Work and Families Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 25th April 2006.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Government Whip, Government Whip 6:45 pm, 25th April 2006

My Lords, I am conscious that quite a lot of our debate on the Bill has involved the noble Baroness pressing matters on the Government, and the response being that we are in the middle of a consultation or are about to undertake a consultation that we must see through. As anticipated, that will be the tenor of the response to these amendments.

Amendment No. 13 would require that the additional leave entitlement is phased in over a period. Such a phased introduction would give a longer period for business—particularly small businesses—to adjust to the new arrangements; it would spread any additional cost over a longer period, and the amendment reflects the position of the CBI.

I think that it is true to say that only the CBI has called for four phases of the introduction. Other stakeholders who will be affected—small businesses in particular—may have a different view as to the phasing. As the Government have already stated in their recent publication Success at Work: Protecting Vulnerable Workers, Supporting Good Employers, we will consider phasing in the additional leave entitlement. We hope to consult over the summer on this and the other issues on how to implement the annual leave provisions in the Bill. We should not pre-judge the outcome of that consultation, as this amendment seeks to do.

The amendment suggests a specific pattern of phasing in the additional leave—two additional days per year over a four-year period. That is just one possible pattern that should be considered, but it would place a significant burden on employers by changing the rules every year for four years. I will hang on to that point, despite what the noble Baroness said when moving her amendment. The outcome that the noble Baroness seeks to achieve—allowing time for business to adjust and to spread any cost of this measure—may be achievable in a less burdensome and more straightforward manner. Before we decide whether the additional leave should be phased in, and over what period, we should consult those affected—both staff and businesses—on what would be most appropriate.

Amendment No. 14 would place three requirements on any regulations made under the powers in Clause 13. First, it would appear that any regulations must specifically include bank holidays if the powers under Clause 13 are to be preserved beyond the end of 2007. However, there may be more appropriate ways of achieving our intent; for example, by making paid leave equivalent to bank holidays and additional to the annual holiday entitlement. The reference specifically to bank holidays could then be unfortunate.

The second requirement is that the inclusion of bank holidays should be phased in. As I said when discussing the previous amendment, we will consider phasing in any additional leave, but should not pre-judge the outcome of the forthcoming consultation that will include whether the introduction of any such leave should be phased and, if so, over what period.

The third requirement is that both Houses must approve any regulations made under Clause 13 by the end of next year. It is certainly our intention to make the best possible progress on the annual leave measure. However, the issues are complex, not least because of the variety and complexity of working patterns today. It may be that the full and extensive consultation that we are committed to throws up further issues that will require careful consideration and further consultation. I would not wish to tie our hands to a definitive timescale at this early stage in the process, and I am sure that the noble Baroness would not want us to commit to a timetable at this stage that will cause problems for both Houses later on.

For these reasons, we cannot accept the requirements that this amendment would place on the Government, and I ask the noble Baroness not to press either amendment.