My Lords, any decisions that the Prime Minister makes about his personal life are, of course, for him alone. My right honourable friend is well known as a devoted and attentive father, and I am sure that he will want to spend as much time as possible with his new child. I am equally sure that any suggestions from his ministerial colleagues will be outweighed by the wishes of Mrs Blair.
My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. I am sure that the whole House congratulates the Prime Minister and Mrs Blair on their productivity. As to the Answer, is it not government policy to encourage new fathers to take parental leave, and is there not a statute to that effect to allow them to do so without loss of pay?
My Lords, the Government are about to introduce regulations in your Lordships' House--they have already passed through another place--which provide details of the new employment law and give parents of both gender the right to take parental leave within very wide boundaries. The notion of encouragement is perhaps too positive.
My Lords, does this particular provision relate to people who work in relatively small companies? I agree wholeheartedly that parental leave should be encouraged, but I am aware that many small firms find it difficult to provide it. It would, however, be desirable if parental leave could be extended.
My Lords, my noble friend is right that there are more problems for small firms with a small labour force than for large ones. That was why the Government conducted widespread consultation before introducing the regulations. The regulations, which are to be debated in your Lordships' House on Thursday, are flexible in operation to enable firms with smaller labour forces to take advantage of them and to use them appropriately. I agree with my noble friend that there are benefits to employers, as demonstrated by other countries which have introduced these provisions, including reduced staff turnover and greater commitment. I am sure that noble Lords agree that a happier, more motivated and more productive workforce is good for the economy as a whole.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I congratulate the Prime Minister and Mrs Blair on this excellent news. Is the noble Baroness aware that the travelling public would give a great sigh of relief if the Prime Minister took extended paternity leave, thus allowing the Deputy Prime Minister to play a fuller role and a massive unlocking of what has come to be known as "standstill Britain"?
My Lords, I shall pass on to my right honourable friend and Mrs Blair the very kind congratulations of the Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships' House. However, his question is wide of the one on the Order Paper. I also remind the noble Lord--I am sure that he is aware of this already--that the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister whether or not he is on parental leave.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to Mr and Mrs Blair on the future addition to their family. Can the opportunity be taken to remind adoption societies that anyone over the age of 35 is just as capable of looking after children as people under 35?
My Lords, I am not sure whether my noble friend asks a question or makes a request that I pass on his congratulations and the point that he makes. He is right that the extended provisions for parental leave under the regulations include adoptive parents. They are flexible, as are the remainder of the regulations, and enable adoptive parents to take advantage of the provisions for rather longer than birth parents for whom the regulations apply only until the child is five.
My Lords, I read the documents put forward by the noble Baroness, as Minister for Women. What advice does the noble Baroness offer her noble colleagues as to how a father in his 40s should operate in this area; indeed, does she believe that she needs to offer advice?
My Lords, as I stated in answer to the original Question of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, it would not be appropriate for Government Ministers to take a policy position on a personal aspect of the Prime Minister's life. As I said in response to a supplementary question, the Government believe, and as Minister for Women I believe, that anything we can do to enable people to have a more appropriate balance between their working life and their family, which means that we do not have the so-called "long hours culture" which has produced great problems for both genders and therefore for family life, is good for the whole of society and therefore the economy.
My Lords, there is some confusion. Under the regulations to be introduced, there is no such concept as paternity leave. There is so-called "parental leave". That is an entitlement for both parents of either gender to take specific forms of leave up to the time that any child is five years old. That may be worth mentioning because there is some confusion. There was some confusion in the original Question. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was kind enough to explain to me before asking the Question that he was referring to parental leave.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I repeat: the Government hope that it will become a more common practice for people who are able to do so to take this parental leave, and that that will lead to improved family cohesion at times of change in family life and reductions in the stress which often arises with parents trying to balance complicated lives where both may work outside the home but who still want to be, as they always have been, responsible and effective parents.
My Lords, the noble Baroness uses the phrase "paternity leave". We are referring to parental leave. Such leave is related to an individual's employment status. He has to have been employed by someone for one year. If he has been so employed, presumably he will qualify.