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Employment Rights Act 1996 (Application of Sections 75G and 75H to Adoptions from Overseas) Regulations 2014

Volume 757: debated on Monday 17 November 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Employment Rights Act 1996 (Application of Sections 75G and 75H to Adoptions from Overseas) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, I shall address the six sets of regulations to be considered together.

On 10 November, my noble friend Lord Bourne led the debate on the legal framework that creates a new statutory right to shared parental leave and pay for eligible working parents. This new entitlement will apply to the parents of babies who are due to be born on or after 5 April 2015. It will also apply to parents who adopt on or after that date. To coincide with the introduction of shared parental leave and pay, the Government are changing the statutory adoption regime to give adopters an entitlement to adoption leave and pay that mirrors the arrangements currently enjoyed by birth parents. From 5 April 2015, adoption leave will become a day-one right and the adopter’s pay will be enhanced—that is, increased—in the first six weeks.

We are also making changes that will extend the entitlement to adoption leave and pay to new groups of working parents, including those who are having a baby with the help of a surrogate. This will be achieved through the regulations that we are considering today. So we will have a framework that would give a surrogate parent 90% of their salary in the first six weeks following the birth of their baby, and after that £138.18 a week for the remaining 33 weeks. These changes will give new groups access to the benefits and protections that other parents currently enjoy. This ensures that the law on adoption leave and pay keeps pace with modern family life and the arrangements that would-be parents are already making.

The regulations enable the intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement and those who are adopting a child from outside Great Britain to opt in to the new shared parental leave and pay system if they wish. The entitlement to shared parental leave and pay will arise where the adopter gives up some of their statutory adoption leave and pay to create shared parental leave for them or their partner to take.

One of the key benefits of a shared parental leave system is that it allows the other person to start taking leave while the adopter is still absent from work on adoption leave. This will enable both parents to be at home together with the child—or children—or to take their leave at different times so that one of them is always at home with the child in the first year following adoption.

There are many benefits to shared parental leave and pay, including stronger links to the labour market for parents who intend to share the caring responsibility for their children. Shared parental leave and pay can be good for business as well, as individual employees who want to return to work—say, after six months—or to do a specific project can do so, allowing their partner to care for the child. They can return to shared parental leave when the project finishes.

Unsurprisingly, the Government are keen to enable as many working parents as possible, and their employers, to benefit from the new system. These regulations do this. They extend entitlement to shared parental leave and pay to parents who are adopting from overseas or who are eligible for and intend to apply for a parental order following a surrogacy arrangement. They also put in place the legal framework that will enable these groups of parents to use shared parental leave and pay in practice. They ensure that those who use the new system are not disadvantaged because they choose to exercise their statutory right to leave and pay. For example, an employer may not refuse a pay award or bonus to an employee, or overlook them for promotion, simply because they are taking shared parental leave.

The regulations provide greater flexibility and extend those protections currently accorded to employees who have had children to intended parents in surrogacy arrangements and to those adopting from overseas. They bring the legal framework up to date with the widening accessibility of advances in medical practice and they adapt to broader societal changes. I therefore commend the regulations to the Committee and beg to move.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s introduction, but we should remind ourselves that, in government, Labour transformed rights for women and families to help the balance between earning a living and caring for a family. Over 13 years, Labour extended paid maternity leave to nine months and the right to take maternity leave up to 12 months. It gave new entitlements to paternity leave and pay to fathers. Indeed, it was also a Labour Government that introduced the right to request flexible working in 2009, which was extended to parents with children up to the age of 16. We introduced a right to request flexible working for people with caring responsibilities for disabled or elderly relatives and for parents with disabled children up to the age of 18. We ought to remind ourselves that it was David Cameron, now the Prime Minister, and the Conservatives, who voted against the introduction of paternity leave, the extension of maternity leave and the right to request flexible working. I welcome the conversion.

We support today’s regulations, which, as the noble Baroness rightly said, are an extension of what we debated last week. It is absolutely right that we take into account the variety of today’s familial arrangements. We support reform of the work-life balance for fairness. Shared parental leave for all families is a step towards levelling the playing field for fathers, which is to be welcomed.

However, we have to recognise that this is a cultural change in a way, both for parents and for employers. I would welcome some comment from the Minister about how we intend to review the introduction of these regulations. I think there was some discussion with the previous regulations about the estimated take-up, which has not been quite as good as we would have wished. Given that this is a cultural change, perhaps that is not surprising, so I would welcome the Minister, in her reply, giving us some indication of how the Government intend to ensure that employers are given advice. As I read through them, my brain started to ache a bit with the complexity of the various arrangements. I am sure that I will not be the only one; a number of employers out there will need to be advised and encouraged to ensure that these arrangements are adopted and have the effect that the Government wish them to have.

I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I was very pleased to hear about the record of success in this area, first under the previous Government. He mentioned cultural change, and I feel that there has been an acceleration of the effort to create a family-friendly culture under the coalition Government. As noble Lords can imagine, I am very keen, as a mother of four and the grandparent of a child of a working mother, on having very good family-flexible arrangements. The addition of these regulations relating to the important areas of overseas adoption and surrogacy is a great step forward.

The noble Lord asked about review of the regulations. The Government have committed to review the implementation of the regulations by 2018. We need time to allow them to bed in and for the cultural change that he mentioned to gather momentum.

The regulations that we have debated today give more working parents access to shared parental leave and pay. This is a very good thing, and I am delighted that the noble Lord is able to support them. I commend the statutory instruments to the Committee.

What arrangements have we made for encouraging and advising employers and parents about the extent of the new arrangements?

I know that there is information available on GOV.UK, which is to be publicised through our communications campaign. We are engaging with stakeholders to promote and raise awareness of the new system. We are making material available to those stakeholders for them to use in appropriate formats with their existing customers and clients. From reading the Hansard report of the debate that the noble Lord had with my noble friend Lord Bourne, I notice that there were also comments about trying to engage some of the business bodies, such as the CBI. I have found, having tried to use some of the online material available on family-friendly rights of various kinds, that the websites do a very good job, and that does help. I hope that that meets the point that the noble Lord addressed.

Motion agreed.