Motion to Consider
That the Grand Committee do consider the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. (Amendment) Regulations 2014.
Relevant document: 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
My Lords, I will also speak to the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2014.
Over recent weeks we have debated some of the key regulations which will implement the Government’s modern workplace agenda, which is updating and landscaping the family-related leave legislative framework. My noble friend Lord Bourne led the debate on 10 November on the main, architectural regulations, which create a new statutory right to shared parental leave and pay for eligible working parents. On 17 November, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe led the debate on the six sets of regulations which allow other groups to benefit from shared parental leave and pay. These new groups are intended parents in surrogacy arrangements and employees who are adopting from overseas. Those regulations also provide an entitlement to adoption leave and pay, and paternity leave and pay, to qualifying intended parents.
Today, we have our last debate on the regulations which will complete the overhaul of the family-related leave landscape to which this Government are committed. We are debating two sets of regulations today. First, the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations provide an entitlement to adoption leave and paternity leave to employees who are prospective adopters and with whom looked-after children are placed. These placements are sometimes known as fostering for adoption placements. They are made using the powers introduced into the Employment Rights Act by Section 121 of the Children and Families Act 2014.
These regulations amend the Paternity and Adoption Leave Regulations 2002 to ensure that the eligibility criteria for adoption leave and paternity leave are modified. They will now recognise the particular process in which an employee has a child placed in their home by means of a fostering for adoption placement. As a result, the regulations enable local authority foster parents who are also approved adopters and who have a child placed with them with a view to adoption to access adoption leave and pay, and their partners will be able to access paternity leave and pay, if they meet the eligibility requirements. This group of individuals is willing to take on and care for perhaps some of the most disadvantaged children in the country and to provide them with loving, stable homes. These prospective adopters do so knowing that the placement may ultimately not end up becoming formal adoption. In recognition of the role that these prospective adopters play in providing loving, long-term homes for looked-after children, the Government feel that it is only right to extend the same benefits to them as are enjoyed by other adopters.
The regulations apply to situations where a child is matched with a local authority foster carer who is also an approved adopter and the adopter is notified of that match on or after 5 April 2015. From that date adoption leave will become a day-one right, and, as provided for through the Children and Families Act 2014, if they are entitled to statutory adoption pay, prospective adopters will receive an enhanced rate of statutory adoption pay for the first six weeks which amounts to 90% of their salary.
The regulations are aimed at smoothing the transition for a looked-after child into their new home. Enabling families to spend time together when there is a new member of the family and not having to wait for the final adoption paperwork to be finalised will be an important part of the settling process. Being able to be at home for the first year following placement means that the prospective adopter is there providing love and support in those first challenging months. However, as anyone with a child will know, it is not just the first year of parenthood that is challenging. The challenges of parenthood and the difficulties of managing career and family life are not like a tap that switches off after one or even five years. Being able to find the right balance is a challenge that working parents continue to face right up until their child is an adult.
The second set of regulations that we are debating today aim to address that. The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. (Amendment) Regulations 2014 extend the period in which an employee can take unpaid parental leave from the existing five years to 18 years. That means that an employee who is entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid leave because they have been continuously employed for at least a year, and have parental responsibility for a child, will have a much longer period in which they can make use of that leave if they need to. This applies to both birth and adoptive parents. The requirement to give an employer 21 days’ notice before taking leave and the limit of taking a maximum of four weeks in a year are unchanged.
The Government announced that they were making this change in November 2012. We also decided to bring in the change to coincide with the wider package of reforms to family-related leave and pay in April 2015. In light of the broader changes, the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. (Amendment) Regulations also make a small consequential change to the right-to-return provisions to reflect the introduction of shared parental leave.
These two sets of regulations complete the full picture of reform that this Government committed to in November 2012. They mark an important milestone, which we hope will support wider cultural change to encourage greater shared parenting and equality in the labour market. They are important steps towards ensuring working parents are able to manage their careers and caring responsibilities more effectively. I commend these draft regulations to the Committee.