Lord Young opposes Clegg on paternity leave

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David Cameron must resist Nick Clegg’s plans to encourage fathers to take more time off work to look after young children because it will harm small businesses, the prime minister’s former enterprise adviser said.

Lord Young of Graffham, who was forced to quit Number 10 last year after suggesting people were not suffering in the recession, said small companies were already thinking “two or three times before they take on a woman of childbearing age” and needed to be left in peace.

“You don’t have to make [maternity leave] interchangeable. Why should men take time off?” the Conservative peer said in his first interview since leaving the government. “No, they can leave things how they are. What I think would be extremely difficult is to have [extended leave] going to the men as well.”

Rules come into force on Wednesday allowing fathers to take up a mother’s unused maternity leave if she returns to work within 12 months. Mr Clegg wants to extend this further to allow parents to share leave in small chunks rather than take it as a single block.

The British Chamber of Commerce said more than half its members found the new rules “detrimental” and warned that any extension of flexible working could hamper job creation.

Lord Young remains close to Mr Cameron and has been continuing to support the interests of small businesses behind the scenes.

The angel investor and former cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher was at the Start-Up Britain event last week, having been the link man between the prime minister and the entrepreneurs who set up the scheme.

He said more needed to be done for small businesses that were ignored as the government focused on start-ups at one end of the spectrum and big groups at the other.

He wanted to write a report highlighting the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises but recognised that a return to government could be politically tricky.

The peer was forced to step down following his remarks last year that many people “had never had it so good” in the “so-called” recession.

“I felt sick. I did the health and safety report so I could do the small firms. I had to show that I was not ga-ga,” he recalls. “I have no one to blame but myself , because I should have been slightly more cautious,” said Lord Young.

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