Work and Families Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 25th April 2006.

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Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry 5:45 pm, 25th April 2006

My Lords, while we have great sympathy with the concept underlying the amendments, we cannot support them. I feel churlish in saying that because the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has been supportive of everything we have done so far in the Bill.

I thank the Minister for his letter following our debate in Committee when we discussed the much-needed support of older children with mental health problems. I am pleased to see that parents of children aged between six and 18 years with mental health problems are covered by the right to request flexible working if the child falls within the definition of disabled. However, I remain concerned about those who will not fall within the definition.

We have enormous sympathy with those who seek to extend the right to request flexible working, but our sympathy is shared with those employers who have to shoulder the burden of the regulations. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that the Secretary of State would be able to amend that under the Employment Act 2002, I am not sure that that power would be used.

As I said at Second Reading and in Committee, we genuinely believe that flexible working is an area where big business is often ahead of legislation and where small business is the original flexible employer. One of our main concerns with the amendment is that if the right to request flexible working is extended to parents of children up to 18 years, alongside the proposed extension to carers and the existing right for employees with a child up to the age of six, you run the risk of leaving a small number of employees with no such rights and a grievance that any extra work will fall on them.

We should like to see how the extension to carers works, always mindful of the words of my right honourable friend Theresa May in another place:

"There is no point in being family-friendly if we are not job-friendly".—[Hansard, Commons, 5/12/05; col. 656.]