HL Deb 17 March 2005 vol 670 cc4-6WS
Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Hewitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing a consultation document Work and families: choice and flexibility. Through the consultation, we are seeking views on the details of commitments set out by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 2004 Pre-Budget Report. These commitments will help us to deliver the Government's vision for families: to ensure that all children have the best start in life, respond to changing patterns of employment and give parents more choice about how to balance their work and family responsibilities.

The Government have already introduced a number of measures to support working families, including longer maternity leave, increases in both statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance plus extending the payment period, new paid paternity and adoption leave and the right to request flexible working for parents of young or disabled children. However we recognise that families still face challenges in balancing their work and home responsibilities. There is a continuing evolution in family life and working patterns. In most families it is no longer the case that the father works and the mother stays at home to look after the children; instead both parents work.

At the same time, many employers have found that greater flexibility suits their business very well, enabling them to attract and retain good quality staff, match their business needs with the needs of individuals and encourage a more committed and productive working environment.

The measures we are proposing respond to these changes and will help us to deliver our vision for families. Through the consultation we will be asking for views on a number of commitments. We will extend statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance and statutory adoption pay from six to nine months from April 2007, towards the goal of a year's paid leave by the end of the next Parliament. Through the consultation, we will also be seeking views about how to simplify the maternity leave and pay arrangements.

Improved communication between parents and employers during maternity and adoption leave is important for employers, helping them to plan their business more successfully, and for mothers who often want to keep in touch with what is going on at work. Through consultation, we are asking for views on whether we should place a new requirement on mothers to confirm their return date with their employers in advance and on increasing the period of notice that a mother must give if she wants to return earlier than originally planned. We would also like to hear suggestions about ways to improve communication between employers and employees during maternity leave and support women returning to work after time out because of caring responsibilities.

We want to give more choice to parents about who cares for their child during the first year of their life and so we intend to introduce a new right for mothers to transfer a proportion of their statutory maternity leave and pay or allowance to fathers or between adopters. We are seeking views on options for how much leave and pay may be transferred from the mother to the father and how best to handle the administrative effects on the employers of the mother and the father, including managing the respective absences and ensuring that adequate notice is given of intended absence and return to work.

Evidence has suggested that the right to request flexible working is operating successfully. Through the consultation, we will look at options for extending this right to carers of adults and to parents of older children. We also want to know if there is more the Government can do to assist employers handling requests for flexible working and help employees make requests.

The consultation will enable us to firm up the details of our commitments to ensure the practical arrangements operate as smoothly as possible for parents, carers and business.

Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available on the DTI website at www.dti.gov.uk/ workandfamilies.