Work and Families Bill

Charles Walker makes a speech supporting the Bill as it will enable parents to spend more time with young children.

Mr. Walker: It is a privilege and honour to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) because I had the great pleasure of being a councillor with him in Wandsworth. I congratulate him on his excellent speech. Parental leave is a good thing, and that is accepted on both sides of the Chamber. Most important, it is good for children. Children need their mum and dad. They do not need to be farmed out to day care centres at two or three months old. That is not good for them and it is not good for families. I am delighted that the Bill will allow children in their formative years to spend more time with their parents. After all, once they hit eight, nine or 10, the last thing that they want to do is spend any time with us.

The Bill is also very good for parents. It allows mothers and fathers to share child-rearing responsibilities between them. It is also excellent that women who go on maternity leave can return to the job that they left. Let us imagine the outrage if the Secretary of State for Health, for example, left to have a baby and was offered a junior transport job when she returned. She would be appalled, we would be appalled and the nation would be appalled. The important element is choice. It might be that the Secretary of State decided that she wanted to spend more time with her family and have a better work-life balance, so she wanted to become a junior Transport Minister. It would be in a strange, parallel universe, but it might happen. In any event, it must be her choice whether to return to her health portfolio or take a slightly less senior role. Choice is very important.

The Bill is also good for business, because it will be able to hold on to talent. Business is in a skills battle at present. There is a skills shortage and good people are leaving the labour market and not returning. Most good employers will welcome the Bill. Indeed, many good employers have already adopted many of the provisions, but other employers—with a little encouragement—may find that it is a good thing for them and allows them to become more profitable in the longer term.

I want to inject a couple of caveats about the benefits for business. I am broadly in favour of increasing paid holiday entitlement from 20 to 28 days. It was always a little disingenuous of us to include eight days of bank holidays in the 20-day period. That was an unsustainable position, but the Minister assured us that he would look at the impact of the increased entitlement on small businesses, for whom the extra eight days would mean a 3 per cent. increase in their payroll costs. Given that there are other added costs, it is important that we consider the impact on overall employment rates, profitability and performance.

The Bill is exceptionally good for the economy. There is a skills shortage; we do not have enough people with the right skills in the right jobs doing the right things. If the Bill provides people with the reassurance that they can start a family and then return to work we may even see an increase in fertility rates. I realise that that is not the purpose of the Bill, but let us talk about it anyway, in an open and honest fashion.

I have very much enjoyed taking part in the debate. The Bill is excellent. I seem to be spending an unnatural amount of time voting with my Labour colleagues, although we shall probably not vote on this measure. I commend the Bill to the House and am grateful to have been allowed to make a short contribution.

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