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Parental Leave

Volume 524: debated on Thursday 10 March 2011

3. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on parental leave for maternity and paternity. (45305)

The Government are committed to introducing a system of flexible parental leave that recognises the needs of businesses and parents, balancing work and family life. We will consult fully on this reform, particularly with small and medium-sized enterprises. An announcement will be made later in the spring.

How does the Minister propose to ensure that the welcome result of more flexible and more family-friendly working will not adversely affect small business?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, which I know is important to many hon. Members. The Government have a strong culture of regulatory restraint, but we need to make sure that regulations keep pace with family life and the realities of parents needing to balance their family life with work. We are already in discussions with employers about how to ensure that the proposals we put forward will benefit businesses and families. We will make sure that the consultation informs our decision.

The Minister will know that evidence shows that women on low incomes are less likely than those on higher incomes to take their full maternity leave because they struggle to afford it. She will also know that the impact of cutting the baby element of the tax credit, the Sure Start maternity allowance and other measures will take an estimated £1,200 from young families with small children. Will she assess the impact of those cuts on mothers’ ability to take maternity leave? Does she agree that this means more new mums will feel forced to go back to work earlier than they would choose because they cannot afford either the rent or the mortgage?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. As we put forward a whole package of support for families, we will obviously do everything we can to make sure we support women on low incomes—or, indeed, parents on low incomes—to get back into work. I know that the proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill, which was debated yesterday—and particularly the way universal credit will deal with child care—will help people to be able properly to make those decisions.