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Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2014

Volume 755: debated on Monday 21 July 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 4th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, these regulations are part of a package of statutory instruments that implement the modern workplace agenda that this Government are committed to delivering.

Since women were given maternity leave and pay rights in the 1970s, the employment landscape has changed dramatically. The legislative framework has not kept pace with the way in which employees juggle their home and work lives and how businesses respond to the challenges that this places on the management of their workforces. I speak as a businesswoman and a mother of four boys who has always worked, with spells of maternity leave.

The Children and Families Act 2014 has changed the framework. Noble Lords might like to be reminded that, through the Act, we introduced measures that allow us to give eligible working couples a new statutory entitlement to shared parental leave and pay, give all employees the right to request flexible working and allow a wider group of adopters and prospective parents to access adoption leave and pay. The Children and Families Act also gives employees the right to attend important events in their child’s life. This includes the right of a father, a mother’s partner and intended parents in surrogacy arrangements to unpaid time off work to accompany their partner or the mother of their child to up to two antenatal appointments. It also includes the right of an adopter to time off to attend a number of adoption appointments relating to the forthcoming placement of their child.

As a whole, the package marks a dramatic reform and a real step forward in employment law. It makes a reality of the Government’s commitment to creating a framework of family-related leave which reflects and supports the needs of working parents in the 21st century. It allows, for the very first time, mothers and adopters to share their leave and pay with the other parent. This will allow them, together, to manage their family responsibilities in a flexible way. As such, the introduction of shared parental leave and pay is truly ground-breaking. It is a framework which is also balanced with the needs of employers to be able to manage their businesses and workforces effectively. Evidence shows that both parents playing an active role in the care and development of their children from the earliest stages has strong positive benefits, both for the individuals involved and for society as a whole. That is why the changes that the Government are introducing, which I have just outlined, are so important.

Today, we are debating the draft Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2014. There is nothing novel or unexpected in what I am seeking your Lordships’ approval for today. The provisions are in line with statements made in the course of the debates during the passage of the Act, or have been discussed and consulted on extensively with a wide range of stakeholders. Furthermore, they passed through the JCSI and the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee without comment.

The Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations provide protections from detriment and unfair dismissal for individuals seeking to exercise rights granted to them in the Children and Families Act 2014: first, the right of fathers, mothers’ partners or prospective parents in surrogacy arrangements to unpaid time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments from 1 October this year; and, secondly, the right from April 2015 for adopters to take paid and/or unpaid time off to attend adoption appointments in advance of the child joining the family. The regulations will also remove the 26-week qualification period for entitlement to adoption leave. This will make it a day-one right for all employees from 5 April next year. This provides parity with the eligibility requirements for maternity leave, which is already a day-one right.

Through these regulations, we are ensuring that the person who exercises the right to take paid time off to attend adoption appointments cannot take paternity leave. Instead, that person can take adoption leave. So, in the case of a joint adoption, the couple must decide ahead of attending any adoption appointment which of them will take adoption leave and which of them will take paternity leave.

The amendments to these regulations also ensure that a parent cannot take paternity leave in relation to a child for whom he—or she, in the case of a same-sex partner—has already taken shared parental leave. An employer will therefore know that when an individual takes shared parental leave, they will not be chopping and changing between paternity leave and shared parental leave. Paternity leave can never follow a period of shared parental leave. This is another measure aimed at making the forthcoming introduction of shared parental leave easier for employers to manage and understand.

The regulations also set out the position on the right to return to work after periods of family-related leave. We know that this is an issue which employers in particular are keen to understand. Our approach rolls forward the existing principle in other areas of family-related leave, while taking account of the fact that shared parental leave can be taken in separate, discontinuous blocks of time.

To conclude, these regulations rightly enable more parents and prospective parents to play an active role in the care and development of their child from the very earliest stage. They also pave the way for the smooth introduction of the new system of shared parental leave and pay, on which we laid the draft regulations in both Houses today. The House will have the opportunity to debate the regulations on shared parental leave and pay in the autumn. I commend the regulations to the committee.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness to her new role. I was impressed to hear that she is a mother of four boys—the gender balance is a bit doubtful, but you cannot have everything. I was also reflecting on the fact that over a long period I have been the father of five children. The paternity leave throughout that was unpaid and, when I reflect, I suppose it was a bit short as well. As the noble Baroness rightly said, times have changed. The culture and the attitude of fathers—indeed, both parents—towards their role in parenthood has changed fundamentally.

We welcome and agree with the proposal. It is worth reflecting on the fact that we spend the vast majority of our lives at work. Having the flexibility to be able to look after family, to adopt or to foster is something that we should be encouraging. It is the role of government, whether EU government or at local level, to try to find a structure that works best for such flexibility.

Previously, the focus of legislation has rightly been on mothers. That is absolutely right, but it is nice to see, with the Government’s introduction of shared parental leave, there is a greater emphasis on change. However, there is still an issue of cultural change, which I should like to discuss for a few moments. We have done some research into the impact of some of the changes beyond what it says in the impact assessment. Although we welcome the extension of shared parental leave, there is concern that, in reality, the policy does not make a lot of difference to families. The Government’s impact assessment shows that as few as 2% to 8% of eligible fathers will take part in shared parental leave. Our analysis of additional paternity leave—the precursor to shared parental leave—shows that just 1% of eligible fathers have taken that up. That is fewer than 4,000 fathers across the whole country since 2011.

It is worth looking at how transformative the measure can be. Although we welcome the legislation, especially the day-one rights, and the statutory instrument, there needs to be a cultural shift in respect of how more fathers can be involved in using shared parental leave and how to make it so that they do not feel financially disadvantaged.

If we take the financial disadvantage out of the equation, a significant cultural shift is still required. What plans do the Minister and the Government have to change that culture? It could, for example, include providing information to fathers, mothers, adopters and employers. We very much welcome the instrument, given that it addresses paternity leave issues and equalises the adoption qualification period. With those questions, we commend the instrument.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support and valuable comments. He may be glad to know that I have two granddaughters, so we have managed at last to add a little equal opportunity to the family.

The main concern that the noble Lord raised was that men would not take shared parental leave, not necessarily only because of not being able to afford it but because of culture. The introduction of the new provision offers choice and flexibility to working couples in a way that ought to help bring about a culture change. There will be some early adopters, and they will be copied, so the advantage of the new regulation will be taken up. We recognise that for some couples it will not make financial sense for the father to take off extended time on shared parental leave, but it may well be hugely advantageous for fathers to take a number of short spells of leave—which, of course, we are now making provision for.

It is also worth noting that although men are the main breadwinners in many households, in 28% of households where both the man and the woman work, women are now the higher earner. I appreciated the points that the noble Lord made about the change of culture and his ideas for the dissemination of information, and I will give thought to those as we implement this very important package of measures.

To conclude, the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations make important changes to the existing paternity and adoption leave framework, which will pave the way for the smooth implementation of the new system of shared parental leave and pay, and have a significant and positive impact on adopters. I am very glad to be the Minister who is today commending the statutory instrument to the Committee.

Motion agreed.