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Parental Leave

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 23 June 2011

1. What assessment she has made of the effects on women workers of proposed reforms of parental leave. (61535)

7. What assessment she has made of the effects on women workers of proposed reforms of parental leave. (61543)

Our proposals for a new system of parental leave will protect mothers’ rights while giving families more choice and flexibility over how they can share their work and caring responsibilities. The proposals mean that working mothers will be better able to keep in touch with their employer, and they will also aid career progression for working mothers and help to tackle pregnancy discrimination.

One of the key problems faced by working mothers is the gender pay gap, which is a shocking thing. Will these reforms help to reduce the gender pay gap?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I think that the reforms will reduce the gender pay gap, because the division of caring responsibilities between parents is one of the underlying issues. The current arrangements for parental leave reflect an expectation that the mother will stay at home and care for the children. Those arrangements urgently need reform. Although we will use a range of approaches to reduce the gender pay gap, this is an important element.

In the light of the Prime Minister’s speech about the importance of men taking responsibility and a more active role in the upbringing of their children, is it not time for a much more flexible system, which encourages and allows them to do that?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That is precisely what our flexible parental leave proposals, on which we are consulting, will do. Crucially, they will not only allow the father and mother to share parental leave, but will enable them to take time off together in the early stages following the child’s birth, if that is what they want. It will be possible for fathers to be much more involved in the very early stage of their child’s life.