Work and Families Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 25th April 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills 6:00 pm, 25th April 2006

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I thank all noble Lords who have supported my amendment, including the right reverend Prelate. I am of course disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, was unable to do so. As I understand it, her reason was concern for other workers who might have a greater burden because of the flexible working arrangements that might be given to a parent. However, the other workers probably are or have been the parents of young children and would understand the pressures on the parent asking for flexible working arrangements at that time. If it is not too hard for companies which are already implementing flexible working policies to bring other workers along with them in the consensus that the Minister mentioned, it probably is not too hard for new companies to do the same.

The Minister objected to my amendment on the basis that the current success is due to a consensus that has been developed. I do not see why that sort of consensus could not apply just the same if the right to ask for flexible working was made statutory for parents of all children up to 18. We must remember that this is not a right to have flexible working; it is just a right to ask for it. I reiterate the safeguards that I mentioned. I did not list them deliberately because I did not want to weary the House, but they are considerable for employers to give as legitimate reasons for not granting flexible working.

The figures that the Minister quoted for those who are taking part in flexible working are welcome, but we need to go further. I wonder whether the Minister is worried that employees who ask for flexible working and are turned down on some of those grounds would feel resentment, and that that would interfere with their relationship in the workplace. Similar resentment may be felt by workers who would like to ask for flexible working but do not feel that they have sufficiently strong rights to be able to get anywhere.

The Minister also talked about the halo effect. I hope that he is right that such best practice will trickle out among the industry and the workforce. I worry about the power of inertia, because businesses have a great many things to worry about without worrying about something like that. It takes a visionary employer to implement some of those best practices in relation to family-friendly working policies.

The Minister mentioned that this was a step-by-step policy. I welcomed hearing him say that, because before I withdraw the amendment I would like to ask him whether he is considering another step after this one; for example, will he consider the step that would give the statutory right to ask for flexible working to parents of children up to say, the age of 11, when they go from primary to secondary school? That is a natural change of life for the child and the family and it would be the logical next step if we are thinking about a step-by-step arrangement.