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Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Cherie Booth argues for paternity leave

From here to paternity: Cherie argues the case
Eight days before her own baby is due, the Prime Minister's wife has challenged the government's ruling on parental leave in the High Court.

Cherie Booth QC, acting as counsel for the TUC, argued that ministers' refusal to backdate a European directive covering parents with children under the age of five was unlawful.

The directive, which came into force on 15 December 1999, meant around three million parents who already had young children missing out on the new rights.

Lord Bingham said judges hoped to give their ruling early next week.

Ms Booth said: "I hope your lordships will excuse me if I am not available."

Tony Blair revealed earlier this week that he would be reducing his official workload, but not taking paternity leave when the couple's fourth child, due on 24 May, is born.

Under the new directive, he would be entitled to take up to 13 weeks' leave to help with the new arrival.

'Great reluctance'

The TUC took a rare step by launching court action against the government.

It wants a change in implementation of the new law, to bring it in line with other European countries.

In a recent case in Ireland, the European Union ruled that the cut-off date imposed on parental leave by the government was illegal.

Tony Blair
PM: Getting on with running the country
TUC general secretary John Monks said: "It was with great reluctance that the TUC agreed to go to court over the issue of parental leave.

"We take no pleasure from seeing the government in court."

Mr Blair revealed his own intentions in an interview with the New York Times.

The prime minister said: "I know what people want me to say, but the truth is if I went away and stopped taking calls or having any conversations it just wouldn't be real.

"I'll take more time off. I'll try to cut down on official things. You've got to have some common sense about it - you want to spend more time with your baby, but you don't give up the job."

In March, Mrs Blair appeared to hint that she would like her husband to take paternity leave.

During a speech at King's College, London, she criticised the "long hours" workplace culture and encouraged employers to strike a balance between work and family.

She said: "I am pleased to report that in 1998 the prime minister of Finland took advantage of his right to parental leave. He has done it again recently.

"I, for one, am promoting the widespread adoption of his fine example," she said.

European comparison

Tuesday's case was Ms Booth's last before the birth, but not the first occasion on which she has represented a plaintiff challenging the government.

In November 1997 she took on Education Secretary David Blunkett over a grant-maintained school's refusal to admit the daughter of a man who had assaulted the headmaster.

The National Family and Parenting Institute has backed the TUC's paternity leave case.

Head of policy Gill Keep said: "Parental leave is valuable for all families and should be a right for all those with children under five.

"Most of our European partners have responded to this EU directive by extending the leave arrangements to all parents, ignoring the date restriction, and we would urge the government to bring Britain into line with that decision."

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05 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Blair baby: 'It's Jack or Chloe'
28 Mar 00 | Talking Point
Should Tony Blair take paternity leave?
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