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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Child and credit rights overhaul
A father with his baby
Mothers will be able to transfer leave to fathers
Paid maternity leave is to rise from six to nine months as part of a range of family and finance-focused bills outlined in the Queen's Speech.

Under the Parental Rights Bill, mothers will be given the right to transfer paid leave to the father.

In addition, a Childcare Bill will place a new duty on local councils to offer "affordable and flexible" childcare for the under-14s.

Separately, consumer credit laws are to be updated to better protect consumers.

The Queen's speech also signalled the government's intention to introduce further pensions legislation.

However, further legislation will wait until the government's Pensions Commission reports on possible solutions to the UK pensions crisis later this year.

Another bill outlined in the Queen's speech promised to bring home reversion schemes - where retired homeowners sell off a share of their home to a firm in return for a lump sum or income - under the regulatory control of the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Paid leave extension

When the extension of paid maternity leave from six to nine months was first proposed, the government said it would be worth an extra 1,400 to new mothers.

Lack of money is a key reason why mothers return to work earlier than they want to after having a baby
Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary

Small business leaders described the planned increase to paid maternity leave as "too much to bear for some small firms."

"All absence from work comes at a cost and the proposal to extend paid maternity leave could devastate some small firms," John Walker, national policy chairman of the Federation of Small Business (FSB), said.

"Employers will be left footing the bill for recruiting and training temporary cover as well as with the headache of losing a key member of staff."

On the other hand, unions welcomed the Parental Rights Bill but said that the rate of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) needed to go up.

"Lack of money is a key reason why mothers return to work earlier than they want to after having a baby, and this is especially true for women on low incomes," Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, told BBC News.

"Maternity pay in the UK is currently 25% of women's average weekly income."

At present, new mothers are entitled to 90% of average earnings for the first six weeks after giving birth. After that, they are entitled to 102.80 a week until the baby is six months old.

New mothers are also entitled to take another 26 weeks of additional leave. This is usually unpaid but some companies do make a contribution.

Paternal rights?

Fathers have far fewer rights than mothers.

Following birth, they are entitled to two weeks on Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) of 102.80 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings if they earn less than 102.80 a week.

The Parental Rights Bill will allow mothers to transfer some of their leave entitlement to the father.

The bill is the latest move by the government to improve the lot of working families.

It will become an offence to conceal the true cost of a loan in the terms and conditions

Since 2003, workers with children under the age of six have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements.

Credit overhaul

The general election in May meant that the government was unable to get its Consumer Credit Bill onto the statute book.

The Queen announced that the newly-elected Labour government would now re-introduce the bill to the Commons.

The bill contains a host of measures to overhaul the 31-year-old credit laws.

It requires lenders to make clear to borrowers the full costs of a loan.

As well, an independent ombudsman will rule on cases where borrowers pay very high levels of interest or are bound by unfair credit terms.

In addition, rogue lenders will face tough new fines.

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