PM's family pledge splits cabinet

Carl Court/PA

He might be trying to win favour with working parents, but the Prime Minister's pledge to help families is seriously dividing the cabinet.

Reports today state there are fears within Government that his commitments to extend maternity and paternity leave and flexible working rights could harm the UK economy.

Senior members of the Government are putting pressure on the Prime Minister to rein in his promises to help families. According to the Daily Mail, a report by venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, who was commissioned by Mr Cameron to look at ways of cutting red tape, is understood to have advised a U-turn on both policies.

Chancellor George Osborne and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles are among those warning that the measures will hamper business and harm growth.

The coalition has already published proposals to allow couples greater freedom to co-ordinate maternity and paternity leave. A separate proposal would make it easier for parents to request flexible working hours. The scheme would allow parents to divide up almost all of the existing 12 months of maternity leave. They may even be able to break the time up into stretches as short as a few weeks.

Logistical nightmare
Business leaders describe the proposal as a "nightmare" and the issue is expected to come to a head in the Cabinet this week, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Oliver Letwin, Theresa May and Michael Gove all deeply opposed to calls to scale back family-friendly policies.

The Mail reports that a source close to Mr Clegg said he would fight calls to dilute family-friendly policies. "He has led in government on issues like flexible working, shared parental leave and childcare. We wouldn't want to see those commitments watered down."

Mr Beecroft's report is due to be published at the end of the month.

Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone said: "Whatever is in this Beecroft report, I think, will be swiftly swept away. These are hideous suggestions. It is absolutely vital we deliver on our rhetoric around family-friendly issues."
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