Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages [Private Members]
I have not much more to say at this point. I was just introducing my initial thoughts on the Bill. It is true that it has had a fairly quick turnaround. There was no consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny on it. I said previously at the committee and here that Bills benefit from giving the stakeholders an opportunity to have input into them but that did not happen in this case, unfortunately. I wanted to flag the issue the Attorney General raised that there may be constitutional issues, and to which I will come back later. He does not say that lightly. I do not want to see the Bill ending up in trouble because of those issues.
That is genuinely why I am raising it.
Last year we introduced two weeks of paid paternity leave. There has been a very good take-up. We must ensure we are in a position to extend it. I take the point made by Deputies that we have a long way to go in providing for childcare and parental leave. Several years ago I visited Scandinavia where I studied this issue. I met people and saw what they did. Even then they were quite advanced in their thinking. Teachers in childcare services had master's level qualifications in early childcare education and provision. Children learn so much at that age. We, on this side of the House, and I am sure others will agree that in their first year of life children are best placed with their parents. That is where we want to get to and we want to support families and parents in doing so, but we have a long way to go. We propose that we do so incrementally, not in one fell swoop. The unpaid leave is welcome. Some families will not be able to afford to take it, but some will. However, I do not want to move our aim away from the ultimate goal which is paid parental leave in order that people will be able to take time off and have the guarantee that rest assured they will be paid.
There are other issues related to gender equality. Often mothers take time out to mind the children and their careers slide because they, rather than the father, take so much time off work. That is an issue and we want to balance it. There are interesting issues when one begins delving into and discussing the matter. The gender pay gap also comes into play, as well as the need to ensure there is a balance and that fathers have the opportunity to bond with children.
Last week the House discussed the issue of maternity leave for politicians. We are one of the few groups without a right to paternity or maternity leave and it is something we need to address. We had a very interesting debate on it in Private Members' time a number of weeks ago.
I apologise for going over time.