in that way, their precious skills and knowledge must not be lost. I believe that that will engender a fundamental change of attitude to the employment of women before the turn of the century, leading to far greater real equality of opportunity in their work-place.
I have highlighted a special case, but this directive would make a positive step towards solving these problems for other employers and employees and their families. After maternity leave, parental leave could assist either parent, whether on a full-time or part-time basis. The importance of such a period of leave is that it would ensure continuity of employment for those parents who wish or need to care for their baby themselves for a period of time during the first two years of infancy. We know for a number of mothers and some fathers this is their choice. They should not be penalised for making it.
I was delighted by the emphasis that the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, laid on the importance of the involvement of fathers during the birth of the child and afterwards. I am sure that that is true, and it is a very encouraging sign in our society that fathers wish for it too. On a slightly sentimental note, last week I became a granny and I have a little granddaughter. One of the most charming and delightful things is how much my son wants to be involved in her upbringing.
849 We would hope that enlightened employers would honour the original three months of the directive, but one month is a step on the road. If the part-time option is taken by the mother or the father, both parents can keep in touch with what is happening at work while retaining their desirable close bonds with their baby. I know how sorry my noble friend Lady Faithfull is that she is not here today. She also was a member of the committee and feels deeply the necessity for those close bonds. For a Government which believe sincerely in family life, as I do also, that is a very practical option. The Equal Opportunities Commission subordinated the issue of paid leave to the achievement of the principle of parental leave. However, if the Government adopt the recommendation of the committee that the parental leave should be paid out of public funds, that is an extra bonus.
We also supported the provision of family leave to be available for all the multifarious needs of families where both parents are working, to cope with the crises of children or old people who are dependent on working people, for assistance in attending hospital or doctors' surgeries. It is increasingly available in other member states of the EEC and we hope that it will go through. We laid considerable emphasis on the needs of handicapped children, adopted children, elderly or disabled dependants, of whom women are the major carers. We believe deeply in the justice of our cause.
The European Committee put in hours of careful work listening to and studying evidence on costs, European practice, possible take-up and the effect on women's employment if this directive on parental leave were enacted. They found that from experience it is likely to be used sparingly at first before its use becomes more commonplace, as in Sweden, although even there it is still applicable to only a small proportion of people. I believe that would be true here, too.
No one has assessed the cost accurately, but the committee did not feel that it would be great and, with the exception of small industries, might be exaggerated. Can we afford not to do this? In the 1981 census in a 10 per cent. sample there were 5,770 economically inactive women with higher degrees—not just first degrees—compared with 360 men in the same category. This is a waste we cannot afford as a nation. If the loss of an employee for three months is "very, very disruptive", what if the employee is lost for a very much longer time because he or she cannot leave a small baby? If arrangements like these are made to help parents for the very short time of dependent babyhood—and I refer to the graph by C. Roberts and J. Martin, on page 64 of the report, to see how the trend back to work is developing—they can attend to their families in the way that they and we, too, would desire and yet continue to use their skills and knowledge to the benefit and prosperity of our country.
I hope that this House and the Government will take note of the support given by the Select Committee, so that a directive on parental leave is approved by the Council of Europe.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I feel some diffidence about speaking in this debate having joined only towards the end of its inquiry the committee which, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, considered the draft directive on parental leave and leave for family reasons. It seems right that in support of my noble friend Lord McGregor of Durris I should contribute very briefly to the discussion.
During the passage of the Employment Protection Act 1975 through this House my noble friends and I supported the provisions relating to maternity leave. The principles that we then favoured apply equally, in my view, to legislation on parental leave. I think, moreover, that on the balance of the evidence which the committee heard they have rightly concluded that statutory provision for such leave should he made for a limited period following the termination of maternity leave.
A major argument against introducing legislation in this field was that of cost, as a number of noble Lords have said. I think it is unfortunate that no authoritative estimate of costs was made available to the committee by the Government or anybody else. However, it appears that the likely take-up of parental leave, as the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, has just reminded us—that is, compared with other causes of absence—would be small, that it would be mainly among women, and in practice would be an extension of maternity leave.
It is true that concern has been expressed about the possible effect of legislation on small businesses, but the committee have taken this into account in recommending that initially firms employing fewer than 20 people should be exempt from the provisions of the directive. Given the discretionary arrangements for parental leave that are already made by larger firms, and that the committee concluded that subject to a community minimum of one month it should be left to member states to decide how long the period of leave should be, I do not think it can reasonably be claimed that implementation of the findings of the report before us would have any substantial impact on the industrial competitiveness of this country even outside Europe.
On the other hand, it has been argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that the method of payment for parental leave should be left to member states, or rather that the committee in recommending that method are wrong in principle to advocate that in the United Kingdom payment should be made from public funds. But already, as I understand it, in this country in the case of maternity leave the 12 weeks flat rate allowance is paid from and funded as part of the national insurance system and up to six weeks maternity pay can be reclaimed by employers from the Maternity Pay Fund. In those circumstances it seems to me reasonable that the same principle should also apply to payment for parental leave.
In the absence of any decisive evidence on costs one way or the other I am content to support the conclusion of the committee that the potential benefits of parental leave for child care and for equal opportunities at work are great enough to outweigh 851 any possible disadvantages of limited legislation in this field.
On the question of legislating for leave for family reasons I have very little to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, has already said. It seems to me that there is some force in the argument that difficulties might arise in defining with sufficient precision what should be regarded as important or pressing reasons for this purpose and in implementing the legislation once it had been drafted. For that reason, therefore, I am content to support also the recommendation of the committee regarding leave for family reasons.
There may of course be those who will say that the report now before us amounts to only a shabby compromise and that the committee should have either accepted the minimum period of three months parental leave provided for in the directive, along with leave for family reasons, or thrown out the proposals altogether. I do not agree. I am a firm believer in making progress wherever possible through consensus. I know that sometimes such an approach evokes feelings of impatience, on occasion, even among some of my noble friends. But in my experience the options of inaction or confrontation are often worse.
In the case of this particular inquiry I was impressed by what was said by Dame Shelagh Roberts. Mention of her has already been made on two occasions this evening. I was impressed by what she had to say in the only evidence I joined the committee in time to hear; namely, that to go for a period of three months minimum leave could be an example of where the best might be the enemy of the good. As it is, I believe that acceptance of the principle involved represents a modest, inexpensive first step which could later be built on in company with our European partners if it proved beneficial in practice. If it did not—which I find very hard to credit—then, at worst, experience would have demonstrated that nothing further should be done in the matter. Therefore, on all those grounds I am glad to support the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm in commending this report to the House.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, says he feels diffident as a latecomer to the committee, I feel positively humble as someone who was not on the committee at all and who did not even give evidence to it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, did. Nevertheless, I want to say something about this excellent report. First, I should like to congratulate, as everyone who has spoken has done, the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, on the oversight of such an excellent report which is quite unanswerable so far as it goes. Secondly, I should like to separate out, as I see them, the two different sorts of arguments put forward by those who oppose the directive and the recommendations in the report. Thirdly, I should like to say something about what I regard as the only significant argument that can really be put forward against this proposal, although, unfortunately for the Government. I do not think it is an argument that is available to them.
The first set of arguments—there are four in number—which I find all inconclusive and to some extent self-contradictory are the arguments that do not relate to cost. The arguments that relate to cost would 852 be plausible and might even be coercive if the figures were available or if those figures that are available leant in the direction of suggesting that this is an extremely expensive exercise. Let us look briefly at the arguments that have nothing to do with cost. The first is that the proposal would discourage the employment of women because employers, in order to avoid the effect of the legislation, would prefer to employ men. According to my understanding, this was the argument put forward by the Federation of Business and Professional Women, and, if I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, was saying, it was part of her argument, too.
As has been stated, and as the report itself said, whereas there may have been a certain surface plausibility about this argument when it was advanced in order to argue against the introduction of maternity legislation, there is no surface plausibility about this argument because this legislation gives rights to men as well as to women—just as much as to women. Indeed, it might be argued that the only way in which employers could avoid the effect of this legislation would not be that they employed men rather than women but if they sought to employ single people rather than married people—except of course that in 1985 we cannot be sure that only married people are going to have families. So this is not a discriminatory form of legislation. It would not discriminate against women. Indeed, it would make it rather more easy for women to be employed and for women to remain in the labour market. To that extent, it would make the labour market more perfect and more flexible. Any laissez faire economist should be very much in favour of this legislation.
Secondly, it is argued that there is something about legislation in this area which is inappropriate because we must preserve flexibility and we must preserve discretion. If you examine this of course the discretion that you must preserve is the discretion of employers. There are two things that I would say about this argument. The first is that the evidence put before the Committee by the employers themselves—the evidence of the CBI—suggests that voluntarism has not solved the problem. You cannot solve this problem by voluntarism because you cannot volunteer to give yourself leave. Leave comes from the employer. That is why we have to legislate. The evidence of the CBI, for example, suggests that only one-third of the firms that it contacted had any formal policies in this area at all and that two-thirds of the firms it contacted left the provision of parental leave to the hazards of individual managers. There is no evidence for I would say the near slanderous assertion or, if they write it, the libellous assertion of some of those who gave evidence such as the British Bankers' Association that if we were to legislate in this field, if we were to introduce minimum standards in this field, those good employers who now give their employees as good standards as the legislation would propose—or in some cases better—would cancel their voluntary arrangements. Yet this is being suggested, and was suggested, as an argument against the appropriateness of legislation.
It is an unjustifiable slur upon such excellent firms as Marks and Spencer, IBM, and many of the banks themselves, that they would cancel their existing 853 excellent provisions because the Government decided to legislate. That is not what they did in relation to unfair dismissal. It is not what they do in relation to health and safety legislation. It is not what they do in relation to sex discrimination or race discrimination legislation. Good firms do not cancel existing practices because we legislate minimum standards. Of course they do not. They operate their own system on top of the minimum standard.
A third fallacious argument put forward by several people before the committee—it has also been put forward on the Floor of the House tonight—is that there is no widespread demand for statutory provision and that we can take as evidence of the absence of widespread demand the fact that trade unions do not ask for it in collective bargaining. This argument was effectively deflated by the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, who said that the great majority of people about whom we are talking are part-time women who are not organised.
However, there is an even better, or as good, argument in addition to that. This legislation, the Committee tells us, would affect 1 per cent. of male workers and 2 per cent. of female workers. You do not find trade unions suggesting, in their annual claims for improvements in conditions of service, things which benefit 1 per cent. of male members and 2 per cent. of female members. That is not how collective bargaining works. What trade unions look for are common claims which run across the board and which benefit most if not all. That is why we have to have legislation. That is why we require legislation on unfair dismissal. That is why we require legislation in this field.
The final fallacy—which I must say I am surprised to find that even the committee accepts—is the argument that we should not have legislation for family leave, saying that there is something in words like "important" or "pressing"—words of this kind—which defy the wit of the British judiciary. That is slanderous or libellous. In fact, such phrases are interpreted by the courts every day. The industrial tribunals interpret words and phrases like "reasonability" or "some other substantial reason". This Government have recently passed such a delphic phrase in relation to membership of a union as "a deeply held personal conviction". If you interpret "deeply held personal conviction", you can say what is "important" and what is "pressing". After all, phrases of this kind are interpreted in the Swedish legislation and no one says it is unwelcome.
I come therefore to the argument, the possibly plausible argument, on grounds of costs. Here, we really have a most remarkable situation. Two particular sets of people who gave evidence to the Committee were pushed on the question of costs. The Department of Employment was pushed; and the CBI was pushed. The Department of Employment, or the Government, appeared to base their argument on costs on what I would call the Groucho Marx theory of social accounting:Whatever it is—I'm against it".The only difference is that at least Groucho Marx sang it. The unfortunate Under-Secretary, Mr. Talintyre, was sent along to explain the cost argument and page 2 of the minutes of evidence of the Department of 854 Employment said that these proposals would increase employers' costs and increase the administrative burden on them:thus damaging competitiveness and hindering the key task of reducing unemployment".Because this is a professional committee, he was immediately asked by my noble friend Lord Chitnis:are you just guessing or have you any hard information based on experience in other countries or anything else that leads you to this conclusion?At that point Mr. Talintyre turned to his present Principal, Mr. Cranston, who said:we are not currently aware of any research or evaluation of legislation that has been introduced which gives any indication of the costs involved".Nevertheless, before Mr. Talintyre left the Committee he felt that he had to make it clear that, despite this total lack of evidence and this absolute lack of figures, for all that it was still Government policy. His final words were:I think the Government's position on costs really is that whatever they are"—in other words, even if they are infinitesimal—that is not a priority for expenditure at the present time".As I say, that is the Groucho Marx view of social accounting—"Whatever it is—I'm against it". Of course, we know that the Government say this about other matters. We know that the Government frequently refuse to give us figures, but this is the first time we have had embodied, as it were, in a committee report of the House, this particular approach to facts.
To do them credit, the CBI put forward figures; they used facts. The trouble was that they did not add up. They used the example of Sweden. Mr. Edwards told the Committee that the direct cost of parental and family leave arrangements in Sweden—that is to say, the costs which the state or the social service system bears—are approximately 1.5 per cent. of the pay bill. He then said that if another 1.5 per cent. is added for dislocation to employers in training costs, replacements, and so on for the British pay roll you get a figure of roughly 3 per cent. As previous speakers have said, that is a rather frightening figure for something of this sort.
However, there are several things wrong with it. First, the Swedish provisions are roughly three times as generous as the directive proposes and, therefore, 0.5 per cent. of the pay bill would be a more realistic figure. Secondly, so far as direct costs are concerned, they assume a payment by Government of 90 per cent. of gross earnings as an allowance—a very generous figure. If, instead, we had a lower allowance, such as a flat rate allowance based on net average earnings, then the whole thing would be only half as expensive—say, 0.25 per cent. of the pay roll. In any case, why do we assume that the dislocation in training, replacement, and so on would cost another 1.5 per cent.? The fact is that we know from evidence from the PSI survey that the overwhelming majority of employed males and females would not be involved in this legislation at all. The 1980 survey showed that only 18 per cent. of firms surveyed on the question of maternity leave said that they had some problem adjusting to the legislation, and only 5 per cent. said that they had a particular difficulty.
855 I am surprised that the Committee should listen to the arguments about the small firms and say that this is a particularly difficult problem for the small firms. The point about these small firms which comes out very clearly in the PSI survey is that, because of the turnover of labour in small firms, because of the fact that small firms tend to employ middle-aged, married women with high rates of turnover, they have very low rates of pregnancy among their staff. The PSI survey finds that firms of 10 or fewer employees have an employee with a baby once in eight years. A firm with 10 or fewer employees, with an employee who wants to return after pregnancy—and that is what you have to do to qualify under this legislation—has one such incident every 30 years. It is this against which we must protect small firms—an incident that happens once every 30 years. It is this from which we must exempt them under the legislation—something that happens once every 30 years. Poor, poor dears!
The fact is that if we take into account what is being suggested, we get. not 3 per cent. of the pay bill, which is what the CBI suggests, but something like one-tenth of the CBI figure, or 0.3 per cent. of the pay bill. As the committee whose report we are considering tonight suggests only one month's leave, its proposals are for 0.1 per cent. of the pay bill. As far as we can see, that is the size of the burden. I suggest that it is particularly implausible for this Government at this time to suggest that 0.1 per cent. of the pay bill could not be afforded. The only plausible argument—and this is my final point—would he that that, even at these prices, at this insignificant figure, the British economy is now in such a state that we cannot afford it.
An incoming Labour Government might argue in that way. They might say that to get private manufacturing back, to repair the ravages of the education system, to put something into repairing the essential infrastructure, and to get the welfare state back to where it was in 1979, they could not accept any new commitment in any area. However, I suggest that that is not an argument which is available to the Minister tonight. Therefore, it seems to me that in logic and in justice he has no alternative but to accept this report.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, and members of the committee for this report. Its consideration of the issues involved has undoubtedly been careful and wide ranging. This has been reflected in the speeches which we have heard this evening and they have drawn on the considerable experience which all your Lordships, and not least the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, who spoke last, have on this subject. Of course, we have heard twice today on the subject of employment and training from my noble friend Lady Platt and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, so I think they are particularly to be thanked.
However, while the Government agree with some of the committee's views we are not able to agree with the main conclusions. I do not believe that this detracts in any way from the usefulness of the committee's analysis. Indeed, I believe that the report highlights 856 some of the inadequacies which the Government have always seen in these proposals. Before I go any further, may I make the point that the Government are committed (this was said in the department's explanatory memorandum to Parliament) to consult the CBI, the TUC, and other interested parties—and not least, of course, the Equal Opportunities Commission—in due course. Until recently discussions in Brussels had not begun in earnest, but now, especially with the publication of the committee's report, we shall shortly be writing to interested parties about these proposals in order to invite views, and we shall he drawing attention to the committee's report, and the Government will be reporting the outcome of these consultations to the committee and to your Lordships' House.
The Government have always had strong views about these proposals. In response to a criticism made in the final paragraph of the report may I just say clearly that the views I am giving are the Government's views and not the views of just one department. As I hope to show briefly, these views are consistent with research which the Government have undertaken, or sponsored, or of which they are otherwise aware.
Indeed, the committee has reached substantially the same conclusion on leave for family reasons; namely, that it is not a proper subject for legislation. But the committee have drawn a different conclusion so far as parental leave is concerned. I am bound to say that the Government are not convinced by the arguments for doing so which are set out in paragraphs 77 to 83 of the report.
The argument that voluntary negotiations would produce different results in different organisations is not a strong one: different employers—and employees—have different priorities, needs, and circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, put forward the view that trade unions are not wont to bargain for 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of employees, but I think I am right in saying that trade unions did negotiate very extensive maternity leave arrangements before the 1975 legislation went on to the statute book. It is, of course. 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. in any one year that we might be talking about—quite a large proportion of people over a longer period. Here, of course, we find a well-known trade union doing just this. NALGO, which has placed emphasis on parental issues, has been negotiating, I understand, an increasing number of local agreements on time off to care for sick dependents.
What this seems to suggest is not that employers are resisting a massive pent-up demand for parental leave, but that, if anything, demand is itself limited. The noble Lord opposite, and the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, will I think both say—and indeed others of your Lordships may say—that that is a surprising thing to assert; and to some extent I go along with your Lordships' surprise. After all, there is evidence to support the common-sense proposition that there are difficulties for employees in reconciling the demands of child care with the demands of employment.
Moreover, these difficulties undoubtedly have a particular impact on the employment opportunities of women. Perhaps the most substantial evidence on this, widely quoted in the Minutes of Evidence, is contained 857 in the 1980 Women Employment Survey undertaken by the Department of Employment and the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, though there is other evidence besides. But this is a problem to which parental leave is only one of a number of possible solutions. It is in itself a temporary and partial solution.
Day nurseries, whether public, private or operated by the employer, child minders whether employed for the purpose, or the child's grandparents or other members of the family, part-time work, or shared child minding among friends and neighbours—all these have a role to play in helping working parents to bring up children, and indeed must have a role to play if one is talking about the 2 million and more self-employed about whom my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour reminded us.
Moreover, parental leave, as proposed in the draft directive, cannot easily be used to deal with temporary emergencies such as, for instance, the sickness of a child, for the proposal is for one continuous period of leave of which the employee must give adequate notice, and it is difficult to see how this condition could be dispensed with in a statutory scheme of parental leave, much as I think we might wish to do so.
I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, make a point about having part-time parental leave to stagger the return to work after childbirth, which is particularly valuable, the noble Lord said, for one-parent families. But one must remember that the proposal is of the kind that I have just reminded your Lordships and that negotiations have to end up with the agreement of the employer.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, is it fair to say that the kind of problems that the noble Lord is talking about are intended to be dealt with in the provisions under the draft directive on leave for family reasons?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, very possibly, but "leave for family reasons", for reasons which were deployed effectively not only in the report but also by the chairman of the committee, is a proposal which has not found favour either with the committee or with the Government.
By contrast, there is another way out. That is to have voluntary arrangements. In case the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, may think that I am clutching at a straw in saying that, may I remind him that the women and employment survey suggests that the vast majority of husbands and wives have no difficulty in taking time off to deal with emergencies affecting their children. Indeed, I will quote from that report, which concluded:Only a tiny minority of either husbands or wives appear to have difficulty in taking time off in connection with their children".Let me be clear about what it is I am saying. The Government believe that parental leave is one of a number of means of helping working parents to bring up children, but, like my noble friend Lady Carnegy, we are simply not convinced that there is a case for picking out this one means to that end and imposing it on employers regardless of what they can afford or of their employees' particular needs and priorities. It is simply not comparable with the situation that 858 persuaded the previous Government in the past to legislate on maternity, where one has a situation where women simply cannot carry on working, for obvious physiological reasons, for a particular period each side of childbirth.
Regardless of the arguments for or against domestic legislation on this subject there is also the question whether Community legislation would be appropriate. The proposal which comes from the committee purports to harmonise working conditions to improve the functioning of the Common Market. But in fact, far from harmonising a range of conflicting national provisions, it would introduce more extreme prescriptive legislation than exists anywhere in the Community. The Government do not believe that the case for this type of Community legislation has been made out. The report does not appear to address this point, but, interestingly, it concludes that member states should be allowed much more discretion in fixing the period of parental leave than the Commission have proposed.
I should say a brief word about the costs of the proposals. The Commission, whose proposals these are, has not so far been able to produce any estimate of the possible takeup or impact on costs and employment. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, made some fun of the evidence whch was given on this aspect of the problem. But, if he and the chairman of the committee will forgive me for saying so, the point is that we are surely not looking at the overall national cost. What we want to know is what would be the impact of this proposal on individual firms? This is very hard to estimate and, although the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has given us some very interesting figures this evening, he addressed himself entirely to the overall scene. I am suggesting that for the individual firm there would be costs: costs of disruption, costs of employing and training temporary replacements, and—one has to say it—also there would be costs from time to time of tribunal cases. The overall balance of costs and benefits perceived by the committee is all very well in an aggregate sense, but I am saying that the balance is different for each firm depending upon its circumstances. Where benefits clearly exceed costs or where the net costs are not significant, of course there is no reason why a firm should not embrace such proposals voluntarily if its employees want them. On the other hand, thee proposals will have an adverse effect on many employers' costs, and this fact is somewhat lost by looking at the question from an aggregate and, I think, an artificial national perspective.
If I may say so, I think that the committee have acknowledged the force of these considerations by proposing to exempt firms with less than 20 employees from the proposal. But it is not just small firms which could find the costs considerable—and here I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, and with some of the evidence which has been quoted in the report in paragraph 52. At a time when we are arguing strongly within the European Community for debate to centre on unemployment and on ways to resolve it, really, implementation of this proposal would be a wrong signal to the labour market. Despite all that has been said this evening, we need flexibility and there would be an element of rigidity in what the 859 Commission is proposing. I feel that this concern is all the stronger because, as I have said, there are other ways of finding solutions to the needs of child care and employment.
Finally, my Lords, may I say a word about the committee's conclusion that parental leave should be paid and that the cost should be met from public funds? There are many competing demands on public expenditure and, although the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, put forward a very robust case that the moneys which would be needed could be easily found, I am bound to say that in the Government's view other claims are much more pressing than this one. For example, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week proposed to make available funds rising to £400 million in 1987–88 to expand the Community programme for the long-term unemployed, to extend the youth training scheme and to provide additional places in engineering and technology at selected higher education institutions. I am not quite sure whether the committee considered this question of priorities. Moreover, I think that it is necessary to refute the implication that simply transfering to taxpayers the burden of financing this proposal in any way resolves the question of costs: it is, in the Government's view, a mistaken option to assume, whatever the issue, that the solution is for the taxpayer to foot the bill.
I have tried briefly to outline where the Government cannot agree with the committee's conclusions but I think it is useful to look at where the report goes at least some way with the Government in its reactions to the draft directive. The report proposes that leave for family reasons should be dropped; that certain firms should be exempt from parental leave and that the period of parental leave should, at least initially, be one month and not three. I think that it is fair to say that, while the report endorses the principle of legislation on parental leave, it comes out in favour of a scaled-down version of what is on offer in Brussels at the moment.
The Government cannot just accept some parts of a directive and reject others. When the proposal is in its final form, the Government are going to be faced with adopting the directive as it stands or of refusing it. Even if we were to accept all the committee's conclusions without comment, we would not be able to accept the draft directive as it stands now. Also, other member states are concerned about a number of features of the proposal. Five member states, including the United Kingdom, have fundamental reservations either about the principle of binding Community legislation in this area or about the creation of an absolute right to parental leave or about the cost implications. There is less support still for the directive to cover leave for family reasons. A number of suggestions have been made to amend the proposal, including restricting parental leave to the period immediately following maternity leave; introducing some form of safeguards for employers or exempting small and medium sized firms. The Government will be inviting comments on these suggestions in the consultation exercise.
My Lords, I have tried to set out the Government's views on these proposals and have given some 860 reactions to the committee's report. I emphasise that we are, of course, now going to consult. Perhaps I may again, quite genuinely, express my appreciation of the work that the committee have done.
§ Lord Seebohm
My Lords, first of all, I should like to thank everybody who has spoken in this debate. It has all been most helpful. I am very sorry that I cannot agree with the arguments put forward by the noble Lord the Minister. I am not convinced at all, and we all know that unless there is legislation it will not happen. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past nine o'clock.