Work and Families Bill

During a debate on the Work and Families Bill in the House of Commons, Charles Walker makes a speech in which he calls for a report at the end of the first year after the introduction of paternity leave to examine its impact on business and home life.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I wish to make a vicious and premeditated attack on the Minister, and I make no apology for doing so. In my dealings with him in my former life as a director of Blue Arrow, I found him an excellent listener and very sympathetic to the needs of business. If that has destroyed his future political career, I still make no apology for saying it.

It is nice for me to make a speech—and I am sure that it is also a relief for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—on a subject on which I have a small degree of expertise, as a former director of Blue Arrow, a recruitment company that places some 20,000 people in work a week. As the Minister is aware from our discussions, the labour market has changed for the better over the past two decades, under both Conservative and Labour Governments. These days, 50 per cent. of the work force are male and 50 per cent. female. Indeed, it is predicted that by 2010 women will make up 53 per cent. of the work force.

The change in work patterns has also seen a change in child-rearing responsibilities. In my case, my wife would not want me to be involved in any way with child-rearing, because she thinks that I am completely useless at it, and I am happy not to be involved. However, many women have excellent husbands whom they feel they can trust to share child care duties. In such cases, we have to accept that some men will want to take paternity leave to spend time with their children and release their wife to continue her career, perhaps in a higher paying job.

The recruitment industry welcomes the extension of paternity leave, because we think that we shall make a bit of money from it. Fathers will want to take time off and there will be a consequential cost to small businesses in filling those positions. Recruitment companies often pay a higher hourly rate to temporary workers because they do not have access to the same level of in-work benefits as their permanent colleagues. Recruitment businesses also charge a margin on top of the hourly rate that can be as high as 20 per cent., so the cost to small business can be very real.

The other issue that small businesses face is losing a key member of staff. I know that the issue is the same when they lose a valuable female member of staff, but the provision will mean that they will lose valuable male members of staff. If a small business employing fewer than 10 people loses one of its star performers for 10 or 12 weeks, it can leave a big hole to fill. Yes, the business can get a temporary worker to cover the role, but the skill set required may be such that the temporary worker cannot hope to fill the vacancy properly.

I agree that we do not want a sunset clause, but I urge the Government to report to the House in 12 months and let us know how the regulations have been working. That could be done through a statement or a report. Paternity leave will be a new concept and it will take time for businesses to get their heads around it. It will also take time for fathers to get their heads around how to access and manage their new right. If we can ensure that regulation is thought through thoughtfully, implemented thoughtfully and followed up thoughtfully, it will be a great reassurance to Members on this side of the House. It might also be a reassurance to Labour Members and I am sure that it would be a reassurance to business.

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