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Shared Parental Leave and Leave Curtailment (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Volume 759: debated on Thursday 26 February 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Shared Parental Leave and Leave Curtailment (Amendment) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, shared parental leave is important because it modernises outdated assumptions that the mother is always a child’s primary carer, even though over a quarter of women now earn more than their partner and earnings levels for men and women under 30 are approximately equal, which is significantly different from the 1970s. It enables fathers to be more involved in caring for their child, which brings a basket of positive benefits to the child and the family; it gives families choice about how they care for their child in the year following birth or adoption; and it enables both the mother and the father to combine working and family life and maintain their attachment to the labour market, ensuring that the best talent pool is available to employers.

Noble Lords will be aware of the lengthy legislative processes to deliver shared parental leave, and of the thorough debates that we have had on the subject. The Children and Families Act 2014 provided the necessary powers to make regulations, and a suite of regulations was debated in both Houses in the autumn on curtailment of maternity and adoption leave, on shared parental leave and pay, and on changes to the maternity and adoption regulations—including adoptions from overseas—and to regulations extending adoption leave and pay to intended parents in surrogacy. Other regulations were also laid before Parliament but were not required to be debated.

I am pleased to be able to say that with these amending regulations we conclude the long legislative road. In summary, the effect of the regulations that we are debating today is to clarify the drafting in the regulations being amended, as well as correcting some drafting errors. I regret the need to take up more of the Committee’s time to debate amending regulations, but they will remove ambiguity and errors that have been identified in the legislative framework that implements shared parental leave. It is a regrettable fact that errors creep in, despite the extensive measures that we have in place to eliminate them.

The adoption provisions for shared parental leave do not come into force until April, so they will come into force in their amended form. The provisions for birth parents have come into force, and we intend to draw the attention of interested parties to the changes. However, we think it unlikely that any individual parent or employer will be disadvantaged by the fact that the legislation was not perfect from the outset.

Noble Lords will be aware that large-scale take-up of shared parental leave requires significant culture change, and that will take time. The Government have taken steps to communicate the new policy to parents and employers. ACAS guidance for employers and working parents on the new arrangements is available on its website. Government guidance is available on the government website, GOV.UK.

We have publicised shared parental leave extensively, using cost-effective, targeted marketing which delivers better value for money than an expensive big splash. Digital activity is at the heart of the Government’s communications strategy for shared parental leave, and targeted digital advertising has been running from the beginning of September and will continue until April 2015. We have been targeting mothers since the autumn and we are reaching out to fathers through digital media that appeal to fathers, and through positive role models for men, such as the recent campaign led by the England rugby player Ben Foden, who is shortly to become a father for the second time. We have also been running a public relations and press campaign through mother and baby magazines and consumer outlets, as well as targeting broadcast magazine shows. As the project to deliver shared parental leave in this Parliament draws to a conclusion, I hope that noble Lords will support these amending regulations.

My Lords, I do not intend to detain us long on this, because it is important that we get it right. It is lucky that we have a bit of leeway between now and April. I guess that, given the nature of these corrections, it will not make any real difference to the communications that we have had so far because, as the Minister said, this is the new environment. I applaud the Government for the various communications channels that they have tried. I was trying to think not only of the mother and baby magazines but of what other, more male-oriented magazines might alert fathers. I think that the approach is good. Using digital media is also good but it will not encompass everybody. If the Government could give some more thought to those who are not necessarily as plugged in to cyberspace as we would like, that might be useful. Other than making those comments, I am happy to support the amending regulations.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for his positive comments. I am glad that these regulations complete the legal framework for shared parental leave and pay. I commend them to the Committee.

Motion agreed.