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 Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 5:45 pm, 25th April 2006

My Lords, I support the amendment. The Government have done a tremendous amount to improve the rights of women, and men too, and to broaden the opportunities for both sexes to continue in their jobs and undertake their responsible role as a parent.

My main reason for wanting to extend to the age of 18 is that now is an ideal opportunity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out, small businesses and other organisations will be able to advance a number of reasons why flexible working should not be granted. However, what I wish to take place more quickly is for fathers and mothers to be equally entitled within their employers' set-up to take parental leave for those up to the age of 18. That makes perfect sense to me. As we have heard, stress can occur within a family. To reduce the stress and help the young person to move through it, one needs that flexibility.

Another reason is that I have looked back at the pamphlet produced in 1996 by Demos on parental leave. That is a long time ago. It would be a shame if we had to wait another 10 years. I quote these words because they sum up the noble Baroness's point about persons being responsible adult citizens because they have had the full support of family and the community. The pamphlet expects to see major pressure on policymakers in this whole area. It states:

"In part this will be a shift from seeing parenthood primarily as a private choice, and children as a private good, towards seeing the quality and quantity of parenting as a public concern and well-brought up children as a public good".

It goes on in that way. That is exactly what the Government have been doing at a much faster rate, I have to say, than any previous government have done that I have been alive for. I would like to see them take this profoundly important step at this stage, which will encourage the real leap forward that we need for both fathers and mothers, and encourage the employers to set this as the normal expectation for people working within their organisations.

As we have heard already, a tremendous number of companies have done this already. We know too that Working Families, which is an amazing group of organisations, supports what is suggested here. I hope that the Government can think again.