All 6 contributions to the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Thu 11th Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Thu 11th Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternal Allowances Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Committee stage & 3rd reading
Mon 22nd Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Thu 25th Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Mon 1st Mar 2021
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent: Lords Hansard & Royal Assent: Lords Hansard
Mon 1st Mar 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords Amendments

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Second Reading
12:55
Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Paymaster General (Penny Mordaunt)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Prime Minister believes that it is quite wrong for Ministers to have to resign in order to leave work after giving birth to care for a newborn child. The Bill before the House today will make an important and long-overdue change to the existing law. It will enable all Ministers for the first time to take paid maternity leave from their job for an extended period. Thanks to changes made in the ministerial code by the Prime Minister in 2019, there are now codified arrangements by which Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and Ministers of State can take maternity leave. Their roles will be covered by a redistribution of their responsibilities among remaining Ministers. Secretaries of State or other holders of individual offices such as Law Officers or the Lord Chancellor, owing to their constitutional role and the sheer volume and complexity of their workloads, have not been able to make use of this provision.

There has been a similar failing in the situation for Opposition office holders, where the statutory limit on the number of salaries that can be paid means that there is not the flexibility for them to take leave and for their cover to be paid. The Bill provides that it is possible for Members in those posts to take extended leave. It would apply to post holders of the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Whips in both Houses, and up to two assistant Whips in the Commons.

I am very grateful to Her Majesty’s Opposition for their constructive engagement in the preparation of the Bill and welcome their support for this landmark measure.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I may, I will make a little progress.

I particularly thank the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) for her engagement and her commitment to the work that we wish to undertake following the Bill to address the other issues that need dragging into the 21st century.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Secretary of State for what she is saying. This has been a particularly difficult time for new parents, new mothers and new babies. During this lockdown period, I have been blessed with two grandchildren, so I have an idea of what it means. It has been a difficult time. The term is a “lockdown baby”. Will the Minister confirm whether there is an extended time for maternity pay? Are there incentives for companies to extend maternity pay? We really need quality maternity leave because of the circumstances of the past year.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but it is slightly beyond the scope of this particular Bill. In fact, the beneficiaries of this Bill are indeed very narrow and I shall comment on that further in a moment. I know that my colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and elsewhere in Government are clearly looking at a whole raft of long-overdue issues. I am sorry that the pandemic has delayed responses to consultation for very understandable reasons, but his points are well made. I am sure that, throughout the course of this debate and Committee stage, hon. Members will want to touch on the situation facing people other than the handful of individuals that we are concerned with this afternoon. On moving this Bill today, I do so with humility in recognition of that.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I warmly support the Bill, but can Her Majesty’s Government confirm that only a biological woman can have a baby? Will the Minister therefore explain to me why the Bill refers to “a person” and not to “a woman”? If we are going to adopt extreme gender ideology, why are the Government doing it by stealth and why can we not have a transparent debate on the matter? This insults the dignity of many women.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope to be able to go into detail about this later in the debate. I know that many Members will want to speak to this issue, and I will want to hear what they say, but I want to reassure hon. Members across the House that there is absolutely no intention of doing that. This is not a policy decision around language, and the Government will still use the word “women” in all documents, as is our policy. The issue is a particular drafting issue, and I can come on to the detail later, in Committee. I hope to be able to give all Members some comfort today about the language that we will be using. I hope that my right hon. Friend will allow me to leave it there for the moment, but his point is well made and very well understood by myself and the rest of Government. I hope that, by the end of today, people will be reassured on that front.

Although they are outside the immediate scope of this Bill, I know that there are considerable and long-standing concerns about the provision of support for hon. Members in this place who wish to take maternity leave. This has been highlighted by many colleagues across the House. There have been some improvements in this area in recent years, and I commend Mr Speaker and his colleagues and the House authorities for their continuing support for reform in this area, but clearly more is needed, and I hope that the cross-party work that follows this Bill may afford us some opportunities to address those outstanding matters.

Returning to the Bill, it would be reasonable to ask why the Government do not in such circumstances simply take on another Minister as maternity cover. The situation is that there are no fewer than three Acts of Parliament governing the issue of ministerial numbers and pay and, more pertinently, the relevant restrictions on them. Until now, the limits on the number of salaries that can be paid overall, and for individual officers, have left the Government with limited flexibility to appoint cover should a Minister want to go on maternity leave. In a nutshell, for someone to be appointed to cover, and for that individual to be paid, the temporarily outgoing Minister would have to resign. This Bill puts an end to that wholly unacceptable situation. Instead, it will enable a Minister to take up to six months’ paid maternity leave to care for their newborn child, subject to certain conditions and at the discretion of the Prime Minister, while remaining a member of the Government.

This provision will be similar to that available to members of the armed forces and the civil service and, significantly, it responds directly to a recommendation made in 2014 by the all-party parliamentary group on women in Parliament. The Bill does not try to confer equal terms or provide absolute parity with maternity leave provisions for all employees and workers. Both adoption leave and shared parental leave are important provisions, but they are not included in this piece of legislation. They are complex issues that require further consideration in the wider constitutional context, but they are not impossible, and I will return to those issues shortly.

On paternity leave, the current statutory entitlement for all new fathers is two weeks. I am pleased to say that this absence can be accommodated within existing practices, should a Minister wish to take paternity leave. The Government recognise that new fathers may want even more flexibility to support their partner following the birth of a child, and I am glad to confirm that we will consider this as part of our further work. The House will also be aware that the Government recently consulted on parental leave and pay for employees, and we are due to respond to that consultation in the near future. This work will provide us with a valuable perspective on how the existing provisions function, and any future proposals for Ministers will be developed with these conclusions in mind.

Some Members hoped for this Bill to address other issues of parental leave. I mentioned earlier the significant improvements that have been made to make this House more family-friendly, and the provisions that are still needed. The Government agree that both Parliament and the Government should seek to lead from the front on working practices, providing as much flexibility as possible to office holders to aid the effective discharge of their duties. I am very conscious that this Bill relates to a subset of ministerial and Opposition office holders—a payroll of just 115 people. It is also solely concerned with maternity leave. I shall not go into the technical detail of why the other matters are not in the Bill, but let me be clear from the outset that we will bring forward proposals to address those outstanding issues. We looked at putting many of those issues in this Bill. That has not been possible, but we do want to address them swiftly and have been discussing with colleagues across the House how we might do so.

I also know that Opposition post holders—in fact, Members from both side of the House—have for a long time expressed concerns about provision for maternity leave under the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority scheme. IPSA is independent, and for good reason. In this particular respect, I am grateful for the engagement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I know that many Members will want to address these other issues, and I will reserve the bulk of my remarks on them until my concluding speech on Second Reading. In the meantime, I draw colleagues’ attention to the Prime Minister’s written ministerial statement committing the Government to present a report to Parliament setting out considerations and proposals on these issues.

The issues with the Bill also touch on the fact that a number of Lords ministerial posts are unpaid. The Prime Minister has undertaken that the Government should look at the use by successive Administrations of unpaid ministerial posts. Clearly the Bill does not relate to anyone outside the ministerial pipeline or anyone outside Parliament. In bringing this Bill to the House, which I hope will gather wide support, I do very much recognise the context. The terms for those in the armed forces and civil service are the terms on which this Bill is pegged. They are far more generous than the public sector average, and many people will be in receipt of far less than that average.

I am sure that some Members will want to focus this afternoon on other issues that people are facing, as I have already set out. I just want to outline some of the detail of the Bill, but I will be very brief in doing so and will go into further detail later. Clauses 1 to 3 deal with the designation of a Minister on leave, setting out the mechanism that allows Ministers to take up to six months’ paid maternity leave. Clauses 4 to 6 set out the arrangements relating to six months’ paid maternity leave for certain office holders in Her Majesty’s official Opposition. Clause 7 contains the usual final provisions.

The second part of the Bill makes provision for certain Opposition office holders—namely, those listed in the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975—to take up to six months’ paid maternity leave. In contrast to the arrangements for Ministers, Opposition office holders who are to take maternity leave would stay in post. The Bill authorises a payment to a nominated individual, who, at the discretion of the Leader of the Opposition in the relevant House, is to cover the office holder’s role on similar terms as those for Ministers that I have already outlined.

The difference in approach reflects the fact that Opposition office holders are not appointed by the Prime Minister and do not have statutory functions in the way that a Secretary of State or a Law Officer does. It is therefore more straightforward for an individual to provide the necessary maternity leave cover while the original office holder remains in post. The arrangements may last for up to six months, and the eligibility criteria are the same for those in relation to Ministers. The Bill leaves it to the discretion of the Opposition leader in each House to appoint individuals to these temporary covering roles. Only one person can be appointed to cover an office holder’s post at any point during the period of leave. However, should the Leader of the Opposition wish to change the appointment, they have the discretion to do so.

Clause 5 builds on these provisions and outlines how the allowance payable should be calculated, how payments are administered and when payments should end. As with the provisions for Ministers, the person appointed to cover an office holder’s role should receive a monthly allowance that is equivalent to the office holder’s monthly salary. This financial arrangement should continue for as long as the individual is fulfilling the responsibilities of the role, but for no longer than six months. This allowance, as is the case with Opposition office holders’ salaries, is to be paid from the Consolidated Fund.

The final provisions relating to Opposition office holders are set out in clause 6, which establishes the relationship between the appointed individual covering an Opposition office holder and existing legislation. As is the case with a Minister on leave, where the Opposition office holder is a Member of the House of Lords, she is not eligible to claim the so-called Lords office holder allowance provided under the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991 while on maternity leave. However, the individual appointed as maternity cover by virtue of these provisions is entitled to claim that allowance for the duration of the appointment. That is because the allowance is to reflect the work undertaken in the House, such as late-night sittings.

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 makes provision for both Members’ and Ministers’ pension schemes. Both Ministers and Opposition office holders are entitled to pensions under the Ministers’ pension scheme. Given that there is no material change to their position, there has been no need to make provisions in the Bill to ensure that their salary remains pensionable during their maternity leave. However, the individual appointed to cover the post is entitled to the Ministers’ pension scheme for the duration of their appointment, in relation to the allowance paid to them for the role.

Finally, clause 7 makes the usual provisions necessary for the Bill to operate in law, including defining its territorial extent, setting out its commencement arrangements and providing the Bill’s short title. The Bill comes into force on Royal Assent and will thus be of immediate benefit to those wishing to take maternity leave, should there be anyone who is in those circumstances. As I said, I am very aware of the issues that the Bill has brought to light with regard to language. I know that there are time pressures on the debate, but I will address those issues in more detail in the course of the afternoon.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out in his written statement on this topic last week, the Government have undertaken to look at considerations and proposals for Ministers and Opposition office holders in the other areas not covered by the Bill. We are committed to building more widely on the progress that the Bill represents and will present a report to Parliament setting out those considerations. For the reasons I have outlined, I hope that all Members of the House will support the Bill, and I commend it to the House.

13:12
Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to follow the Minister, and I thank her for the discussions we have had in the lead-up to the Bill’s Second Reading. I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) on the impending birth of her baby, and I know that the whole House will want to send her and her family our very best wishes.

Let me say at the outset that the Opposition will be supporting the Bill, which is a small but welcome step in updating legislation in this important area. It is, of course, important that parents in the workplace should be supported in the challenging early months after the birth of a new baby, with the right to take paid maternity leave from their employment, whether they are in the Cabinet or in any other workplace. These changes should be made for the right reasons—because they are the right thing to do to support working parents, not because they are just politically expedient.

I welcome the Minister’s assurances that the Government are prepared to work on a cross-party basis to look at further reforms to bring us into line with best practice in this area. Further changes are indeed needed, because the proposals in their current form do not include, as the Minister recognised, any provision for paternity leave entitlement, those seeking to adopt or those on shared parental leave. As things stand, we are very much playing catch-up when it comes to parental leave.

If we are to encourage women from all backgrounds to become Members of Parliament and, indeed, Ministers, we must have modern working practices, so that it is a vocation that is open to everyone. A clear sign that further changes are needed, particularly when it comes to making Westminster a more family-friendly environment for working mothers, is the make-up of the House today. At present, 102 years after women first won the right to stand for Parliament and after reforms to sitting hours and the system of proxy voting, there are still just 220 female MPs compared with 430 men. That has to change if we are truly to reflect the country and all the experience and talent within it. I urge the Minister to work constructively with other parties and find parliamentary time to progress the further reforms that I believe many in the House would like to see.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the Minister responded to my initial intervention, but the shadow Minister has referred to more reform, which I think is important. That reform has to look towards other elected representatives, including those in the Assembly and the councils. As an example, one of the ladies who works for me is a councillor, and she did not get the leave that she should have had, so I think this Bill is only the first stage when it comes to maternity leave. Does the hon. Lady agree that we can, and must, go further?

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Elected representatives, whether here in Parliament, in devolved Administrations or in local government, and indeed those in all workplaces, absolutely deserve maternity rights which in some workplaces, including those of elected representatives, just do not exist today. I would very much support further reform in this area.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much welcome what the Opposition are pushing for. Does the hon. Lady agree with me that this House has a position of leadership, in relation not only to the devolved Administrations but to the rest of the country, and that is why work towards paternity leave and, particularly, shared parental leave is so important?

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The Paymaster General and I have been speaking about the further reform that is needed, and in a way, the case for this Bill has shone a light on the wider reform that is necessary. We should not just be reacting to events; we should be thinking towards the future and about the challenges of combining work and family life which all of us in this place—men and women—face.

I would now like to turn to some of the challenges that women in Parliament have faced over the decades, and to talk about why it is so important that we continue to modernise some of our, frankly, outdated working practices. Without the battles fought in Parliament by the women who have come before us, I do not think we would be here today, fighting for those further changes that will make us more representative of the people we seek to represent. Pioneers such as the indomitable Barbara Castle fought for years to secure equal pay for women. There was also the independent MP Eleanor Rathbone, who successfully battled to see the Family Allowances Act 1945 become law. They both helped to build the foundations for a better, fairer society, particularly for women.

There are many other inspirational women MPs who have done so much for women’s rights. However, that often came at a high price. None of the first four women in Cabinet—Margaret Bondfield, Ellen Wilkinson, Florence Horsbrugh and Barbara Castle—had children, and it is hard to see how in those early decades they could have combined their job, and the antisocial hours it involved at that time, with having much time for family life. The first woman Cabinet member to have children was Judith Hart in 1968, a full 50 years after the first woman took her seat in this place. As the then-Labour MP for Lanark, she found it very hard to combine long periods away from her family with her work in this place, and eventually made the difficult decision to relocate her family from Scotland to London.

The first woman MP to have a baby while serving as a Member of Parliament was the former MP for Welwyn and Hatfield, Baroness Hayman, who had her first baby in 1976. However, just 10 days after giving birth, she was forced to come into Parliament because pairing had been suspended, and there was certainly no proxy voting then. She had to leave her baby in the Whips Office in order to take part in crucial votes. I also remember seeing my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) in a wheelchair in this Chamber two years ago for a key vote, as it was just two days before the birth of her son. At least that unacceptable situation has been ended by the system of proxy voting which, because of cross-party support, now enables MPs who are new parents to nominate another MP to vote on their behalf if they choose to do so.

Despite the hurdles they faced, those remarkable women built the foundations for the work in Parliament taken forward by irrepressible campaigners such as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), Dame Joan Ruddock, and the late and very much missed Dame Tessa Jowell, who all tackled inequalities, injustices and rights for women in Parliament and in the country. In fact, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham has long supported the changes that we are discussing today. Under the last Labour Government, Ruth Kelly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) had babies while serving as Ministers but had no formal provisions for maternity leave. The same has been true for Conservative Ministers in the past few years. They all watch with interest and contribute to this debate. It is fair to say that their experiences of combining their work as Ministers and their roles as new mothers were mixed, and I am very much looking forward to hearing my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford speak later in this debate.

I have already touched on Barbara Castle’s achievements with the Equal Pay Act 1970, which came when there were just 24 female MPs and was a watershed in the fight for gender equality. We have also had the Equality Act 2010 from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham, the introduction of thousands of Sure Start centres, and the introduction of child tax credits and of free nursery places, all of which have been a lifeline for so many women and families in our country.

However, there is still much work to be done on improving employment conditions for women and the culture in workplaces, both in Westminster and across the rest of the country. The decision a decade ago by the former Speaker to close a bar on the parliamentary estate and replace it with a children’s nursery was undoubtedly a welcome move and has benefited many in this House and our staff, but it was not before time. I also recall that in 2015, when I was shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and expecting my second child, a Conservative Member suggested that as an expectant mum I should not be appointed to the Cabinet if Labour won the general election, as I would not be able to manage doing two things at once. I hope that he has since revised his opinions, and I am pleased that this Bill will allow Cabinet Ministers, for the first time, to have paid time off after the birth of a child.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to hear the experience that the hon. Lady is recounting. She has been paying tribute to pioneering, so I wonder whether she will join me in paying tribute to Aileen Campbell, a good friend of mine and the first Minister in the Scottish Government to take maternity leave. At that time, the Scottish Government were able to find a way of having a substitute Minister. It is not quite the same as what the Government are proposing today. Aileen and a couple of other MSPs are, sadly, leaving the Scottish Parliament because of these pressures, so it is welcome that we are making small but steady progress along the way to supporting women in politics.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which builds on the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that it is important not just in this place, but for other elected representatives, that wherever they are representing their constituents they should be able both to continue doing their job and to bring up a family. We need in this place and in other elected forums to be able to represent the whole country. We say that we represent Britain or our local community, yet too often we do not look like the communities we are meant to serve. I hope that with the sorts of changes in the Bill, and with those in devolved Administrations and councils, we will make ourselves more representative.

Although the measures in the Bill amount to positive change, there is understandable alarm about this Government’s track record on workers’ rights more generally. It is important that while we today make changes to help women in this place, we also think about employment rights and women’s rights more generally. Just like this Bill, the Government’s new employment Bill should be an opportunity to extend and safeguard workers’ rights, not water them down. However, after a year of silence on that Bill, the Government have failed to deliver on their promise to enhance the rights of all new mums. Pregnant women have found widespread discrimination throughout this pandemic, with many left without basic maternity pay and instead put unlawfully on to statutory sick pay during the pandemic. Indeed, there is a stark contrast to be drawn between the Government’s urgent passing of this legislation, which we support, and their inaction on behalf of struggling pregnant women across the country. I hope that today the Government will reflect on what more they can do to help women in this country.

The Government should also be doing more to help the parents of babies born prematurely. Under the current rules, maternity leave of up to 52 weeks starts when the baby is born, but because a premature baby can spend weeks in hospital, mothers are effectively cheated of spending some of the leave with their new child. I raised this subject two years ago, as a Back Bencher, based on casework in my constituency and working with Bliss—the charity for babies born prematurely or sick that does such brilliant work. I called on the Government then to change the rules so that new parents of premature babies are not put under further unnecessary pressure; today, I again urge the Government to bring forward plans to ensure that parents of premature babies are given the time and flexibility granted to other parents to care for their baby once their baby is home.

At present, Ministers have no rights when it comes to maternity, paternity or adoption leave. If a Minister wants to take maternity leave, as the Paymaster General set out, the rules do not allow for them to continue to receive a Government salary along with the person providing their maternity cover. It is right that that should be changed to remove that barrier in a woman’s career. The Bill would end that anomaly and mean that Ministers would not have to face being financially penalised or forced to stand down from their ministerial role to care for a newborn. The changes would bring Ministers into line with most civil servants by providing them with a period of six months’ leave on full pay.

Last year, there was cross-party support for the change that now allows MPs who are new parents to use the proxy voting scheme, so they can spend precious time with their new child. The proposals before us today represent another baby step in what should be an ongoing modernisation of working practices to ensure that women do not get a raw deal at work due to failure to move with the times. It is a shame that it has taken the pregnancy of a member of the Cabinet—happy news though that is—for this Government to realise that improving the workplace rights of expectant parents should be a priority. This change will benefit family life, remove a barrier to career progression, and ensure that having a baby does not come with a financial penalty as well as the sleepless nights that none of us can prevent. However, we need to see far more progress by the Government on this issue to ensure that women and all workers are treated fairly in the workplace, including when they have children.

We are behind the times when it comes to adopting modern, family-friendly working practices in Parliament and in Government, and change is long overdue. I ask the Minister to make a firm commitment to review and explore, as a matter of urgency, further potential reforms that can be made with cross-party support to ensure that this “mother of Parliaments” is a Parliament that genuinely welcomes mothers. This should be the start, not the end of a journey by this Government to deliver more employment rights and to give workers in all workplaces and in all jobs the protection and support they need and deserve.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before I call Caroline Nokes, I want to set out the time limits that will apply. As Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes will have six minutes. She will be followed by another Front-Bench spokesperson. Then, from Cherilyn Mackrory onwards, a four-minute limit will apply, and that may be reduced later.

00:05
Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate being called in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is an honour to follow not only my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, but the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), who made a number of incredibly important points, some of which I will echo. I want to put on the record my thanks to my right hon. Friend for having taken the time to speak to me ahead of the introduction of the Bill. It is incredibly important that we do this and that we get it right.

I start from the principle that no woman, whoever she is, should be forced to resign her job because she is pregnant and needs to take maternity leave. It is 2021, and that principle is, in my view, absolutely beyond question. I therefore support my right hon. Friend today because we have to solve the immediate issue, and we have to allow our right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General the right to take maternity leave. Like everyone else in this House, I wish her well as—fingers crossed—she earns the right to be the first Minister in history who is deemed to be a Minister on leave. But—my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General knows my thoughts on this—what a mess! It is well into the 21st century before we have had to face this situation, and why oh why did it cross nobody’s mind that we might need to address this issue before it acquired the urgency it now has? Is it really unthinkable that a Secretary of State or one of our Law Officers can become—heavens above!—pregnant? Where is the Government Equalities Office in the horizon scanning, thinking about what other inequalities lurk in our procedures, our way of running Government, so that they can be ironed out sooner rather than later?

Although I regret that the legislation is coming only now, at least it is coming now. But does it go far enough? It is painfully evident that it does not. Where is adoption leave, and what about provision for shared parental leave? Can my right hon. Friend put my mind at rest that this position of Minister on leave is sufficiently flexible to allow a male Secretary of State who has become a new parent to take it up? I think there are challenges here, and while I recognise the fear that making this a more comprehensive Bill would risk delaying it, thus disadvantaging the one woman it is designed to help, I regret to say that I need significant reassurance that there will be swift action to address questions around adoption, surrogacy and the myriad issues that may well crop up in the future.

Returning to the theme, this Bill is designed to stop, quite rightly, one woman from having to resign, and indeed those who we hope will follow in her footsteps in Cabinet positions. My right hon. Friend will know that the Women and Equalities Committee published this week our report on the gendered economic impact of covid. It specifically highlighted the position of pregnant women who have been incorrectly put on statutory sick pay instead of maternity pay, and those who have been denied furlough, when they could have been placed on it, because they were pregnant. One of the recommendations in that report urges the Government to introduce legislation in this parliamentary Session to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) will say something on this later; she had an excellent ten-minute rule Bill on the subject.

My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General has found time for a Bill for one woman, but the Government have not found time yet for a Bill for thousands of others. I urge them to do so. The report also calls for a cross-departmental strategy for dealing with pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The mere fact that we are here debating this Bill demonstrates that even in Government, in the 21st century, maternity discrimination can prevail. While I recognise that this might be outside my right hon. Friend’s remit, I hope she will take the message back to fellow Ministers that a great deal more work needs to be done. That could perhaps be in the long-awaited employment Bill, which might include provisions on such things as miscarriage leave and leave for parents with a sick child.

Finally—I do appreciate that this is a narrow Bill, and that I may be testing your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker—may I raise the issue of equalities impact assessments? There is a danger that legislation introduced at pace will overlook equalities considerations. We have seen that occur throughout the pandemic. Measures introduced with good intentions for good purposes have sometimes had impacts that had not fully been considered from an equalities perspective. Please can we try to avoid the same mistake here? By not including adoption leave or provision for surrogacy, are we perhaps inviting equalities challenges further down the line? I would like an assurance from my right hon. Friend that an equalities impact assessment will be done, and I would like that to be given to us from the Dispatch Box today.

We have to do this now. We could have done a great deal more, and when my r hon. Friend winds up, I hope that she gives me the reassurance I need that the Government recognise that the job is not yet done. There is still a great deal of work left for them to do on maternity rights, but this is a crucial step—for now.

13:33
Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I also welcome this Bill in principle and as far as it goes, which is not far enough, but perhaps it is a sign that this House and the UK Government recognise that they have some way to go to begin catching up with the world around them.

On issues of equality and of acknowledging and breaking down barriers, this House deservedly has a reputation for making progress very slowly. Today we are discussing something that should surely already be in place, not simply because elected office should not be a barrier to a family, but because attitudes and practices here have a material impact on the lack of proper treatment and the prevalence of issues such as maternity and pregnancy discrimination outside this place.

It was not until 1975 that statutory maternity leave was introduced in the UK through the Employment Protection Act 1975—later than in most countries in Europe. Indeed, with this Bill, welcome though it is, progress continues to be too slow. Here, the perplexing basis for maternity leave is that the Minister must seek permission from the Prime Minister to take such leave, the implication being that the Prime Minister retains the power to say, “No, the maternity leave is not granted.” How very Edwardian in 2021.

The rest of the world has long since moved on to the position that maternity leave should be a right rather than a discretionary benefit. How we can expect people to appreciate that and act in that way if this place is so backward-looking? It should not be necessary for women to seek the potentially grudging consent of a boss to take maternity leave.

I was fortunate when I twice took maternity leave to have a supportive and encouraging boss. It was clear to me that I had the right and, importantly, the support to take the leave that was right for me and my family. I wonder how I would have felt if the ability to grant my leave was in the gift of my boss, given that we cannot always be guaranteed the supportive boss that I had. For me, that happened well before any involvement in politics.

Our representation is clearly not reflective of who we are. We are far less diverse as a political class than those we represent, and the lack of proper provision for maternity feeds into that. We cannot expect that lack of representation to improve unless we improve the structures that we work within. I wonder whether I would have wanted to stand for election to this place as a younger woman starting a family, considering the various challenges, including gaps in provision for MPs and Ministers.

We have heard about heavily pregnant MPs being wheeled through the Lobby recently, against all logic and surely against advice, because the arcane processes of this House were simply not set up to accommodate their needs. This House can and should be better than that. We have a duty to be better. We cannot simply go along with the make-do-and-mend approach that the UK Government have had for so long.

The posts of Ministers on maternity leave have been left vacant, and their responsibilities have been carried out as best as possible by colleagues who are also carrying out their own responsibilities. The one thing that has saved all that from crumbling is that no one fulfilling a Secretary of State role in the UK Government has ever tried to take maternity leave. That fact reveals a great deal about the relative importance of the issue in the minds of those at the very top.

We have rightly heard comments about the contrast between arrangements in the House and those outside it. That is important. The contrast between the speed at which the Bill has been progressed and the shocking delays in dealing with the pressing needs of pregnant women in the pandemic is stark and just not good enough. The fact that maternity allowance is just £151.20 a week, which is about half the national minimum wage for a full-time worker, is deplorable. The fact that it will increase by only 77p a week in April is frankly an insult. Those issues must also be addressed. I realise that they are not before us today, but they all fit together into a lack of care and direction from the Government.

The mechanism that the Bill identifies for repairing the current crumbling edifice of ministerial maternity cover should be uncontroversial. Any organisation needs to provide for such events, which routinely happen, so I hope that no one would seriously suggest that, in a large ministerial team, there should not be contingencies to support maternity leave. However—I repeat myself in case we lose sight of the point—it is incredible that it has taken until 2021 for the UK Government and the House to address the matter.

The explanatory notes describe provision for maternity leave as problematic or “particularly difficult to apply” to a Minister in a very senior office, such as a Secretary of State,

“because the legal exercise of functions of such roles cannot be ‘covered’ by another Minister.”

I am afraid that I do not buy that. That is just a cop-out. It sounds like exactly the kind of excuse that has been used by backsliders on this issue ever since the idea of maternity leave in employment entered our thinking. It is followed by the statement:

“The result is that a Minister in such a role who wished to take extended maternity leave would need to resign their office.”

It is breathtaking to see that kind of language. It makes us check our calendars to make sure that we are in 2021. How can we expect improvements and proper treatment outside this place if that is how we run things here?

The explanatory notes reveal exactly the kind of thinking that we all know still goes on in recruitment to senior jobs, and that results in the glass ceiling for women in so many institutions. They display the unconscious bias that underpins so much systemic discrimination in the UK and around the world.

To signal that that kind of thinking has no place at the centre of political and economic power, the SNP has tabled an amendment to remove the notion that prime ministerial discretion should have effect in relation to maternity leave. Ministers, MPs—all of us—should feel secure in the knowledge that we work for an organisation where no guilt will be piled on us if we take time off for maternity or, in fact, for family reasons. We have to be clear that there is a need to look more broadly than this very narrow issue, that this long-awaited progress does not go far enough, and that the scope of the Bill is not great enough.

These things matter, not only because the arrangements put in place by this House for the UK Government are important for the proper operation of the Government, but because they act as a signpost to other companies and organisations in the UK as to what approach they are expected to take. We do not have to look far to see the issues out there. A survey of 20,000 women by Pregnant Then Screwed last summer found that 61% believed that their maternity leave was a factor in their redundancy decision. Given the example set by this House and the UK Government today, that is perhaps not surprising.

It is also unsurprising that the UK ranks poorly among OECD countries for how it deals with maternity. The UK has the second lowest-paying rate for maternity leave, with less than a third of gross average earnings replaced by maternity payments; despite lengthy maternity leave entitlements, full-rate equivalent paid maternity leave lasts just 12 weeks. That is why, as a statement of principle, we have tabled amendments that would extend Ministers’ maternity leave from six to 12 months.

Let me be clear that that does not mean that we support one rule for Ministers’ maternity leave and another for the general public; the amendments set out what the direction of travel must be for the whole workforce. I hope that as part of the preparation for the wider review that I talked about, including the broader area of parental support provision, the Government will look carefully at that and ensure that equalities impact assessments are carried out before this business returns—quickly—to the House, so that these things can be addressed in the round.

That should include an examination of the challenges facing Members in their constituencies and their legislative roles when they become new parents. It is interesting that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority this morning seemed to recognise that it, too, needs to look at that. When the Minister looks further, I urge her to look at the words of the all-party parliamentary group on women in Parliament, which said:

“The lack of formal maternity and parental leave for MPs is entirely out of step with wider society and gives the impression that the work of a Parliamentarian is not appropriate for those with caring responsibilities.”

That is the crux of the issue. It is completely unacceptable that this House and the UK Government have got to 2021 without putting in order their own arrangements for properly supporting maternity leave.

On the basis that we need to make progress on this issue today, the SNP is supportive of what the Minister has brought forward, but if the Bill is to pass largely as drafted, I will be keen to hear from her significant commitments to returning to this issue before the summer to correct some of the glaring omissions and the lack of principle, so that we can fix this issue and send the important messages that we must send beyond this place.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With a four-minute limit, I call Cherilyn Mackrory.

13:43
Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for her opening remarks and for ensuring that the Bill is being debated today.

Many will ask why this issue has not been addressed already. It is over 100 years since Nancy Astor entered this place, and we still have not quite got it right. The Bill is another welcome step towards ensuring that Parliament and a career in frontline politics are a realistic option for all women, whatever our time in life. It is vital that all obstacles of inequality are removed and that all important contributions can be made.

It is my hope that by passing the Bill, we will open the door a little wider for many young women considering entering Parliament in the future. Being an elected representative for their local community should be a viable option for as many people as possible, and the more obstructions that we can remove, the better. I want as many capable young women as possible to think that becoming a Minister is a viable option for them, regardless of their age or their fertility.

The Bill is highly unlikely to affect me personally, but as the co-chair of the APPG on baby loss, I have a special interest in the health of mother and baby. The Bill is a step towards improving the condition of both, with Government setting the example that the health of a mum and baby comes first. It is fundamental that in a free, modern and civilised society such as ours, we give a clear signal that this is paramount. The wheels of the Whitehall machine must not stand in the way of the most precious time that any new mum has to bond with her newborn baby. This time is important not only for the physical and emotional recovery of mum but to the continuation of the physical and emotional development of the baby, and thus to the life chances of that child.

Unfortunately, the level of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK is still astonishing, with an estimated 54,000 mothers every year being forced to leave their jobs because of how they are being treated during their pregnancy or maternity leave or after they return to work. These worrying statistics are from a report produced in 2016 by the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the prevalence and the nature of pregnancy discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace. The covid pandemic has made this even more stark. At present, employers can lawfully make a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave redundant if they carry out a fair redundancy process, and the only responsibility the employer must have in these circumstances is to make them an offer of a suitable alternative vacancy. All this can, and does, lead to a crazy amount of stress for a pregnant woman or new mum at the time when stress levels should absolutely be kept to a minimum for the sake of her own health and that of her baby. Sustained strategies such as these can lead to pregnancy loss, low birth weight, and post-natal depression.

The particular nature of our job does not help. I have been very upset to read and learn of some of the shocking abuse that female colleagues in all parts of the House have taken for daring to have a baby while being an MP. That is simply not acceptable, because MPs are also wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and friends. It is not acceptable for any new mother to feel that extra pressure, or to be told that they are skiving, not working hard enough or should not be having a baby while serving in office. Post-natal depression, if left unchecked, can and does lead to tragic suicide. Do we really want to wait for a female MP who has post-natal depression to be pushed too far before society sits up and takes notice? MPs are not alone in suffering from post-natal depression, and I would not wish for special treatment, but society does seem to think it acceptable to target its anger towards MPs.

I mentioned in my speech last October as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week that birth is always perilous for women. I hope that the Bill sends an important signal to society that women and the contributions they make are valued.

13:47
Harriet Harman Portrait Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I strongly support the Bill and everything that has been said so far by the Minister, by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) in an excellent speech, and by the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I also fully support everything said by the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory).

The Bill formally recognises that women now play an invaluable role in public life and that women have babies, and that we should support them and not downgrade them when they do. It is true that it has taken forever for us to get here, but better late than never. I do think we must give the Government credit for bringing the Bill forward, because they could have tried the fudge, favours and verbal behind-closed-doors promises that were the best that women Ministers could have hoped for in the past. The Bill sends a big and important public signal of valuing women’s work and recognising their commitment, including at the highest level. The Government have done the right thing by the Attorney General and women Cabinet Ministers; now they need to put right the completely wrong situation for the rest of the women in this country.

Women are doing an amazing thing when they have a baby. It takes a huge toll on a woman’s body to carry a baby, and it is the most demanding thing to care for a new baby, and yet we punish them by cutting their income and making them insecure at work. Statutory maternity pay is only £152 per week—less than half of what people get on the national minimum wage—so the woman’s income is clobbered just when she needs to be spending more. Honestly, if men had babies, do we really think that maternity pay would be so insultingly low? Not a chance. The law allows a year for maternity leave, but many women are forced to go back way before that, and before they feel they or their baby are really ready, because they simply cannot afford not to, or they fear—with justification—that they will be downgraded or even sacked if they take more than a few months.

We are here in Parliament to do the hugely important job of being an MP, but we have an additional responsibility as women in Parliament to fight to improve the lives of women in this country. Therefore, as I give the Attorney General my genuine and warmest best wishes for her second baby, I am counting on her, when she comes back, to be an outspoken champion in Government of the maternity rights of all women.

13:50
Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who has blazed a trail on so many of these issues in the time that she has been a Member of the House. It is also a reminder that although she has been such a powerful advocate for women, we still have so many outstanding injustices to tackle, with the Bill tackling one of the most outstanding ones.

It seems staggering that in the 21st century we are still having to legislate for fair treatment and equality for women. We should not demur from grappling with these challenges as soon as they materialise. All of us here who are women Members of Parliament continue to encounter discrimination, whether on our own part or when fighting for constituents. Those challenges are reflected in our having a Minister for Women and Equalities, and indeed a Women and Equalities Committee. Of course, we must tackle the fact that not all unfairnesses and injustices can be dealt with by legislation; most today are behavioural and practical in their nature. However, by holding this debate, shining a light and taking action ourselves, we can give the best possible leadership to all employers in the country—and all women in the country, to show that we are on their side.

I very much welcome the Bill as an advance in women’s rights, but I felt moved to table amendments because of representations that I have had from women about its language. I fully understand the challenges that the Government faced in bringing forward this legislation. Clearly, the need to amend existing legislation made the job more difficult, and the use of language was not especially easy. None the less, I felt it important that we reflect on that.

The fact that we are holding this debate today explains why women are anxious about protecting their rights, and why they become very sensitive about language used. We see more and more how our sex is being dehumanised by non-gender-specific terms. A lot of women do not mind. Particularly for younger women, who perhaps have not gone through the fights that some of us who are a bit older have, it does not really matter, but for a lot of women it genuinely does cause distress. It is important that we in this place at least reflect on that, challenge ourselves and ensure that we do use the most sensitive language that we possibly can in tackling these issues.

We shall discuss my amendments in Committee in due course, but I must say that I find it difficult to be challenging my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General on this, because there has been no greater champion of equality than she. I was reassured by her opening comments that, whatever the language in the Bill, it does not reflect any more long-term view. However, the Government need to be sensitive about these issues, because in making a big leap forward in advancing rights, we do not want to alienate anyone with discomfort about the language used.

13:53
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is an honour to be part of the debate and the work that we are doing to bring forward this legislation. Let me congratulate the Attorney General, the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), and wish her well in her forthcoming maternity leave. What is so powerful about this legislation is not just the clarity over her income but the clarity about her actual cover: she will be able to spend time with her child and not receive calls at three o’clock in the morning when the Attorney General is needed.

I welcome the Paymaster General’s comment that we need to do more. It is that which I wish to speak on particularly, because, as she has recognised, the Bill benefits only a very small number of women. To benefit only a very small number of women at this time in this country’s life is to fail to recognise the peril that may come from this legislation, which is not about its drafting but its scope. We are sending a message that maternity leave should be a perk conferred by an employer as a benefit—just as a company car would be—if we only pass this legislation.

The Paymaster General said that the Prime Minister believes it is wrong that a woman might have to leave work to care for a child, but in truth that is happening in workplaces across the country, and it involves thousands of women. During the pandemic, one in four women who are pregnant or a new mum have said that they have faced discrimination, and that they are losing their jobs or being furloughed. In that context, to work only with that small number of women is not just a missed opportunity, but potentially sets up a two-tier system for maternity leave in this country. As the people who make the laws, we send such a message to businesses regarding how they should treat pregnant women at our peril.

The Government are currently being taken to court by Pregnant Then Screwed because, when they calculated the self-employment income support scheme, they forgot about women who are self-employed and who took maternity leave. We have heard from many Members about our concerns for public life. It is not an accident that most women who enter public life, not just in this place but in local government and our Assemblies, tend to be older women who have already had children, or those who have chosen not to have them. Even in this Bill, we have yet to begin talking about fathers.

The Bill tells the lie that I was told two years ago when I was pregnant and asked for a locum to cover work in my constituency, so that my constituents would not feel short-changed by having a woman of childbearing age as their MP. However, as MPs, our employment status was too complicated to enable us to act. If we can pass a Bill in a day in this place to address that issue, we could do so much more to ensure that our public life is open to all women. It is a missed opportunity not just for local government, but for the staff who have worked with us in this building, who have terrible maternity rights.

Two years ago I fought for a locum. No other MP has been able to have that, even though I know colleagues across the House who have had terrible experiences of being pregnant and trying to get support. We cannot say, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” On that basis, let me be clear: the Government have made commitments today but, as the suffragettes said, this must be about deeds not words.

Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, you may be looking and me and thinking that during lockdown I have been attacking the pies a bit, and you would probably be right. But I am also pregnant with my second child. I am early on in my pregnancy. I should not have to reveal that, but I am doing so today to be clear to pregnant women around this country that they will find champions in this place, and it is not enough for us to act only for that small group of women at the top of our society. We must act for every woman to be able to take maternity leave.

We must make sure that legislation such as that proposed by the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) is given time in this House, and we must stop IPSA prevaricating, as it has done for the past two years. We must give every woman in this place the same rights that we are giving the Attorney General. Please, Paymaster General, it is time for deeds not words when it comes to maternity and paternity.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The very best wishes of the House to you, Stella, on your great news.

13:58
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I warmly welcome the Bill, which was a recommendation by the all-party group on women in Parliament under the then chairmanship of Mary Macleod. I send my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) all the very best wishes for her pregnancy. There can be few who would think it fair for a Minister to feel that there was no alternative but to resign from their job because they are pregnant. This Bill means that Ministers will not be forced into that position, which is welcome.

However, being forced to leave a job for being pregnant is exactly what happens to thousands of pregnant women who we represent. In righting this wrong for Government Ministers, will the Paymaster General also undertake to right it for women throughout our country? Codifying the protection of a pregnant woman’s job is exactly what thousands of women need now. The people we represent want to know that Ministers are being treated no differently from them. Routinely identifying pregnant women for redundancy is too familiar a problem. Under this Government, record numbers of women are in work, and they are an essential part of our economy. We cannot ignore the fact that for thousands, current legislation provides protection only in theory but not in practice.

The Government’s plans to extend tribunal time will not solve that problem. It is a situation that has become more acute, as we have already heard in the debate, over the last 12 months, so will the Paymaster General please add her support for the change that I am calling for in my ten-minute rule Bill? When it comes to modernisation, there is a tendency to take small steps. We do not just pass laws in this place; we influence people, so, please, any proposals for parental support need to be brought forward swiftly. Perhaps she can indicate when in her summing up.

As the Government get their house in order, so must the House of Commons. Bringing in baby leave was a positive step, but it was a small step made in isolation of the broader issues that parents face in this place. There is no clear process in this House for how we agree changes in the way we operate. “Erskine May” says nothing on pregnancy or support for parents, and there is no clear structure in place for us to make a collective decision that cannot be blocked by a small minority, and then that decision has to be acted on. If we are to encourage more people from different backgrounds to want to stand for election, as an institution, we have to change the way we do business. If we do not take action, others might do it for us, undermining our unique position as office holders, not employees. I fully support the Bill, but it demonstrates how much more there is to do.

14:01
Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is an honour and privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) in this debate. There is no doubt that Parliament needs to be brought into the 21st century. In principle, this is a vital and long overdue Bill and I welcome it. It ensures that female Ministers will have similar maternity rights to other women at work. I very much welcome the further work and proposals that have been spoken about today.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who highlights that the Government must not make this a two-tier system in Parliament, with only those who have the most senior Front-Bench positions having these arrangements. That gives licence to employers to think that maternity leave is a benefit like a company car that can only be offered to some. It is a right, not a privilege.

It is important that shared parental leave is championed by Members in this House to encourage the take-up by men across the United Kingdom. Being a parent is a tough job, and men need to step up and take a more equal share in caring responsibilities.

There remains a significant barrier to women’s involvement in politics, which has been spoken about today. As a single parent myself, without the support of my mother, I would not have been able to sit on those green Benches in 2017 when elected. Very few women have that privilege, which is why removing the barriers for new mothers in politics is of great importance to me.

In Chwarae Teg’s report “State of the Nation 2021”, the figures in Wales are stark: 86% of single parents are women in Wales and 40% of women are part-time workers. Many of these households are in great poverty. I hope that we will see swift changes, so we will not be holding women back and we will enable them to make their full contribution to society and the economy. I look forward to being part of that work.

Also on a serious note, I speak in support of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price). I thank the Minister for the comments she has already made on this. It does seem a bit of a misstep in the drafting of the Bill and can be seen as insensitive to many people. The fact that it refers to a “person” who is pregnant and does not mention “woman”, “women” or “she” at any point is totally at odds with all other maternity rights and protection legislation. The use of “person” would be asymmetric with the rest of the law on maternity rights and protection.

I give the following examples because we need to be factual: in section 66 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, on suspension from employment on maternity grounds, all references are to “she”; in section 71, “ordinary maternity leave” refers to “she”; in section 73, “additional maternity leave” refers to “her” rights; and in the Equality Act 2010, section 72 onwards, where a woman is employed or holds personal or public office, it is all about maternity equality. I therefore ask the Minister to reconfirm that the wording of the Bill will not be rushed in through the backdoor at this very difficult time, without scrutiny, discussion or challenge. The Government can be better and can move quicker, as we have seen with the speed of the Bill’s introduction. We all have to be better; we have to do more for new mothers, and not just those who have the privilege of being a Member of this House.

14:05
John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Though it is a mission of Back-Bench parliamentarians to bring this Palace to life, the service and sacrifices made by Ministers in pursuit of the common good and shared endeavour should be recognised and celebrated. They are responsible for the actions, successes and failures of entire Departments, so it is perhaps inevitable that some will become overwhelmed by the sheer scale of that challenge. But it is easy, too, for ministerial office to consume the holder, defining their decisions, both privately and personally. That is precisely why this Bill is so important. In life, irrespective of how grand or important we are, what we do should never trump what we are, as individuals or as a people. When all is said and done, it is the metaphysical, the beautiful and the relational that cultivates grateful perspective and lasting joy.

Whether as mothers or fathers, sons or daughters, parenthood, as a fundamental feature of our humanity, matters. As such, it is right that we reflect on how we as a nation, as a Government and as a Parliament support parenthood, opportunity and, in particular, as this Bill does, support mothers. How do we recognise and reward the service and sacrifice required to raise a child from birth to maturity, to shape the intricacies of a human soul with kindness, commitment, discipline and restraint? This Bill is a welcome start. It provides an example. For if we in Parliament get this wrong, how can we expect others to get it right?

That a woman at any stage in her life must be supported emotionally and financially from the moment her baby is conceived is surely the right thing to say, but also the right thing to do. There is a communal societal duty to support children, and indeed adults at every stage of life, from the first heartbeat before birth to the final breath. By formalising the process by which Ministers can take paid maternity leave while remaining in Government, the Bill will go some way towards eliminating any subtle or subconscious pressure placed on women in public life to abandon their pregnancy, or indeed to compromise the care they give in the early stages of life.

I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, who has taken the Bill from its conception to, we hope, its legislative adoption. By the way, this is this Attorney General who had the courage to give up her lucrative career as a lawyer in order to enter Parliament; the Attorney General who had the will to refer the case of PC Harper to the Appeal Court; the Attorney General who is reforming the practice on disclosure; the Attorney General who successfully argued recently to increase the sentences of a rapist in the Court of Appeal.

It must be noted, however—it is too often the case with Government—that artlessness or heartlessness has allowed the capture of a well-meaning and just Bill by civil servants who have clumsily excluded the word “women”. That can be put right in Committee and I will say more about that then.

The Bill can also be the beginning of a new focus on family. I recommend the work of another hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), whose manifesto to strengthen families provides a blueprint that the Government can follow to do just that. Among that report’s recommendations, alongside sensible reforms to tax and benefits, is a suggestion that we should look again at the criminal justice system.

The Bill is an important step, but it is only a step on a long journey—a journey that affirms the role of women in public life and the role that women play in families and in wider society. It is also a Bill that is proud of motherhood and, my goodness, in the mother of Parliaments, should not we all share that pride?

14:09
Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I start by paying tribute to Becky Regan, the NHS worker who very sadly passed away last week after catching covid when heavily pregnant. Every life taken by this disease is a terrible tragedy, but the sense of loss is even more acute in this case, because Becky had just given birth to her fourth child. My thoughts are with Becky’s family, friends and colleagues at this desperately sad time.

I mention Becky’s case because the pandemic has been particularly challenging for pregnant women and new families. There are many areas where new and expectant mothers could and should be better supported. This Bill must prompt wider conversations about the rights of pregnant women and new parents in the workplace. The conversation should cover not just Cabinet Ministers, but the millions of parents across the UK who are struggling with inadequate parental leave policies. It is shocking that the Government are only looking at this injustice now because a colleague in a high place has run into difficulties with the unacceptable provision currently in place. It is also typical of this Government to bring in legal changes that narrowly protect one colleague, rather than trying to do justice for everybody.

The principle of the Bill is long overdue. There is absolutely no question but that the Attorney General should take paid maternity leave and then return to her post. I recognise that this legislation must pass at pace in order for her to do so, but I am looking for a commitment from Government that this issue will be revisited with broader legislation as soon as possible. We need time to give it proper scrutiny. I would also welcome a commitment that further legislation will create proper legal rights for paternity and adoption leave, as well as maternity leave. No one, whether in high places or not, should be forced to choose between a career and having children. I hope that this Bill will prompt the Government into strengthening the employment rights of pregnant women and new parents across the UK.

The Bill will allow Ministers to take up to six months of leave on full pay. In contrast, far too many families in the UK are struggling financially. The basic rate of statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance is just £151.20 a week—only about half the national minimum wage. Proper paid maternity leave in the UK is among the lowest in Europe. We rank 22nd out of 24 countries. This Bill must be the start for change for pregnant women and new parents across the UK. It is our duty to do a lot better from now on.

00:03
Feryal Clark Portrait Feryal Clark (Enfield North) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The thrust of the Bill is long overdue and much needed, and to that extent, it should be welcomed. For far too long, an artificial and arbitrary barrier has been put in front of women who wish to serve their constituents in government. It has been a case of naked discrimination hiding in plain sight. By allowing the Prime Minister to designate a Minister on leave, we will in some respects be bringing the world of public office in line with the world of work. It should go without saying that we should be an exemplar of workplace rights, but in truth, this place has all too often treated the many women elected to it as an irritant or an afterthought.

I still have many reservations about the Bill. Why, for instance, have the Government wasted this opportunity by making the Bill applicable only to Cabinet-level positions? If we want to see a Government and legislature that reflect our wider society, they must be a welcoming place for all those who work across them. The Government should revisit that aspect of the Bill and correct it immediately because, by continuing with such glaring gaps in the system, we are sending out a dangerous message to employees across the UK. We are saying that it is okay to think of women as secondary to the needs of the organisation, that a token effort is effort enough, that protecting the management is a job well done and that women should be grateful for whatever small breaks are afforded them. That type of thinking leads us further down a path where women are de facto excluded from decision-making roles and positions of power, while needlessly snuffing out the aspirations of future generations.

It is all well and good speaking in abstracts, but for me, this Bill is also very personal. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am both an expectant first-time mother and a first-time MP. When I stood for election, I did so because I wanted to do right by my constituents in Parliament and to stand up for a set of principles that should transcend party politics. And yet, as a Member of Parliament, with all the vast opportunity and privilege that that affords me, I am scared. I am scared about taking informal maternity leave when my baby arrives in two months; it is informal as there is no formalised maternity leave for Back-Bench MPs. I am scared that it will be used against me politically and, most depressing of all, I am scared that, beneath the warm words of good luck and congratulations, some Members will take a dim view of my taking maternity leave at all.

Today we need to fix immediately the fundamental failing of the Bill before us, even while accepting its fundamental necessity. We must view this as a chance not to fix a problem for a Minister but to right a wrong for countless women—Members and staff—and start changing the culture around maternity rights in this place. We can send a signal to all employers that this is not just the right thing to do here; it is simply the right thing to do. That is where the majority of the country is. It is time that Parliament starts to follow in the nation’s footsteps and recognise the huge benefit that women bring to this workplace and countless others.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her speech, and I would like to offer, on behalf of everyone here, our sincerest congratulations and warmest wishes to her.

14:16
Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to start by echoing your congratulations to the hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) on the impending birth of their children.

This debate is so timely, and it covers so many important issues. That fact is that people take notice of what we do in this place. We should be leading—we should be a leader—and I am afraid that, at times, we are not. No one should have to resign from their job—a job that they have worked hard for over many years to obtain—simply because they have had a child. I glad that this legislation will finally stop a scenario where women are effectively excluded from taking a role in Government for fear of having a child.

I was saddened to hear from the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) that we are losing a lot of good politicians in Scotland, due to them having to make these exact decisions. It makes our politics less. It means that we lose that quality and that insight. We lose those experiences that are so vital in debate, that help us to understand those perspectives when we add them to our discourse and that ultimately make our politics better.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) said, we still have a lot of work to do, and I do not think anyone would deny that. We need to ensure that we use this opportunity to close the gender gap. As the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) pointed out, this place is still skewed towards having too many male Members. We have to ensure that we take practical steps to at least enable a fair roll of the dice, so that people can get involved in politics.

This is not abstract. For communities like mine in the Black Country—in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton—what we are talking about today is not disconnected. If we want to ensure that people can aspire to achieve, take an active role in our politics and see people such as themselves involved in our public life, we need to ensure that having a family does not prevent them from getting involved in politics at all levels. The Bill goes some way towards doing that, but as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, we must not forget about local government. One of the benefits of the Bill is that it has triggered wider discussion, and I hope that we will talk more widely about how we can extend this across all our politics and all levels of government.

As we talk about levelling up—something from this Government that I have been very proud to champion—we have to ensure that we do not exclude people based on their gender. At present, it would seem that in some ways that is happening. We need to ensure that we have a system that enables everyone to engage in our public life and our politics. As many right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, we also need to end the stigma—the idea that it is somehow wrong for someone in public office to have a family, that we are not human beings and that we do not act as normal people do. This legislation goes some way towards doing that.

I very much welcome the comments of the Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), but I ask her to remember this: men have an equally important role to play. As we continue this debate and as the Bill opens up those lines of discussion, we have to ensure that men can play an equally important role in the upbringing of their children, because we know that the role of a father, as well as a mother, is so important. As someone who did not have a father growing up, I can assure my right hon. Friend that it is vital that we enable children to have that full family. I fully support the Bill and commend my right hon. Friend.

14:20
Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome what the Government are trying to do with this legislation. I know that it is for a specific case that has come about relatively recently, but I support the idea that we should do everything we can to ensure that public life is open to all. The current rules are antiquated, so this Bill is absolutely a step in the right direction. I am particularly glad to see the inclusion in the provisions of those who, sadly, have stillborn children.

It is quite right that we are looking at this issue, although, as the Minister said, the beneficiaries are narrow. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) said, it opens up a real question around the leadership of this House and what we want to do for the future. I was particularly glad to hear that the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) supports the legislation, and that following this Bill the Government are looking at proper cross-party working on paternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave.

There was one thing in the Minister’s opening remarks with which I disagreed: that this legislation affects the 115 people currently in positions in the Government. It does not, because it does not cover shared parental leave or paternity leave. I really hope that those matters will be considered as quickly as possible. I have several friends in couples where both partners are working, and who are in very difficult positions at the moment. For example, one partner—now often the woman—is earning a higher amount of money but might actually want to go back to work sooner than the man, and they cannot do that because there are not equal rights, in the same workplace, for men and women on shared parental leave. It is a real issue that is affecting people across the country right now. We in this House have a responsibility to put it at front and centre, and to lead the way on these issues.

The Bill is a step in the right direction. I echo some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West, particularly about the importance of men’s role in bringing up children. We are not going to crack the issue of shared parental leave and men taking more responsibility for the children they have until we move beyond the narrow debate that we are having today, and broaden it out to the issues that affect families—yes, in ministerial office, but right across the country as well.

Some important issues were raised from the Opposition Front Bench, particularly around caring for newborn children. It is hugely important that people’s careers, particularly at ministerial level, are not held back by outdated practices. I would like my right hon. Friend the Minister to reflect on some of the concerns raised by me and other Members across the House. We really want to see these issues, particularly around shared parental leave, brought to the fore. We want to ensure that people—whatever their gender—are there and doing what they can to support the upbringing of their children.

14:24
Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The SDLP certainly welcomes this move in the right direction but, like others, we have some disappointment that the principle of a woman being able to take maternity leave has required speedy legislation to be put right. This should have been addressed earlier; the gap has been apparent for a while and it should have been addressed more comprehensively and systematically. This should not hinge on the situation, the pregnancy or the career of any individual having to be so intrusively and widely discussed. The swift action to correct the situation when it affects a member of the governing party’s top team feels like a contrast with the response to the rights and needs of other pregnant women and mothers in wider society.

The fact that this legislation is “just in time”, to borrow a topical phrase, is an illustration of the archaic nature of some aspects of this institution, and of the reforms that are needed to ensure that political and Government structures are fit for purpose and have equality at their core. It would be glossing over a wide range of complex structural and cultural issues to imply that fixes such as this will magically open up political opportunity to many more parents, but if correctly done, this Bill could address one of the chill factors for those who either have or are planning families, and it would be a small but visible example of Parliament actively enshrining fairness. Whatever a woman’s job might be, taking a reasonable amount of time off to have a baby should not be a perk and should not be something that has to be negotiated; it should be a right.

As others have mentioned, MPs are not employees but officeholders, and as a result are excluded from some standard maternity rights. Many self-employed women face similar penalties in relation to maternity-linked lost earnings in terms of the self-employed income support that has been available earlier this year and last year. I want to highlight the fact that we need to stop thinking about childbirth and motherhood as some sort of random occurrence or curiosity, but rather as reality—and happy reality for a very large part of the working population. It is also worth saying that the devolved institutions and councils, including the Assembly, where I previously served, are not doing very much better in this regard, and I hope that the discussion we are having today catalyses change there too.

The debate has been genuinely informative, particularly the engaging potted history of trailblazers in this regard from the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). I want to commend other Members, including the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and I hope that the Government will apply rigour and adopt her proposals on non-discrimination for new mums. I also commend the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who has been relentless in her campaigning for the rights of other parliamentarians.

The terms and conditions that are offered in the Bill contrast favourably with those offered to other public servants, and this highlights the paucity of offering for NHS staff doctors, for example, who are entitled to only eight weeks’ full pay, or for teachers, who, certainly here in Northern Ireland, are entitled to only four weeks’ full pay. Of course, the situation is much worse for people in other sectors, and tragically so for people in the gig economy. That is the sort of levelling-up agenda that we need the Government to actively pursue. We concede that the Government have moved fast because they want to, but they need to deploy the same speed and core purpose to raising standards for all working parents and, of course, to broadening this out to adoption and to paternity leave as well. We need to make this place not a place apart but a modern workforce reflecting the whole population.

14:28
Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the Attorney-General on her pregnancy and on being the first Cabinet Minister to take maternity leave. It is 20 years ago this summer since I was the first Minister to take maternity leave, and it is quite astonishing that it has taken two decades for a Cabinet Minister to be able to do the same. Three male Prime Ministers and a Chancellor have had new babies in recent years, but no women in the Cabinet have done so until now. So this is a step forward, and of course Ministers should be able to take maternity leave and have maternity cover, and if we want it to be normal across the economy and society, we have to show that it is possible in Government.



I welcome this legislation, but it is limited. Even within Government, it does not provide for fathers to do their bit in the family in those early months or cover adoption leave. It does not cover parliamentary issues and, really importantly, it does not cover councillors, with the Fawcett Society saying that just 7% of councils have a maternity policy in place. Of course, importantly, it does not deal with the ongoing and unfair discrimination that still happens in practice against women in so many different workplaces across the country, because the systems for protecting maternity rights are still too weak.

When I needed to take maternity leave as the Minister for Public Health in 2001, I asked the Health Secretary what I should do. He did not know, and said, “Ask the Prime Minister.” He did not know, and said, “Ask the Cabinet Secretary.” He had absolutely no idea, and as Ministers are Crown appointments, he said it was really a matter for the Queen, but nobody thought we should be asking Her Majesty. We then tried to work something out that was similar to civil servants’ arrangements. We did not get it all right, and the lack of proper cover arrangements caused difficulties, and while the Health Department was really supportive, that informal approach proved inadequate a few years later when I took maternity leave again. The Communities Department was not as supportive, and I had to struggle to get basic arrangements in place.

When we were drawing up those arrangements, no one had thought about this before. That was bad enough 20 years ago, but we have no excuse for a short-term, reactive approach now. The rushed and limited nature of this Bill shows that Government are still doing the same, despite the fact that many Ministers and many parliamentarians have needed to take maternity leave since then. This kind of reactive approach is, I think, still discouraging women from coming forward into public life, and that is bad for democracy. It still risks being discriminatory, particularly for councillors, but perhaps most importantly of all, it shows that at the heart of government, the civil service and Parliament, maternity arrangements for everyone still are not really being taken seriously enough.

It is great that the first Cabinet Minister is taking maternity leave and it is good that the Government have brought forward legislation to make it happen, but it is time we had a more comprehensive approach to make sure that maternity and paternity leave can be a normal part of everyone’s lives. We need a timetable from the Government about when they are going to address some of the political and Government issues in relation to Parliament, but also to look at councillors. Most importantly of all, we need action against the maternity discrimination that is still taking place, often highlighted during the covid crisis, but also deeply rooted in too many workplaces right across the country, so that many more women can properly be able to keep on working and support their families, and many more fathers can support them in doing so as well.

14:32
Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is an honour and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). I welcome this Bill, but, as others have said, it does not go far enough to tackle maternity discrimination. That said, I am delighted for the Attorney General, and I wish her every blessing with her pregnancy.

I want to focus my concerns on one aspect of this Bill that has been mentioned already: why does this Bill make no mention of women? It is women who give birth and women who benefit from maternity leave. Is this a reflection of the ideological language that is now seen across schools, universities and the NHS, which bans use of the word “woman” and use of the word “lesbian”? Why must we deny the fact that there are two sexes, and why must we deny that biological sex exists? Why are the Government not complying with the Equality Act 2010? That legislation refers to pregnancy and maternity, and uses the day-to-day language of centuries: woman, she and her.

If this is an innocent mistake, then let us put it right quickly and easily by replacing the word “person” with “woman”, but if it is not, let us talk just for a moment about the erasure of women. Most women do not even know that this erasure of their sex class is going on, and when they find out they are appalled and they cannot believe it. Those of us who try to warn of the consequences of the erasure of biological reality and the reality of womanhood from legislation are often pilloried. Many politicians are now so in thrall to those who wish to erase women for the purposes of advancing gender identity theory that they call those of us who advocate for women’s sex-based rights transphobic, even when we have never done or said anything against equal rights for trans people in our lives, and even when some of us were trans allies before it was fashionable to be such.

It is not transphobic to advocate for women’s sex-based rights under the Equality Act 2010. It is possible, and right, to support both trans rights and women’s rights. Neither should be sacrificed for the sake of the other. We can have an inclusive society for everyone without doing that. Sex is a protected characteristic for a very good reason: discrimination against women is rooted in their biology. That is our lived experience. We must find a way to be inclusive without erasing women’s biology and women’s lived experience from the statute book, so why is this Bill doing that? Women are not “chest feeders”, a phrase we heard earlier this week: women have breasts, and women feed their children with their breasts. Lesbians are same-sex attracted: we are attracted to women’s bodies, not men’s bodies, and to say we must be attracted to men’s bodies is homophobic. These things need to be said, and they need to be said in this mother of Parliaments, so let us put this Bill right and reflect the reality and the law, as set out in the Equality Act and supported by the CEDAW convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

14:36
Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First of all, I add my congratulations to the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), and the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark).

As so many other right hon. and hon. Members have said in this debate, I find myself both supporting and welcoming this Bill, and at the same time being astonished at its shortcomings. Before being elected, it would never have occurred to me that representatives in this place did not have the basic provisions for parental leave that I had taken for granted during my career. Indeed, my daughter is now 24, and I was taken aback in 2017-18 when one of the first changes we discussed in the House after my election was about proxy voting for Members who were pregnant, and about maternity and paternity leave. I discovered that parents in the House did not enjoy the same rights that I had had more than two decades before, so while I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues support this Bill, we are disappointed yet again that it lacks provisions for paternity leave and other parental rights. It does not, for example, address rights for adoptive parents, and how someone becomes a parent should not determine what leave they are entitled to.

This was, as I say, a missed opportunity: an opportunity for the Government to bring parental rights up to date, and to introduce not just measures for Ministers, but measures that apply to all MPs. This place should not just pass legislation, but set a tone for so much in our society. Gender equality is something on which we should be taking a lead, not running to catch up, as we seem to be. Work practices such as shared parental leave are vital to creating new cultural norms and achieving that gender equality, but how can we expect that to happen if we do not, as I say, set the standard ourselves? As the hon. Member for Walthamstow pointed out, if we get it wrong here, that will be reflected across the country. That is why I have signed, and support, the hon. Member’s amendment requiring the Government to produce an equalities impact assessment of these proposals. As has been mentioned, even well-intentioned legislation can, if it is rushed through, fail to recognise pitfalls. So please, let us not fall into one or fail on that account.

It is vital that the Government recognise that the Bill cannot be seen in a vacuum. It is certainly an important measure, but we must also send a message across the country and ensure that it is the correct message. It must send out a national call to action to protect the rights of all parents in all workplaces during these most difficult and challenging times.

There is still much more we need to do for parents. We need to increase statutory paternity leave, ensure that parental leave is a day one right and address the continuing inequalities that same-sex couples face. Organisations and employers must be required to publish parental leave and pay policies.

Like so many—indeed, all, I believe—of the speakers we have heard so far, I welcome the Bill. It has simply been too long delayed and does not go far enough.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid that we need to move on to the Front-Bench spokespeople after the next speaker.

14:40
Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I too would like to start by congratulating the hon. Members for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) and wishing them all the very best in their pregnancies.

Like many others, I come to this Bill with a sense of frustration. The progress is welcome, but the Government have missed an opportunity to put many other things right. I would not argue for a second that Ministers should not get maternity leave, but the Bill does not go far enough. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) that it should deal with, for example, adoption. It is also a bit of an insult to working parents across these islands, who have found their own maternity and paternity leave compromised during the pandemic. It is a sign that the Government move fast when they want to, but not for everybody who needs that.

At the start of the pandemic, I asked the Chancellor how he intended to protect the rights of those who were pregnant. Some had been asked to take statutory sick pay or holidays or to start their maternity leave earlier than they should, thereby losing out on time with their baby and on the pay they needed. When I raised the matter, a cloud of bemusement swept across the Treasury Bench. It was clear that it had not even occurred to Ministers. The account by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) shows that not much has changed when it comes to male Ministers not taking account of maternity.

Almost a year from the start of the pandemic, Pregnant Then Screwed has been forced to take the Government to judicial review to tackle what appears to me to be blatant discrimination in the calculation of the self-employment income support scheme. I wish Joeli Brearley and her team all the very best in their challenge, but it should not have come to this. The UK Government have repeatedly been told about the flaws in the scheme. As with so many other issues, they have chosen to ignore those flaws and the women who have been excluded from the support schemes and disadvantaged. They must take action to put that right, regardless of what happens with the judicial review. It is simply not fair that women are losing out because they took time out of their business to look after their babies.

Bethany Power has also found that women on furlough have been told that they will lose their accrued annual leave as part of what has happened to them. The Government must correct that as soon as possible, because it is simply not right that women are losing out on their holidays because of how things have been calculated.

NHS exemption certificates should be extended for 12 months, because women have not been able to access the dental care they would usually get in the year after having their baby. That unfairness must also be addressed. They have been not been able to access the service because in many cases, dental services have been suspended.

There are so many more things I could say about maternity provision in this country, and so much more needs to be done. Maternity Action has been campaigning for a very long time to get those issues addressed. The Government are letting women down. Maternity should be a special time they get to spend with their wee one. It should not be a time of stress, poverty and wondering how to make ends meet. Too many women are still losing their jobs and being failed by their employers, but are not able to challenge that because of the structures the Government have put in place.

I urge the Government to act now on all those issues, and take them as seriously as they are taking this one case for one Minister. They should ensure that nobody gets left behind when they take maternity leave.

14:44
Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to take part in the Second Reading debate on this Bill, in which we have heard contributions from so many trailblazing women. The two speeches that stood out for me were those from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who have really led the way in pioneering the idea of women being both parliamentarians and mothers. I also wish to put on record my best wishes and congratulations to my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark), who have announced their pregnancies during this debate, and to the Attorney General, on her pregnancy. I hope she will be the first Minister in UK history to take full paid maternity leave.

We still have a long way to go, of course, and many of us are finding it difficult to understand how in 2021 Ministers are still having to make the decision between resignation or demotion when choosing to have children. Employment rights should not end at the doors of Parliament. Working mams in the Cabinet deserve the same maternity rights as working mams in any other job across the country, but, unfortunately, it is a sad fact that so many women across the UK still lack those basic rights. It is only when brave and formidable women, many of whom have taken part both virtually and physically in the Chamber today, have fought tooth and nail for progress that things have moved forward. Last year’s cross-party support for the proxy voting scheme came about only through the efforts of women MPs such as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), who was forced to work in a wheelchair because of the lack of proxy voting provisions.

Labour has a proud history of fighting for equality, from the Equal Pay Act 1970 to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the introduction of the national minimum wage. All of those progressive pieces of equality legislation were delivered by Labour Governments. Labour’s Sure Start centres were a vital step forward in providing that lifeline of support to struggling parents and children right across the country. Regrettably, deep cuts to local councils over the past decade have hollowed out those services, leaving cash-strapped local authorities without family-centred support. Clearly, an awful lot of work remains to be done, but Members from across this House can agree that no one should be dissuaded from standing for elected office or becoming a Cabinet Minister by outdated employment practices. If we are to create a truly representative Parliament, encouraging women from all backgrounds to run for office, we must start by ensuring that no one is forced to choose between family and running for office. Rights and protections for elected women seem to be stuck in a different generation, and it is a scandal that councillors in local government are not guaranteed any rights to take any kind of parental leave. I am relieved that the Government have been spurred into action, but it has taken the pregnancy of a Cabinet Minister to get us to this point.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have been following this debate with interest. Unfortunately, I was unable to speak in it, because I was in Committee. In a couple of months, it will be 12 years since I was the first Minister to have maternity cover; I took six months of maternity leave and I had a named cover. It is great news that we are finally getting something sorted now, so that maternity is much better organised, particularly for Cabinet Ministers.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that and for her support when I was expecting. It just goes to show that this is a debate that has had to come forward in baby steps. If we have learnt anything from the covid-19 crisis, it is that acting at a point of emergency is no way of bringing about good governance. With more lead-in time and perhaps more detailed consultation, this Bill could have included the right to paternity, adoption and premature baby leave. Although I welcome the Government’s commitment to bring about these changes, I am disappointed that we are unable to make those significant strides forward today and I look forward to working with the Government on bringing them about in the future.

As the Centenary Action Group highlighted, this legislation must not be seen in a vacuum but instead as an opportunity for a call to action to protect parents in the workplace in these difficult times. In particular, covid-19 has already disrupted mothers’ careers more than fathers’ careers, with nearly 70% of women with children likely to have quit their jobs due to not being able to balance childcare and work, which compares with 16% of fathers. Women are more likely to be working in shut-down sectors, to have been furloughed and to have taken on more caring responsibilities while working from home. Citizens Advice has reported worrying cases of women being selected for redundancy due to the stringent health and safety measures required to keep them in work. We know that women, particularly black, Asian and minority ethnic women and disabled women, are over-represented in precarious labour, including part-time and zero-hours contracts, leaving them more vulnerable to redundancy. It is disappointing that the Government have yet to act on their commitment in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech to strengthen the legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new parents. I would be grateful if in her closing remarks the Minister provided an update on the employment Bill.

Following the announcement by the Prime Minister and the chief medical officer last March that pregnant women are clinically vulnerable, employers unable to make the necessary changes to ensure workplace safety were required to send them home on full pay, but we know that many pregnant women were unlawfully put on statutory sick pay, which has affected their maternity pay and other entitlements. I hope the Minister will address that in her closing remarks, and that she will confirm that the Government are committed to cross-party working to fill the gaps that remain in the Bill. Indeed, the Bill is already out of date, given that it does not include paternity, adoption or shared parental leave. Their inclusion would add great value to the legislation. Will the Minister also commit to working with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow on a wider discussion about the difficulty facing pregnant MPs, as well as councillors and representatives in the devolved bodies?

Turning to the wider situation of pregnant women across the country, the speed at which the Government are acting to make sure that the Attorney General can rightly take maternity leave is in stark contrast to their failure to support pregnant women facing discrimination and hardship throughout the pandemic. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s progress in providing vital protections for pregnant women at work?

00:09
Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I start by offering my congratulations to the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) on their announcements today. I am sure the whole House sends all our good wishes to them. I am also sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General would want me, on the record, to thank all Members for their kind remarks about her and her—hopefully—impending maternity leave. I thank hon. Members for their kindness today and their contributions to this Second Reading debate.

The Bill before the House today is specific and limited in its aims. It will make an important and long overdue change to the law, enabling Ministers for the first time to take paid maternity leave from their job for an extended period. We have heard Members from all parts of the House welcome the measure.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened to as much of the debate as I could this afternoon. Ministers have had maternity leave. We took it and said that it was something that women should have. We led on that. I was lucky enough to have as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who championed proper maternity cover. It is absolutely right that we pass this Bill and put the provision on a proper footing, especially for people such as the Attorney General, but I think it is worth putting it on the record that it is not completely unprecedented.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad I took that intervention. This afternoon, we have heard from the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves)—for whose support for the Bill I am grateful—as well as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) about the trailblazers who have gone before us. We have heard about the battles and trials that colleagues past and present have gone through in order to get maternity leave and to improve the situation for their colleagues in the future. We all appreciated the speech from the hon. Member for Leeds West in which she cited many colleagues who have made a substantial contribution. As well as those Members past and present who have battled to improve arrangements, we should remember that what we are doing today, although it is narrow in immediately affecting only a few individuals, will also benefit those who come after us. That is important.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) referred to the wider context. It is of course vital that we get this right for everyone in the country, and I know that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking into these issues. It is not only a matter of fairness and justice but a matter of economic empowerment. If we are to get the country back on its feet after the year we have had, we have to support women and enable them to do that.

I also thank Her Majesty’s Opposition and other parties in the House for the cross-party support and commitment that we have for the other work that we know needs to be done. I know that this is a very narrow Bill. The technical consultee is the Leader of the Opposition, but he will clearly wish to delegate to other Front Benchers and, potentially, to Back Benchers as well. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will contribute to the work that will follow. It is vital that we get those other issues addressed and, although I cannot give a timetable on legislation because we do not know what legislation would be required, I think we should be bringing this back to the House before the summer recess in order to address those other issues.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) for the powerful report that her Committee has produced and for her support. I hope that her Committee will be able to play a role in the future work that looks at the wider issues, not just for Front Benchers but for all Members, particularly those who sit on the Back Benches.

The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) clearly referred to the Prime Minister’s power to enable people to benefit from the new provision that we are introducing today. Unfortunately, the power still has to sit with the Prime Minister. I know that the optics of that are not ideal, but I am afraid that this is hinged on the royal prerogative and that must be the case. Hon. Members mentioned various other amendments that have been tabled, and I will address those in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) focused on how maternity leave is a vital time. The Government very much recognise that, which is why we have the piece of work that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) is undertaking on early years. The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, who has been such a stalwart in campaigning on these issues, outlined why, as well as the main issues that the Bill focuses on, it is vital that we get this right for women outside the House too.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for the helpful amendment that she has tabled. Again, I will explain in Committee why it has not been possible to use that language in the Bill with regard to Ministers—we have been able to use language to describe Opposition office holders—but I understand how offensive the word “person” or “persons” can be in this context. I hope that we can make some changes, if not to the legislation then to the explanatory notes, that will address some of her issues. I will come on to the detail of that in Committee.

Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow. I am sorry that she framed this measure as a perk. Just to clarify, this is not about rights purely for Cabinet Ministers—well, they are not rights; it is a provision. The article in The Guardian today also misrepresented that. This is a provision not just for Cabinet Ministers but for all Ministers and those Opposition posts. Only Cabinet Ministers are prevented at the moment from taking maternity leave, so that is what the Bill tries to address.

I hope that I can give the hon. Lady some assurances on the work that we want to take forward with regard to the Women and Equalities Committee and IPSA. Although, clearly, there will be other consultees involved, as well as the Government, with regard to IPSA she is absolutely right that we have to address the remaining issues both for Ministers and for all Members of the House. She has certainly set us a timetable today to try to get that resolved, and I hope to give some clarity on that later. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. It is vital that we get these issues right. I also want to give some assurances on the issues that have been raised about fathers. This is absolutely vital. I was brought up by my father in my teenage years. Fathers are critical. We will bring that forward in our future work. We will look at paternity leave, shared parental leave, adoption leave and a raft of other issues to ensure that all Members of this House, at whatever stage of their career and whatever Bench they sit on—Front Bench or Back Bench—can have the flexibility they need to thrive in their careers, and have and raise a family. I look forward to the future debates on that subject.

15:00
The Deputy Speaker put the Question (Order, this day).
Question put and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).
Further proceedings on the Bill stood postponed (Order, this day).
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill, it is expedient to authorise:
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(a) any sum that is to be so paid under that Act, and
(b) any increase attributable to that Act in the sums that are to be so paid under any other Act;
(2) the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of—
(a) any sum that is to be so paid under that Act, and
(b) any increase attributable to that Act in the sums that are to be so paid under any other Act.—(Michael Tomlinson.)
Question agreed to.

Ministerial and other Maternal Allowances Bill

Committee stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 11th February 2021

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the Whole House Amendments as at 11 February 2021 - (11 Feb 2021)
Proceedings resumed (Order, this day).
Considered in Committee (Order, this day).
[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]
Rosie Winterton Portrait The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I should explain that although the Chair of the Committee would normally sit in the Clerk’s chair during Committee, in these exceptional circumstances, in order to comply with social distancing requirements, I will remain in the Speaker’s Chair. However, I will be carrying out the role not of Deputy Speaker, but of Chairman of the Committee. We should be addressed as Chairs of the Committee, rather than Deputy Speakers.

Clause 1

Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office

15:02
Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 3, in page 1, line 5, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

The intention of this amendment is to make paid maternity absence mandatory for qualifying Ministerial office-holders.

Rosie Winterton Portrait The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 15, in page 1, line 5, leave out “a person as”.

Amendment 16, in page 1, line 14, leave out “person” and insert “minister”.

Amendment 18, in page 1, line 14, leave out “person” and insert “woman”.

Amendment 17, in page 1, line 16, leave out “person” and insert “minister”

Amendment 19, in page 1, line 16, leave out “person” and insert “woman”.

Amendment 4, in page 2, line 1, leave out “6” and insert “12”.

The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.

Clause 1 stand part.

Amendment 5, in clause 2, page 2, line 7, leave out “6” and insert “12”.

The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.

Amendment 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 10, leave out “6” and insert “12”.

The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.

Amendment 7, in clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out “6” and insert “12”.

The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.

Amendment 1, in clause 2, page 2, line 20, at end insert—

‘(4A) Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Paymaster General must lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft of regulations to make provision for continuity of any paid maternity leave in the event of a Minister on Leave ceasing to hold the designated ministerial office whilst on maternity leave.”

This amendment would require the Paymaster General to act to ensure a commitment to continuity of provision of maternity pay which a Minister on Leave would be entitled to in the event of ceasing to hold the designated ministerial office whilst on maternity leave, or in the event of being moved to a position which results in monies being recouped.

Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out “6-month period” and insert “12-month period”.

The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.

Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out “6 months” and insert “12 months”.

The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.

Clause 2 stand part.

Clause 3 stand part.

Amendment 10, in clause 4, page 3, line 20, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

The intention of this amendment is to make paid maternity absence mandatory for qualifying Opposition office-holders in the House of Commons.

Amendment 11, in clause 4, page 3, line 22, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

The intention of this amendment is to make paid maternity absence mandatory for qualifying Opposition office-holders in the House of Lords

Amendment 12, in clause 4, page 3, line 24, leave out

“may be made only at a time”

and insert “must be made”.

The intention of this amendment is to make paid maternity absence mandatory for qualifying Opposition office-holders.

Amendment 13, in clause 4, page 3, line 32, leave out “6” and insert “12”.

The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity cover from 6 to 12 months.

Amendment 14, in clause 4, page 3, line 38, leave out “6” and insert “12”.

The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity cover from 6 to 12 months.

Clause 4 stand part.

Amendment 2, in clause 5, page 4, line 6, at end insert—

‘(2A) Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Paymaster General must lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft of regulations to make provision for continuity of any paid maternity allowance in the event of an Opposition office-holder ceasing to hold an opposition office whilst on maternity leave.”

This amendment would require the Paymaster General to act to ensure a commitment to continuity of provision of maternity cover which an Opposition office-holder would be entitled to in the event of ceasing to hold an opposition office whilst on maternity leave, or in the event of being moved to a position which results in monies being recouped.

Clause 5 stand part.

Clause 6 stand part.

Clause 7 stand part.

New clause 1—Equalities impact assessment

‘(1) Within three months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Prime Minister must complete and lay before Parliament an equality impact assessment of the provisions of this Act.

(2) The equality impact assessment must include consideration of the implications of this Act for participation in public life.

(3) Within three months of the date on which the equality impact assessment is laid before Parliament, the Prime Minister must make an oral statement to the House of Commons on the action which the Government intends to take as a consequence of the assessment.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to move the amendments that stand in my name, and also to confirm my support for new clause 1 in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and others.

In the time available to us—which, as I think has been acknowledged many times from those in all parts of the House, does not allow for full consideration of the Bill’s defects and omissions—it is important that the Committee sets out clearly what it believes the direction of travel should be on this issue. The general principle of the House addressing issues of maternity leave is important, although the devil will clearly be in the promised detail, and we will all be watching for the progress that has been discussed by so many Members.

As it stands, this halfway house of a Bill provides for maternity leave in specific circumstances, but as the Minister herself noted, only with the by-your-leave of the Prime Minister, and only for a maximum of six months. That is not really what we should be endorsing as a long-term solution to the present inadequate situation. Indeed, it should not even be a medium-term solution. That is why the SNP tabled these amendments, and why we are happy to support new clause 1 in addition.

It is inconceivable that if an equalities impact assessment had been done, the Bill would have seen the light of day in its current form. I look forward to such an assessment being completed before we return to this issue. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow said, we have barely scratched the surface of the issues that we need to address if policy is to deal with the proper engagement of those in public life with family life.

Amendment 2 was tabled because the approach adopted in the Bill is wrong. It is unhelpful to those of us who want to address the significant structural issues that exist. I know that there are many on the Government Benches who would like us to revise our approach, who see the international standards on human rights as inconvenient and who perhaps hanker after days when this House and the Government it supported decided who deserved which treatment or benefit and who did not. But we have moved beyond that, as is recognised in the European convention on human rights statement at the head of the Bill. As a matter of principle, we recognise that women should not be discriminated against in the workplace, including on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity.

The Bill, as drafted, envisages that the Prime Minister would—in theory—be entitled to withhold maternity leave from a woman even when she was within 12 weeks of the expected week of birth or within four weeks of having given birth. As a matter of principle, that is wrong. No appeal to how reasonable Prime Ministers would deal with this is satisfactory enough for us to accept such a defect in the Bill. The right to maternity leave is important because it shows the value that society places on our right to family life. That is more fundamental than the role we play in the workplace, no matter how important or exalted our role may be.

There is a macho view that seems to value the idea that we should all work right up until the days of giving birth, particularly if we are in high-powered jobs, and the understanding is that we should return just as quickly. That is to misunderstand the importance for most families—for parents and children—of that vital transitional period from pregnancy through to early parenthood. As one Member said earlier, it also misunderstands the colossal impact of pregnancy and parenthood on life more broadly. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) said about the importance of supporting new parents in the early years, and this House has a role to play in setting an example.

While there may be mothers and families for whom a speedy period of maternity leave works, and they are entitled to choose that route if they wish, it is absolutely not our job here to put into place or to perpetuate policies that make that seem the norm. That can only be detrimental to families across the country. We really need to look forward. We need to accept that things are simply not good enough here for Ministers, MPs or, as we have heard, members of staff.

More broadly—this cannot be emphasised enough—we cannot leave this debate thinking that maternity leave is all working well away from this place. I mentioned earlier the terrifying statistic that over 60% of women who took part in the Pregnant Then Screwed survey last year believe that their redundancy is because of their maternity leave. That is a shocking statistic, and it should cause us to reflect seriously on the situation affecting these women.

The poor state of statutory pay must not be left behind in this discussion either. We cannot just deal with one person, however sensible it is to put this provision in place, and leave everyone else hanging on by their fingertips because of the impossible financial provisions that they have to deal with. The effect of that kind of financial pressure and the lack of support can be seen in how many women do not take up their full entitlement to maternity leave. In its recent report, “The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave”, the Petitions Committee noted:

“It appears then that current entitlements are only generous to those who can afford to use them.”

We should reflect on that point. Covid and the precarious nature of so many employment relationships at present bring into sharp focus the need for proper provisions for maternity leave, parental leave and the support that families need at this particularly difficult time, which will also be so vital as we move forward out of the pandemic.

The Petitions Committee also highlighted research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions in 2008, which suggested that less than a quarter—23%—of mothers taking maternity leave took the full 52 weeks. Only 45% took 40 weeks or more, and I suspect it is unlikely that the situation has improved significantly since then.

The reason for tabling amendment 3 is that an organisation of the scale of the UK Government should not add to that pressure by adopting a standard that says to women, “Your maternity leave is a benefit that may or may not be conferred by your boss,” who in this case is the Prime Minister. Through legislation, we should aim to reflect the standard that we expect Government to meet, which is that women are entitled to their maternity leave and organisations need to put in place proper mechanisms for supporting that.

On the wider front, this House needs to act on the continued abuse of pregnancy as an opportunity to disadvantage in the workplace, whether financially or even by removing people from their posts. That issue also affects those taking parental leave and those with family and caring responsibilities, particularly for young children, which Members on all sides have called on the Minister to look at.

That brings me to the second issue raised in the amendments tabled by the SNP, which is the duration of leave. A simple click on the gov.uk website would have told the drafters of the Bill that statutory maternity leave in the UK is 52 weeks, split into two chunks of 26 weeks. It is not clear to me why the starting point for the arrangements for designating a Minister on leave was taken to be six months instead of 12 months, and it does not speak well of what we are saying to the outside world.

Perhaps the only way to solve that mystery is to notice that there might be a pattern to the Government’s behaviour. In order to win support, they talk about the new freedoms that the UK apparently now enjoys, casting them as an opportunity to set our own standards, free from outside interference, and to set them standards higher. However, when a choice needs to be made as to whether to go for higher or lower standards, the instinct of the UK Government is to go low—to reduce standards, or to fail to act as they should.

That has been clearly shown by the dither and delay following the Government’s defeat in the High Court on the subject of personal protective equipment and health and safety protection for limb (b) workers. That growing part of our workforce, who find themselves with significantly fewer rights than their directly employed colleagues, now find that the Government are failing to act. Many of these precarious workers may find it even more challenging to deal with issues of maternity.

Those of us who are committed to maintaining high standards, whether in the field of employment, the environment or consumer rights, need to be on our guard here, or slowly but surely, hard-won protections we have enjoyed for many years will be reduced or swept away in pursuit of the so-called flexibility that we are now being told is what the UK needs as it pursues life beyond Brexit.

The amendments are about setting a marker. We can see, working from the most vulnerable members of our workforce right up to the Cabinet table, that change can be seen as an opportunity to roll back the clock and reduce and reset established rights. The Scottish National party does not consent to that process.

I will comment briefly on the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow. Her amendment 2 seems to offer appropriate clarification of an aspect of support for Opposition Members. It addresses the issue of someone being disadvantaged as a result of change in circumstance while on maternity leave, which strikes me as an important principle. While on maternity leave, we should not be concerned about the impact of changes at work, so I am happy to support that amendment. I ask the Minister to look at embedding the principle of no detriment in future action in this area.

There is no doubt that an equalities impact assessment is a vital way of dealing with some of the issues with the Bill. The recent Petitions Committee report that we have spoken about highlights some of the issues that need to be addressed when introducing reforms in this area. Recognising that the eyes of the country will be on the changes, we need to avoid creating a two-tier system. We cannot have a good system for Ministers and holders of other high-powered posts and a second-rate system for everyone else.

An equality impact assessment might have thrown up the need to address some of the wider issues in order to avoid that two-tier perception. It would also have highlighted that parental leave more broadly is vital to shattering the glass ceiling, and that too many barriers are still in place relating to caring responsibilities. When this Bill comes back, as the Minister has promised it will, it needs to address those issues.

If we had the equality impact assessment, we might also have noted that wider action is needed to increase the uptake of maternity leave to closer to the one-year statutory limit, because so many parents cannot afford to take the leave to which they are entitled. To address that gap between entitlement and uptake in the wider workforce, it is clear that maternity pay needs to increase, with the SNP proposing 100% of average weekly earnings for the first 12 weeks, then 90% or £150 for 40 weeks, whichever is lower.

15:15
The impact assessment would have surely also addressed the need to reform shared parental leave to increase uptake by fathers, only a very small proportion of whom currently take up their entitlement. It would have also highlighted that perhaps the best way to increase the uptake of those rights is by increasing the statutory weeks allowed and increasing the weekly rate of paternity pay.
Overall, the Bill has served two functions thus far. First, it has brought provision for maternity arrangements for Ministers and others up to date and to where it needs to be in some ways, but it seems to be widely appreciated that that can be only a stopgap measure because of the restrictions that still exist. I am pleased that the Minister seems to be committing to bringing back something further before the summer; I would like to hear that commitment loudly and clearly. Secondly, we must acknowledge that the Bill has shone a light on how many issues need to be addressed broadly in this subject area in this House and across the workforce in all our communities. That is perhaps the most useful thing that it has done.
Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I shall not detain the Committee unduly, given that I made many of my points on Second Reading. However, I would like to highlight how the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) illustrated beautifully how all our maternity rights legislation refers to “women” or “she” and reflects the female sex, which again makes the Bill something of a vagary.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for her references to my amendments and for engaging constructively to try to work through to a solution, notwithstanding the constraints of the legislation with which she is working. My amendments would replace the word “person”, which is causing so much anxiety to women outside this place, with a word that reflects the position in employment law—in this case, “minister”. That would be consistent with the rest of the Bill, because for the Opposition positions the Bill refers to office holders. I am really grateful to my right hon. Friend for seeing whether that might be a solution. It is not ideal—I would much prefer to see “woman” placed in the Bill—but needs must, and we must pass the legislation so that we can send the Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), Godspeed on her way to enjoy her pregnancy and her childbirth.

I am not minded to press the amendment if it is not a suitable way to deal with this issue. It was tabled in a constructive spirit, to try to take the heat out of something causing distress to women. However, we must ensure that this is not repeated in future legislation regarding maternity rights. If there were an opportunity to vote on replacing the word “person” with “woman”, I would be in full support of it.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to speak to a number of amendments. Before I do so, I will acknowledge some Members across the House who have done such amazing work in raising issues of equality when it comes to pregnancy and maternity in this place. I believe there is a high degree of cross-party consensus that we need to act.

I also put on the record my support for the many men who have spoken today about the importance of fathers. Let me be clear: there will be no equality for pregnant women and new mums until fathers are able to step up and equally do their bit. It is not a zero-sum game; it is about parents being able to support each other, and the importance to women’s equality of not being left literally holding the baby.

Let me put on the record my thanks for the work of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman); my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who was a trailblazer in her time and continues to fight for women’s rights; my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper); and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark), who spoke bravely and set out her own fears for what would happen. That is one of the tests we must face in this place.

I take the point that the Paymaster General is making when she says that this is not a perk, but I think it is quite difficult to make that argument when faced with another Member of the House who is in exactly the same position as the Attorney General but will be unable to access the maternity leave that we have all agreed it is important that new mums should be able to access.

I want to put on the record my support for the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). If Members have not read her books, trying to correct the record of the absence of our understanding of what women parliamentarians have done, they really should.

I also want to mention the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). I said in my earlier contribution that one of the things I thought was missing from the debate was a recognition of the legislation that she has proposed to try to help women facing redundancy in pregnancy, and to make real the promise, which I think we all expect for our constituents, that we will not make someone who is pregnant redundant. As we know, even before the pandemic, 50,000 women a year were facing that situation. I think about the narrow scope of this Bill and contrast it with what her Bill could do for thousands of women in this country. If she is able to bring it forward, she will have my support.

I also want to thank the current Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who is doing an amazing job. She spoke today about the importance of equalities impact assessments. New clause 1 is about exactly why that matters. Obviously, we usually expect those assessments to be done for any form of Government legislation, because we recognise that we cannot be blind to the consequences of legislation for different sections of our society.

We have an Equality Act in this country and we protect certain characteristics for a reason, because we know that not everyone in our society faces a level playing field. Pregnancy is a protected characteristic for just that reason—to enable us to say, “Actually, in our society in 2021, women who are pregnant in our communities face discrimination.” We recognise that if we address the challenges that they face and remove those barriers, we shall all benefit. This legislation seeks to do that, and I recognise that. That is why I will support it, and why I think it is the right thing to do.

However, as the Paymaster General herself said, this legislation does that for a maximum of 115 women. In a society of 70 million people, that cannot be enough. That cannot be the message that we send from Parliament. That is why it is important that we have an equalities impact assessment of this legislation, and that we recognise that it does not take place in a vacuum, but in an unequal society where women who are pregnant face discrimination. We see that in our public life. We have already talked about this place briefly, and I do want to return to that, because I think it is important.

I acknowledge that the Paymaster General has recognised the timetable that I am setting her. I want to put that on the record, because I think that should be part of an equalities impact assessment where I believe the discrimination is against those of us who are pregnant, and there are human rights elements of this. But we cannot be blind, either, to the message that this legislation, in the way it is crafted, will send to our sisters in local government and regional Assemblies, or indeed to our sisters who are employees of this House.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Happily. In fact, if I did not give way to the hon. Gentleman, I would feel that I had missed out.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for what she is saying, because I wholeheartedly agree. An example of that is a young girl who works for me. She is my PPS but also a councillor. She was able to get maternity leave because she works for me in this place, but not for her role as a councillor. I want to quote quickly from her. She cried, for she felt pressurised to return to the council after a couple of weeks, not by any person in her group but because she knew that no one else could take over from her, vote for her or speak for her. Today we have an opportunity to get this right for Ministers and for MPs, but I believe we must do the same for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and every council. This is about equality, and we need that for everyone.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I always knew that the hon. Gentleman and I would eventually find common cause, even if we have disagreed on other human rights issues. He is right; we have a leadership role to play. Indeed, I would argue that this is leading legislation, because we know that in other Administrations there are not formal maternity provisions. That is why it is so frustrating that we are missing this opportunity to go further and help our colleagues.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate her on her happy news. I have had the interesting experience of having three children: as a councillor, where I took six months’ leave; as a member of the London Assembly, where I was the first then to take six months’ leave; and as a Minister and a Member of this House, where I took six months’ leave. It can be done, but there is an important element to consider.

Proxy voting, for example, which has an important role to play, can be seen to tether a woman to her job during her six months’ maternity leave and make sure that she has to follow every twist and turn of her job. We need to be careful in this debate that, while, of course, this Bill is a good move and while there are still many other measures that need to be put in place, we reflect and recognise that maternity leave is there for a reason. It is there so that we can bond with and nurture our child and come back to work at the point that we are ready to do so, with our child and our situation in a good place. It is important to make sure that, with some of the mechanisms that could be proposed, we are not unnecessarily tethering a woman to her job.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The challenge that she is speaking to is the same as the one that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke to with regard to his member of staff. The Bill is not just about pay, but actual cover. As I said earlier, it is the commitment that the current Attorney General will not get an immediate phone call saying, “We know you are on leave, but we need you because of X.” Somebody else will be formally overseeing that role.

It is not by accident that when I was pregnant, I thought about what I wanted to do for my community. It was not about money, but about being conscious that if I had been awake for two or three hours at a time, I probably would not be as useful to my constituents as someone who could focus fully on the job. As I discovered with my first child, those pockets of sleep for two-and-a-half to three hours—the point at which I saw coffee as a medicinal substance to keep going—were in the first few weeks and months after childbirth.

It is absolutely right that we work to protect the family life of any woman giving birth, so that she has that time to bond with her child and to properly take time out, but we cannot do that in this job if there is nobody fulfilling the role that we are doing. It is the same for a local councillor and the same in our Assemblies. That is the challenge that we are facing here, and why it is so important that we assess the impact of this legislation.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am listening intently to the hon. Lady’s speech. She is making some excellent points. Does she agree that today, what she is asking for is even more crucial? Given social media and emails, Members of Parliament are arguably never off.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. At this point I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), who found herself being abused because she was on maternity leave. She was also abused by members of my own party. I remonstrated with them, pointing out that that was not the progressive approach to take.

My concern about the hon. Member for Stroud, and why the legislation is a missed opportunity, is that she sought to get cover. She was an MP who, like me, tried to get a locum. I had a fantastic locum. In fact, my locum, Kizzy Gardiner, was too good. People in Walthamstow were desperate to keep her, because she was an absolutely fantastic example of why maternity cover matters. Nobody in my constituency batted an eyelid about having someone else not just doing casework, but out there representing our community, working with groups, going into local schools before lockdown happened, and then when the lockdown happened, leading on that role. Watching the hon. Lady being abused and attacked, and watching her also trying to cope with those first few weeks of having a new baby alone, fired my enthusiasm on this. We cannot sit around in this place, watching as other people get those issues right, but failing to take action ourselves.

It is not by accident that the number of times pregnant women end up in this place, or in local government or in the Assemblies, are few and far between. That is one issue that an equalities impact assessment can take a look at. We all talk about wanting to get more diverse people into our politics. Sometimes the barriers to that are blindingly obvious. I know from talking to colleagues in local government just how frustrated they are. I know from talking to colleagues in other devolved Administrations just how frustrated they are.

When we pass legislation in this House, such as this Bill, we cannot be blind to the message that we are sending about how we have determined who is important enough to have that leave. If we think that is not something that should be bestowed as a discretionary pleasure, or as a benefit like a company car, then we also have to recognise the consequences of behaving like that, not just here but in other places as well. If we want to ensure that there is no trade-off between family life and public life for either men or women, we must look at the message we are sending. The honest truth is that this legislation, as it stands, sends a message that a two-tier system is acceptable.

Consider for a moment what would happen were we to look at local government and say, “Well, it’s okay for just cabinet members in local government to have maternity leave”. We would be horrified for young female councillors, or indeed for young men who want to be good fathers and spend time with their children, and want to be supportive partners, yet that is exactly what we are doing here. Frankly, in no other workplace would this be acceptable. If someone came to us in our constituency offices and said, “This is the experience in my workplace”, we would say, “Well, that’s clearly breaching various regulations. We must support you. We must get you trade union representation.” I am very proud of the trade unions, which I know have made representations on this issue already.

00:01
An equalities impact assessment would allow us to look at what the consequences of only acting for 115 women are, and what that means for the broader conversation about public life in this country, because we know the pace of change is agonisingly slow. We celebrate a third of women in this place—a third. In my time—I have been here for 10 years; I am heading towards grandee status—at that rate, we will never get parity, and we will certainly never get women to come in at younger age if we do not tackle these issues.
We also cannot be blind—an impact assessment would allow us to look at these issues—about what message we are sending to workplaces across this country. There is a tsunami of mum unemployment taking place in this country because of the pandemic. The reason we protect certain characteristics and the reason we say that pregnancy, separate from sex or gender, is something that we protect is that we know that, if employers—bad employers—are given the opportunity, the first ones out of the door are the employees they think are more complicated. What an economic fallacy. We know that countries that make sure that it is easy to have combined family life and work life are more prosperous. They are more resilient and they are better able to cope with the modern world. So a failure to recognise the message we are sending to employers has ramifications far beyond this place.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry said that maternity and pregnancy discrimination was one of the
“most urgent, immediate threats to equality”
of the pandemic, yet in this place, if this is the only piece of legislation we have discussed in the last year that even touches on maternity, what message are we sending to those thousands of women who are facing these issues right now? They are in every one of our constituencies. Every one of them would say, “Hang on a minute. I just want what you have” to a Minister and “I just want to be able to take paid maternity leave and be confident I can still go back to a job at the end of it.” That should be a simple ask, but this legislation would allow an employer to say, “Hang on a minute. Actually, are you senior enough in your position for us really to provide that?”
We know there is a piece of work to do with employers: 40% of employers say they would avoid hiring a woman of childbearing age—that is not an ancient statistic; that is a recent one—and 40% of employers claim they have seen at least one pregnant woman “take advantage” of their pregnancy. What environment are we asking women to go into when we are saying that that is unacceptable for Ministers, and I completely agree, and why are we not saying that for every woman in this country? Why are we not saying that the use of non-disclosure agreements, something the right hon. Member for Basingstoke has so powerfully revealed, to hide pregnancy discrimination is unacceptable? Yet this legislation does not touch on any of those issues, but it sends messages about what is acceptable. That is why we need to have an equalities impact assessment.
I pay tribute to Joeli Brearley and Pregnant Then Screwed because, as a small operation, they have had a mighty impact on our understanding of just how much women who are pregnant and new mothers are suffering during this pandemic. The work they have done to uncover the inequalities and the impact of legislation, or lack of impact, has been absolutely staggering. Frankly, it is a source of shame to me that our Government are being taken to court by them because of our failure as a legislature to introduce a system on self-employment support that recognises the very simple principle that, during the three years that they calculate that self-employment support, some women might have taken maternity leave so their income will have varied.
The failure to be able to deal with that and the fact that it has ended up in court, where we all know the Government will be banged to rights on it—we will end up paying court costs for it, and 80,000 women are affected: self-employed people who are terrified about what income they might have in the current pandemic at the best of times—speaks to the challenges that we have and speaks to the absence of any alternative legislation from this Government, as opposed to this piece of legislation. [Interruption.] I can see the Paymaster General nodding. I hope that she will go back to the Treasury and pointedly highlight just how embarrassing it is that we cannot even recognise that maternity leave should be part of a calculation, and ensure that we do not discriminate against women accordingly.
The UK has some of the poorest maternity and paternity leave policies in Europe. UNICEF says that we are one of the least family-friendly countries in Europe. To all those in this House who wax lyrical—this might come up today—about the importance of family and the importance of motherhood, I say what I have said before: it is deeds, not words, that matter. They cannot sit here and tell me that they are obsessed with the word “motherhood”, and then fail to act to support us being better at providing paid maternity and paternity leave. Our economic competitors beat us time and again. We treat fathers as an afterthought—something that this legislation takes no account of. An equality impact assessment would allow us to explore these issues.
Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady knows that she has the support of the Scottish National party for her amendments. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) wanted to make sure that her support in particular was recorded.

Until the pandemic, the only times that I acted as a proxy were actually for new fathers in our group; we have not had a new mother, at least in the time that I have been here. I have heard the case made on many occasions that the best stride that could be made for gender equality would be equality of parental leave. If that parental leave could be shared between both parents of a child, it would be an incredible way of helping to break through the glass ceiling—if the entitlement was there for everyone. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that this Bill and the clauses that we are debating just now do not make that distinction.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with my colleague from north of the border. People’s ability to take shared parental leave is so important. Again, parental leave is not covered in this Bill, but an equality impact assessment could look at the consequences of failing to include it. That matters because the Bill talks about ensuring the income of a Minister, and, to put it bluntly, the biggest barrier to people taking up parental leave is that it is only open to those who can really afford to do so.

The gender pay gap is at the heart of some of these challenges. That is because for most women and their families, it is actually better for them to take time off with the baby than for their partner to do so. That means that they take the hit on their career and on their incomes, and we do not get the fathers’ involvement in children that we all want to support. Why are we sending the message that we are not even talking about ministerial paternal paid leave and therefore ensuring that fathers can be part of it? The Paymaster General said that it is already covered in existing provisions. That is because it is only two weeks. In the first two weeks post birth, parents are lucky if they see daylight and are able to go outside—or, indeed, to wear clean clothes, if I remember correctly—so having more time with their child is crucial.

I want to look particularly at what this legislation means for Parliament. The Paymaster General has pointed out that she gets this and she understands that we have to go much further, and I believe her. She talked about a timetable. Let me be clear why that timetable matters. I said earlier that I have a direct discrimination case, and I think that an equality impact assessment could look at this issue. She will have seen that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has come out today and said, “Yes, we’re going to consult”, and it is having a meeting again today. That is all very welcome. I recognise that the new chair of IPSA takes a very different approach from the previous administration. I have worked on these issues for the last two years and I wrote to IPSA before the last election, begging it to come out and say that it was at least looking at these concerns so that nobody of childbearing age would be deterred from standing in the election, but it refused to do so, so it is welcome that there is movement.

But, as ever, the pace of change is glacially slow—for me, literally, because yet again I find myself in a position where I cannot be confident of what I can say to my community to answer the question posed by the member of staff of the hon. Member for Strangford: “What cover will there be?” I cannot even look my own staff in the eye because of the lack of cover that we offer staff in this place. If nothing else, that makes us terrible employees.

This legislation gives the lie that this is an independent matter. I have been told for the last two years that MPs’ employment status meant that it was impossible. Indeed, it says on the IPSA website:

“MPs as independent office holders are not employees and are therefore not eligible for statutory maternity, paternity or adoption leave.”

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend will know that a Minister is on the payroll of their Department, so in that sense they are more of an employee. There is a really interesting issue here that we will need to consider carefully, and it is that MPs are not employees. We have a payroll, but we are not employees; we are obviously answerable to our constituents. That is one of the fundamental differences. For my part, when I was on maternity leave, I had a clear plan and support. Like my hon. Friend, I asked for some cover—some extra money for my staff—but it was not possible. There are certain things that an MP does that cannot be replicated by anybody else, as we know. This has obviously been well rehearsed. This is a complex area, and she is making some interesting points.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. She hit the nail on the head when she said that it was not possible for her to have that support, so she had to put in place a system for herself. In what other workplace—

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just want to make it clear that I was not unhappy about the system that I put in place for myself. It was very clearly worked out: I had colleagues who were able to step up if my staff needed any extra support, and they had the right to be signatories. However, this was during the expenses scandal, and because my name was above the door, there were some things that it would have been very difficult to pass on to somebody else. So despite the great support I had, it was difficult, and I would have liked to be able to pay some of those staff a little bit more for the extra responsibility they were taking. That was the bit that I had the most issue with at the time.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing her experience. I think that speaks to the challenge of this legislation, in terms of the impact it will have in this place by setting up a two-tier system. For a member of the Cabinet or a Minister, it will now be clear what will happen and what their rights are. They can be confident and relaxed. I return to the honesty of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North in talking about how scared and worried she was and about the lack of clarity in the lack of parity on these issues, so that she felt she would be put at risk of people saying she was not pulling her weight or would not be able to support her constituents, or that she would be dragged back into work. We have a duty of responsibility and care to her, because she is in the same position as me, but a bit further on.

I want to be clear that this legislation recognises the Minister’s absolute right to a family life. That is an article 8 human right, and we need to protect that. We need to act to ensure that no one is discriminated against in that regard. The lawyers I have consulted tell me that it is arguable that this legislation breaches the human rights of those of us who are not covered by it but who are in the same position in seeking to do a job in this place, because article 14 says that we should not be discriminated against in terms of the rights that are accrued in the workplace. So for me, there is an arguable case here.

I do not want to be in the position of taking the Government to court. Frankly, I want to be in the position, especially now in the early stages of pregnancy, of being able to sit down and sleep for hours on end, and in later pregnancy probably just to sit down in general, but I know that it is vital for my constituents to have clarity about who will be covering the role that I do. The previous locum I had was fantastic, but we had to write the job description. We had to sort it out. In comparison to what the Attorney General and any other Minister will have, that is not parity. It is a form of direct discrimination because it affects the ability to have family life. I have been very clear with the Minister—

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wonder if my hon. Friend could clarify that last point, because I think we all approach our jobs slightly differently. Certainly, it was not at all an issue for me when I was laying out everything I did that would need cover. The description was really what I did already, so it was not a very difficult challenge. I would be very reluctant to have IPSA or somebody else write the job description for somebody who was providing support, whether it was my existing staff or anyone else. I would be interested if she could clarify that point.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not want to test the patience of the Chair of the Committee by going into what the different schemes might be.

The point we are making here is about parity, and the lack of parity as a result of bringing in this system. If we have clarity on the cover for the Attorney General and clarity about the amount of money that will be paid, it would be right to look at whether we should offer the same thing for Back-Bench MPs, and indeed set the standard for local government and the regional Assemblies, perhaps offering to work with them in terms of our experience.

My simple point is that this legislation blows a hole in the argument that has been given for the past two years that we could not look at these issues because it was all too complicated. As the Paymaster General set out earlier, the complications around ministerial employment have been overcome in a day because of the guillotine of having a clear deadline set by one Member of Parliament. One of the challenges that has created for some of the drafting is that this maternity right is following not the person who might be pregnant but the position that they hold.

My argument is that there is direct discrimination in this place because this says to my constituents that they are not as important. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch was able to get cover, and I know that Kizzy, my locum, was invaluable for my community in ensuring that they got 100% of the service 100% of the time. I believe the residents of Walthamstow are owed that. That is why I will continue to fight for this, but I also recognise that it is for every MP to make that decision for themselves. The point is that we are now making sure that that decision can be made, but only by a select few. That has an equalities impact, and we should know that and recognise its impact on public life.

15:45
Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I hope she will forgive my ignorance in some of my questions to her, but my understanding is that Members of Parliament are able to take maternity leave and their salary is paid for by the state, and that continues to be the case. My understanding is also that IPSA will provide contingency funding to support the offices of Members of Parliament, to allow them to have that leave and make provision for them to do so. Am I incorrect in my assumption?

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The honest truth is that we do not know, because the only other MP who sought to take advantage of that system was discouraged and deterred, and was not able to do so. What I would say is that right now, it is not clear to me as a pregnant woman what support I would get. There is a conversation about pre-approved support; right now, I am one of the most expensive MPs in London because of the contingency application for maternity cover. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is not appropriate to see maternity cover as an expense that might be reported to the public in that way. There is not parity, in the way that there is parity and clarity about what the scheme is for—

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will happily give way, but I hope that explains the issue to the hon. Gentleman.

Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me, but I am afraid I do not concur with what she has said. I think we are in one of the most fortunate situations in the entire nation. This Parliament has the ability to call on the taxpayer to support those who need to take maternity leave, to take care of their children and to physically recover from pregnancy, so if the hon. Lady will forgive me, I think she is wrong. We as a Parliament, as a state and as a nation are in the fortunate position that we do support our MPs, and we must be careful to not put out there that we do not, when there are many people who are struggling. I agree with the hon. Lady’s earlier point that across the nation, there are employers who do not necessarily fulfil their obligations, but I think we have to be careful about giving the impression to the nation that we in this place are hard done by, because I am afraid I do not agree.

Rosie Winterton Portrait The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. Just before the hon. Lady responds, I think it is quite important to note that this Bill is about Ministers, and we must not stray too far into the position of Members of Parliament as well.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. If he will forgive me, as somebody who has actually been through this process and actually understands what is available and what is not clear at present, I would gently encourage him to talk to his colleague the hon. Member for Stroud about her experiences.

It is really important that we are honest about the lack of clarity. As I have said, there is not a formal maternity leave scheme or formal maternity cover. Unless the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that if an MP disappears for six months, nobody would notice because they do not do anything, then there is work to be covered. The point about this legislation is that it recognises that. It is not about the pay—that is a red herring in this environment. It is about having somebody to cover the work we do outside of this room: the campaigns we run, the constituency events we attend, and the casework we do. For me, it was not acceptable to ask my staff to fill in everything that I did for six months, and expect my constituents to have a reduced service as a result, rather than to have somebody cover those roles.

I am very conscious of time and I do want to press on, but I would gently encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at what is actually being provided at the moment. It is not the same as what we are providing in this legislation, and that is my point: we want parity, because every woman should have six months’ paid cover so that they can actually take time off. Perhaps he might want to speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), who was back doing casework three days after a caesarean section because, although people thought she could take maternity leave, the reality was that she could not. I know that it is not a situation in which the hon. Gentleman has found himself, but I hope that he can understand, through listening to those of us who have, why we need change. Certainly, I hope that he will join me in supporting paid parental leave for our male colleagues because that is really important. I have talked to many colleagues who find that this place takes them away from their families when we want to bring them together.

I want to highlight the other amendments that I have tabled. I recognise the cross-party support for new clause 1—I think the Paymaster General does, too—and the call for change and for us not to be blind about the messages we send from this place about the importance of paid maternity cover and ensuring that everybody can access it.

Amendments 1 and 2 are probing amendments to recognise some of the questions the Bill raises about the practical technicalities and what would happen. The Bill seems to take account of the idea that somebody might be demoted while they are on maternity leave and I am sure that the Paymaster General will want to clarify that. Although the Bill provides that no Minister would be in a financially difficult position if they were removed from their ministerial post while they were on maternity leave, it does not make the same provision for the small number of Opposition office holders. Will the Paymaster General clarify what would happen in that case? We all want to ensure that when any woman takes maternity leave, she can do so with confidence and certainty about her financial and logistical position.

There are still battles to be won, but I want every pregnant woman in this country who is facing problems right now to know that there are voices in this place that are prepared to stand up to those who tell them not to worry and to be grateful for the fact that somebody might employ them at all; not to worry about going home and being stuck with their children, and that equality does not matter to our economy. I know that there are voices and champions for the importance of not discriminating against pregnant women and new mums across the House, but it is time that we saw ourselves as we are now, and we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope if we do not understand the impact of the Bill on the messages that we send.

I know that the Paymaster General realises that we need to do the research. She is honest about how small the number of women affected by the Bill is. If she will not accept the amendment, I am keen to hear from her—because I do not want to have to take the Government to court—a clear timetable for action, a clear commitment by the Government to make parliamentary time so that we can resolve the issues in this place and support women of child-bearing age and their partners in local government and across the Assemblies as appropriate, for public life if nothing else. Deeds not words.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, protagonist Syme explains the objective of Newspeak:

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

Although there are those who do not understand or will not recognise this truth, language matters. It is through language that we understand, express, consider, challenge, think and articulate. Through language, we breathe life into sentiment. So we must ask ourselves a question. How did we get to a place where a Conservative Government bring a Bill before us that seeks in effect to abolish two beautiful words that have been used for centuries and embody goodness and truth: “mother” and “woman”? The Bill as drafted does just that. It rules those words out of law.

Is it now considered embarrassing to be described as a woman and to admit to being a mother? That seems to contradict the whole purpose of the Bill. After all, the Bill is about recognising the significance of motherhood and extending that recognition to those in the service of the Crown. Are we now acknowledging as a Parliament that the concepts of motherhood and womanhood are so radical that they must be censored?

You know as well as anyone, Dame Eleanor, that when tabling amendments, one is often seeking to make small, sometimes complicated technical changes to legislation. Today, with my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), my motivation is much more straightforward: to affirm the existence, worth and eternal value of womanhood and motherhood. By the way, if the need arose, I would do the same for men and fatherhood. By saying the words and including them in the Bill, we will cement the virtues that the Bill embodies in law.

As drafted, the Bill, in effect, extinguishes the ordained particular characteristics of human types. I do not know whether that is as a result of artlessness or heartlessness, but whichever it is, it anonymises and dehumanises. That is why I have introduced the two amendments that stand in my name, and I am grateful to Members from across the House for supporting them.

My speech will be uncharacteristically short but characteristically straightforward, because this is a matter of common sense—the common sense that prevails beyond this place and, clearly, beyond the wit or will of the people who drafted this legislation. Never underestimate the power of language, for there are those—those who are extreme and immoderate—who understand its power very well and those, as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said, who seek to obscure the biological differences, which are, frankly, the very reason all of us are able to contribute to this debate, because we would not be here without them.

It is sad to see the attempts that have been made to blur the picture, muddy the waters and cloak this matter in denial. It is sad to see the descriptions of “drafting difficulties” and “legislative complications”, which were described to me today by one parliamentary lawyer, a distinguished one too, as entirely “clueless” and “baseless”. This is a matter not of drafting procedure, but of principle. Electors of all political persuasions and none, across our kingdom, from Caithness to Caerphilly to Cornwall, from Antrim to Arundel, from Kent to Kendal, expect us to do what they would anticipate is that common sense—to affirm womanhood and motherhood in this legislation, which is, after all, about maternity.

As Orwell understood, semantics matter, because through them, via meaning, we find truth. In the pursuit of truth, and in solidarity with every woman and mother in South Holland and The Deepings and beyond, I am proud to put forward the amendments that stand in my name, and I shall be seeking to divide the House on them at the end of this Committee stage, with your indulgence, Dame Eleanor.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General for bringing this Bill before us today. It is highly unlikely to affect me personally, as my daughter is six and I have a very supportive family, but even with a six-year-old being a full-time working mum is a huge juggling act. I have massive admiration for mums in general, for all working mums and absolutely for any colleague who has a baby while doing this job. But why do I feel like that? Why do I not have the same feeling for my male colleagues who welcome a newborn? There have been a few of those this year.

I am sorry to say that despite how far we have come and despite how much more hands-on dads and partners are these days, the majority of the domestic load around babies and small children is still being carried by women. I will quickly caveat that by saying that all families are different and there are many families where that is not the case, but by and large women are still in charge of this mental load. We must explore in this House, and in debate more widely, the evolving role of fathers and partners, and how we can possibly improve the equality of pregnant women without looking at families as a whole. Looking into the debate on maternity leave as a whole means looking at the impact on our work and family life. Do we value family life at the expense of work? Do we look at work at the expense of family life? At the moment, I do not think we have that balance right, and covid has emphasised that. Society is starting to look at this a lot more, and Government will be well placed to encourage a society that promotes family life. Stable families, whatever shape they take, are good for society and improve life chances. We should promote best practice by companies, and ensure by doing it in this place that we lead by example. It starts with maternity leave, but goes on to much more.

16:00
As I said on Second Reading, as co-chair of the all-party group for baby loss I have a special interest in the health of mother and baby. The Bill is a step forward in improving the condition of both, and the Government are setting an example in that the health of mum and baby come first. Unfortunately, one in four pregnancies end in tragic loss. According to the Office for National Statistics, the stillbirth rate in England in 2018 was the lowest on record, but was still four stillbirths per 100,000 births. If my maths is correct, that equates to 2,500 stillborn babies. I am pleased to see that stillbirth is considered in clauses 1(4) and 4(7). In the event of a stillbirth, or if the baby is born alive and later dies, even after a few seconds, or if this happens after the 24th week of pregnancy, you are entitled to all maternity rights. If you are already on maternity leave, you do not have to take any action, but if the birth happens before you intended to start maternity leave or before you gave notice of maternity leave to your employer, the maternity leave will start the day of the birth—and so on and so forth. However, what happens if the baby dies before the 24th week?
My baby died at 21 weeks. Without going into the painful details again, little chance of quality of life was given for my daughter, so we were given very little choice but to terminate and then to deliver. In the fog of that weekend, I remember asking what would happen if I chose not to terminate. I was told that my baby would probably die within minutes of being born and that it would be more traumatic for me and for my baby; the midwives would have to stay with her and no one knew how long it would take. The point I am trying to make is that it was within my rights to refuse a termination but to deliver early. Had I taken that option, in theory I would have been eligible for full maternity leave, but because I terminated I was not. My baby, if I had not terminated, would have had a birth certificate and a death certificate. She has neither.
I am not asking for a change in the law, but I do expect the Government and employers to recognise that a loss, even before 24 weeks, as the result of a termination that we did not want to happen, is just as painful as a full-term stillbirth. I genuinely cannot say whether I would have wanted to take full maternity leave. What on earth would I have done for months on end, with no new baby to take home? But it might have taken the pressure off. Luckily, I had an understanding employer, but I still had to keep producing doctor’s notes and sick notes every few weeks until I had recovered physically from the birth and while I was still grieving. Every time the deadline approached, I felt the pressure of wondering whether I should ask for another sick note, or go back to work.
Moving on from that, I want to discuss the amendments standing in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). It is important to me that hard-fought rights achieved by women who have gone before me are not removed from the statute book. Otherwise, some women may feel that with this Bill we are taking one step forward and one step back simultaneously, on the same day. I am pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General will address this—she mentioned the explanatory notes, and I look forward to hearing more—but it is important that compassion dictates how we draft legislation. I do not believe that we should allow one group of people to be pitted against another.
I am privileged to be assisting my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) in her work preparing the forthcoming early years review. In the review, we have referred to “parent” or “carer”, as that reflects the nature of families today. However, as it stands, it is a biological woman who is pregnant and gives birth, so it is probably best that that is represented in a Bill that is devoted wholly to provision for maternity—the act of becoming a mother. It is not necessarily a debate we want to have today, and many right hon. and hon. Members who are not present would want to participate in such a debate on all sides, but it will come. I am sure that the mother of all Parliaments will debate the subject robustly and that a compassionate way forward will be found. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is correct to say that we will not have total equality for pregnant women without the support of the men in this House, the support of all employers and the support of society as a whole. Pregnancy should not be seen as a nuisance or an annoyance but a normal part of life. When it goes well, it should be celebrated as a precious time of life.
Mothers in the UK are currently only entitled to the equivalent of 12 weeks’ fully paid statutory maternity leave, and I am afraid to say that our statutory offering falls behind many comparable economies. Thus, a third of our children are in childcare between the ages of nought and three, and that rises to about three quarters between the ages of three and six. Meanwhile, in countries such as Sweden and Norway, women are allowed 35 to 45 weeks’ fully paid maternity leave, and men are allowed around 10 weeks’ paternity leave. In Estonia, women get 85 weeks’ fully paid maternity leave.
Many UK companies do much better, and some women can take up to a year fully paid or anywhere in between. Despite that, many women are being laid open to discrimination. While the law does recognise that pregnant women and women on maternity leave are at risk of experiencing discrimination, the concern raised by many is that it does not go anywhere near far enough. I know savvy women who have fantastic maternity provision written into their contracts, but women should not have to do this. The onus should not necessarily be on the woman, confident or otherwise, to negotiate such a contract.
Unfortunately, the level of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK is still astonishing, with an estimated 54,000 mothers every year being forced to leave their jobs because of how they were treated during their pregnancy or maternity leave or after they returned to work. Over three quarters of women and new mothers each year experience some form of pregnancy or maternity discrimination at work, and I return to how this affects stress levels in pregnancy. We must not underestimate the fact that sustained stress levels within a pregnancy are hugely risky for the mum and the unborn baby. It can lead to pregnancy loss, low birth weight and post-natal depression.
As I said earlier, this is not helped by the particular nature of what we do in this place. I was upset to hear from Members on both sides of the House about the abuse that female colleagues have received when they have taken time off to spend with their newborn. I fully believe that MPs come into this House to do their best for their constituents, and I would like to remind the House and wider society that MPs are human beings. MPs are pregnant, as we have learned today, and I congratulate all involved. MPs are new mums. They are wives. They are daughters. They are sisters. They are grandmothers. They are friends. They are mums.
It is unacceptable for any new mother to feel the extra pressure of being told that they are skiving, they are not working hard enough and they should not be having a baby while serving in office. Female MPs in particular are at the receiving end of awful abuse these days, and it has stepped up even more for those who are pregnant and new mums. We should not accept this—there should be zero tolerance—and I hope that in this House, we are united in feeling that way.
Post-natal depression, left unchecked, can and does lead to tragic suicide. Do we really need to wait for a female MP who has post-natal depression to be pushed too far before society takes notice? Will that be the next horrible headline we read—that one of our colleagues in this place has not been able to cope with all the pressure put her way and feels like she is not being a good enough mother or a good enough MP, because she is trying her best to do both? MPs are not alone in suffering from post-natal depression, and I am sure none would wish for special treatment. When post-natal depression hits you, you do not even realise you are in it until somebody points it out to you. MPs are a special target for anger from some, and it is completely unacceptable.
As I said in my speech last October, birth and pregnancy have always been perilous for women. That remains the case, yet we no longer talk about it, and that needs to change. At every opportunity that I get in this place—whether it is a maternity Bill or legislation on employment rights or other women’s rights—I will stand up for women who have lost their children and not talked about it or who feel so much pressure that they end up suffering from post-natal depression, which pushes them to the edge. We can only do this as a society when we back each other up. The Bill sends an important signal to society and women that the contributions we make to this Parliament as female MPs are valued at every stage of our lives. The Bill will give hope to young women who want to go into politics that their contribution, whatever stage in their life it is at, is valuable. It is important that we make a move, and I look forward to working with colleagues to improve conditions for all mums and mums-to-be.
Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in Committee, having been unable to do so on Second Reading. I start by wishing the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) and the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) all the best in their pregnancies. Indeed, it is particularly poignant for me to speak in this debate today because I am currently receiving updates on my stepson’s partner, who is in the early stages of labour; they are on the way to the hospital as we speak. Step-grannyhood awaits. I am not quite prepared for that.

The Bill corrects what is fundamentally a clear unfairness in relation to ministerial appointment legislation. Clearly, as we heard on Second Reading, there is support from all sides of the House for ensuring that Cabinet Ministers can take maternity leave, and rightly so. However, like many Members across the House, I find it worrying that this huge hole in legislation has been spotted only now. Sadly, I think that speaks volumes about this place, the current Government and—dare I say it?—previous Governments, in which my party took a part.

While today we may be updating antiquated rules, the Bill takes us not so much up to the present day as into the 1990s. Of course, a particular element of maternity leave is ensuring that a new mother can physically recover from the birth. I was a police officer for 12 years, and it was critical that we took time off work. That is why all mothers should take at least two weeks off work in the first instance. It was therefore incredibly saddening to hear of the experience of MPs who have been forced to attend this place either immediately prior to giving birth or shortly thereafter.

In 2021, there is wide acceptance of the fact that, no matter how a person is becoming a parent, they should be entitled to leave, whether it is maternity leave, paternity leave or adoption leave, to give the child that is coming into their family—the child should be at the centre of this—the very best start in life that they can. We should therefore expand the scope of the Bill beyond maternity leave, because that is clearly the direction of travel that we see in society. This must be a legislative first step, and I welcome the Paymaster General’s comments on Second Reading that it is. I look forward to hearing the timetable accordingly.

I worked for a number of different organisations throughout my career before I came into this place. I have seen a variety of policies on parental leave, and I have seen them change over time. In fact, when I was a police officer, they changed between the births of my children; when I had my daughter, I had six months’ leave, and when I had my son, I was able to take longer. However, I would have really struggled financially if it had not been for my mother, who was able to help us cover childcare. There was just no way that, as a family, we could afford the multiple days.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is making an incredibly powerful speech. May I be the first person to congratulate her on her forthcoming step-grannyhood? I am sure she will be super-gran. One statistic that is very important in this debate is that a third of women get into debt when they take maternity leave. She talks about the financial penalties that she faced. Does she think that one of the things that we would need to look at if we were to have an equalities impact assessment is the different access to maternity leave and the time that people can have, due to the financial consequences for them of taking it because we have such poor maternity leave in this country?

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely; I agree. Continuing on my experience of maternity leave, I had to get my mother to help so that we could afford the childcare, but my husband was a police superintendent at the time of the birth of our son, and his two weeks’ paternity leave operationally did not really happen because there were a number of things going on. It just did not work for us as a family, and he certainly did not get the quality time he deserved.

I empathise with the comments made by the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) about the role of fathers. I simply would not be able to serve in this House if it were not for my husband taking the lead at home, although I have warned the children that I am checking Satchel One for progress on online learning on a regular basis.

The global drinks manufacturer that I worked for prior to my election introduced a parental leave policy in early 2019, which means that, regardless of whether it is maternity, paternity or adoption leave, employees are entitled to parental leave equating to six months’ full pay. I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) that this has been transformative, not just for mothers but for fathers too. The biggest impact, I would argue, has been on men. For instance, the director of the global learning unit that I was part of, a man, took his full parental leave allowance, and that sent a very important message. It meant that many men on the supply and manufacturing side of the business in more operational roles felt empowered to be able to take that same leave. That is incredibly important.

16:15
Many other organisations and businesses have been moving in the same direction, so it is disappointing that the Bill excludes any parent who has not given birth. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself became a parent again in the past year. Much has already been said about the fact that Members of Parliament cannot take parental leave because we are appointed. Although we as mothers could take leave by employing a locum—the hon. Member for Walthamstow spoke at length about this—that option is not available to male MPs. I listened intently to the contribution by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on the importance of fathers. By correcting the unfairness in terms of maternity leave for Cabinet Ministers, we are not only leaving other holes in legislation but potentially creating a perceived advantage for those in ministerial positions over the general public. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on councillors, the Welsh Parliament—the Senedd—and the Scottish Parliament. A number of MSPs, despite the fact that they are travelling to Edinburgh and Holyrood as opposed to Westminster, are deciding, come the Scottish elections in May, not to stand again, and have publicly said that the pressures of having children and being a parent have played a part in their decision.
Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said, one of those deciding not to stand is Aileen Campbell, whom I consider a close friend. She was the first Scottish Government Minister to take maternity leave, and Fiona McLeod, an outstanding Minister, was appointed to cover for her. The hon. Lady is talking about the difficulties that Members have in this place. Her former leader, Jo Swinson, was very negatively impacted, because not only was there no proxy voting at that point, but her pairing was shamefully broken, either accidentally or on purpose. That shows the amount of work that still needs to be done in this place despite the points that are being made about the wider consequences for society.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree. It is interesting that the Government are now much more supporting of proxies than they have been. The challenge around the pairing arrangements is not only the risk that they might be broken—that was certainly a very bad experience for Jo Swinson—but that the role that we play in this place is potentially much more visible than it has been in the past through apps such as CommonsVotes. People in our constituencies judge us, and rightly so, on our voting records, and pairing does not give people the opportunity to have their views recorded.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have constituents who say, “I turned on the television and I couldn’t see you in the Chamber”, and I say, “Yes, that’s because I was working.” It is important to remember that only a third of what we do as Members of Parliament takes place in this room—there is also all the build-up to legislation, all the casework we do in our communities, and the role we play as an advocate for our localities. When we are considering the cover required, thinking only about what happens in this place and the end point of voting is a missed opportunity. We have to recognise what would happen in our communities if our role there was not played. Does the hon. Lady agree that we should not sell ourselves short with the idea that if we disappeared for six months people would not notice?

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do agree. That would not only sell ourselves short but sell short the work done by our staff in our constituencies. Owing to the pandemic, it has been difficult for parliamentarians who came into this House in December 2019 to know what case workloads might normally look like, but I have experienced a very high level over the past year, and my staff have played a key role in relation to that. We need to be there to support our constituents. Constituents have said that they have had a better understanding of the role of MPs and what they can do as a result.

I do not want it to be thought that I do not agree with Cabinet Ministers being entitled to full pay and maternity leave. I absolutely support that; it is entirely right and in keeping with best practice, but it also potentially speaks to huge unfairness, on which other Members have touched. Secretaries of State will receive about £1,300 a week if they receive full maternity pay for six months, but millions of people around the country are eligible only for statutory pay, which after the first six weeks is just £151 a week—close to a 1,000% difference.

On Second Reading, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) spoke eloquently about the deficiencies in maternity pay and allowances. It does seem odd to me for the Government to say, “This is the standard we are going to give to a Cabinet Minister,” and on the other hand say, “The statutory minimum is the standard by which you should treat your employees.” That seems a case of “Do as I say and not as I do.” The organisation that I worked for previously is now giving six months of parental leave, regardless of whether that is maternity, paternity or adoption leave. That is a big organisation.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

So many others have spoken about the real difficulty for so many women out there who do not get a good package of maternity cover. Does the hon. Member acknowledge that as MPs we get a good financial package and that we are paid all the way through? As the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) highlighted, we get a good deal in that respect and we must ensure that we recognise that.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, I agree. We are not only paid on maternity or paternity—if Members choose to take time off—but we do not receive sick pay because we continue to be paid at that time as well. I acknowledge that during this period a number of people in my constituency and across the UK are really struggling because statutory sick pay provisions are nowhere near adequate.

I worked for a global organisation, but I am conscious of the impact of parental leave on small businesses. That is why the statutory support needs to be so much better. We would view it as unacceptable if the Bill said that the Attorney General would receive only basic statutory maternity rights, and yet fundamentally that will be the case for millions of people.

Hon. Members have touched on MPs’ staff and IPSA contracts, where I also have concerns. Many MPs employ staff who have worked for other MPs, especially after the churn of an election—indeed, I did that in January 2020—but to qualify for full maternity pay on an IPSA contract, a staff member needs to have worked for over a year. If staff members change MP, even if they have worked for a long time in Parliament, they effectively start a new employment and are penalised as a result. Although, like the hon. Member for Walthamstow, I was pleased to see in my mailbox this morning correspondence from IPSA on this issue, it was specifically related to MPs. I urge IPSA to consider MPs’ staff as part of the review. My first 15 months have certainly taught me that having excellent staff and supporting them is critical to success in this place.

I want to reflect on the work I have done with 50:50 Parliament since my election. I have spoken at a number of its events—obviously enabled by being online during the pandemic—and the common theme in the questions that come from women interested in or considering standing either in this place, at local authority level or, indeed, at the Senedd or at Holyrood are around how to manage family time and find a work-life balance, and having children as part of that. I continue to urge the Paymaster General to regard this Bill as a first legislative step. We have a real opportunity to send out a strong, positive message about diversity in this place, but someone who has served as a Cabinet Minister for less than a year is to receive full maternity pay. As I say, that is right, but we have an issue to address when a staff member who might have worked in Parliament for years would receive only statutory pay.

It is now a month before the Attorney General’s maternity leave, and it is worrying that the Government have only now realised that this is an issue. Obviously, the business changed last week to allow us to debate the Bill today. That tells me that equalities are not at the heart of the Government’s thinking. I always think about an inclusion lens: everything that we consider in this place should be looked at in the light of inclusion and therefore we will see the issues before they are pointed out to us latterly.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with what the hon. Member is saying. Does she agree that it is concerning that normally an equalities impact assessment would be produced as standard and yet we do not see that because this legislation is being pushed through Parliament at short notice? We are all aware that the Government have had a deadline to work to, but they will have known of that deadline for some months, so there could have been time to do some of the work we are asking for in the amendment, with our better understanding the consequences of the legislation as a result.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I entirely agree. Indeed, earlier I joked that this legislation brings us not into the 21st century, but into the 1990s. When I was a police officer, doing equality impact assessments, whether for operations we were carrying out or for anything else that was planned, was very much part of that. So it is disappointing that we are not seeing that in this place.

That lack of focus on equalities has become apparent over the past year, during the pandemic, and it is really disappointing. The hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned my Liberal Democrat colleague Jo Swinson, who worked not only on parental leave but on gender pay gap reporting, which was one of the first business requirements to be jettisoned during the pandemic, and as yet there are no plans for its return.

When we watch the frequent Downing Street press conferences, it is usually a man we see at the lectern. These are potentially disappointing messages that the Government are sending out. In contrast, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, and I note the recent findings of the Women and Equalities Committee in that regard. Again, the hon. Member for Walthamstow spoke powerfully about this earlier. I, too, commend the work of Pregnant Then Screwed and wish them success in their case, but obviously I am saddened that it has got to that stage.

The Government talk a lot about levelling up, but clearly there is work to be done to get their own house in order when it comes to gender equality, both internally and in relation to the impact of their policies across the country. That is why I was very happy to co-sign new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, which calls for that equalities impact assessment for this legislation, as she described so eloquently.

There has been progress over the past 10 years. Thanks to the efforts of Jo Swinson, we now have shared parental leave, which has been an incredible success, and I know that many people across the country have taken up that opportunity. I know that more businesses and organisations have been improving the amount of fully paid maternity leave on offer, going beyond the statutory levels. That was the case with my previous employer, and indeed in the police service. However, it is very important that, as we consider the Bill, we think about how we can move forward, particularly in relation to covid. Given covid’s impact on businesses, with business margins tight, there is a concern that one of the first things to go will be provision that is above statutory levels. I am very concerned about that. Having had 10 years of progress, we cannot afford to have a lost decade when things go backwards as a result of covid. I therefore urge the Government to carry out an impact assessment on this issue. I hope the Paymaster General will address that point later.

To conclude, the aims of this legislation are very welcome but there is much more to be done. I hope that today’s debate will be the beginning of a conversation on how we modernise parental leave laws, how we encourage business to engage with that, how we recognise family life in 21st-century UK, and how we ensure that the legacy of covid is one of more flexible leave entitlements, rather than a reversion to statutory limits. Ultimately, however, the sadness of today is the Government’s failure to address the issue sooner. Perhaps they could have done that by carrying out an equalities impact assessment sooner. Sadly, that means we are talking today about one woman and the specifics of her case, and that should never have happened.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Holden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to follow North East Fife’s super gran, and to reflect on the views of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) that there will be no equality until fathers are able to step up. I will move on to speak about that a little later. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) has dealt with her amendment sensibly and I have a huge amount of sympathy with the points she has made, so I hope that it will be properly addressed by the Minister.

I want to say a little about the equalities impact assessment proposed in new clause 1, because it has raised broader issues about paternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave. It is clear from today’s debate that fathers have been a bit of an afterthought. A report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in December 2020 found that 73% of men feel stigmatised over taking just the two weeks of paternity leave, never mind any longer, and 95% of men said that their workplace culture prevents them from taking extended paternity leave and that really needs to change. In fact, a report by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has found that the proportion of fathers taking paternity leave actually fell between 2018 and 2019, from 32% to 31%, and that just 1% of parents take shared parental leave, according to the most recent figures available.

We have a huge leadership role to play here. The Minister indicated on Second Reading that this issue will be rectified later, and I look forward to her re-emphasising that commitment shortly, because at this important stage, messages from the Dispatch Box are necessary to show all of us that fathers are important, and that equality for mothers and fathers will not be achieved until we allow them to step up.

00:01
Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The haste with which the Bill has been brought forward is perhaps reflected in some of the amendments that we see on the amendment paper. I would like to address the amendments tabled by the SNP. I think they have been tabled with the best of intentions, but if, instead of giving women the option of taking maternity leave, we make it a requirement, we would remove the element of choice, which is incredibly important for women when it comes to if and when we have children, how many we have, and how we balance work and motherhood. Similarly, the amendments that would increase the requirement from six months to 12 months would make us lose some of that flexibility, which is incredibly important.

The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) have been addressed by the Minister already. Indeed, the language is already in the legislation, in the sense that it talks about the offices held, rather than the women who are pregnant. That is why the legislation is written as it is, and in that regard I am very much satisfied.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has tabled a couple of amendments. She made a point about the equality impact assessment. Perhaps less haste would have led to better legislation that included fathers, adoption, paternity leave and flexibility around premature babies. That would lead to an improvement in representation in public life.

I will keep my remarks short. In conclusion, the Opposition support the Bill unamended. The Bill is the right thing to do for pregnant women, and it is imperative that it makes progress with haste, for fairly obvious reasons. It is not perfect, but we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and it is, of course, the next baby step in progress towards true equality.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before I turn to the nitty-gritty of the amendments, I will address wider points that Members have made. I thank all Members for their contributions and their thoughtful remarks in this important Committee stage.

In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) for coming to the Chamber today, and for her interventions. Her experience is incredibly valuable. One of the key points that she reminds us about is the different status that a single person may have for different aspects of the jobs that they do here. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) spoke about the peculiar employment status of a Member of Parliament, which is distinct and different from that of a Member of Parliament who is also a Minister. A Minister is also an employee, and there are slight differences there. That is one of several reasons why this is a highly complex issue, but that does not mean it cannot be tackled.

In addition to the issues that have been raised regarding Members of Parliament and the challenges they face, there are still outstanding issues for Ministers in relation to shared parental leave, an examination of paternity leave—although, as I have outlined, there is provision there at the moment—and adoption leave. Sickness and bereavement is a grey area. We also have an additional issue for our colleagues in the other place who may be unpaid Ministers. That needs to be resolved, but it obviously plays back into the issue of maternity leave. These are very complex matters, and I reiterate again my gratitude to Her Majesty’s Opposition for their engagement on this.

Let me turn to IPSA. Clearly, it is an independent body, and in the work that follows today we will have to respect that independence, but the Government are none the less absolutely determined to bring forward proposals collectively.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Over the past two years of seeking progress on this matter, and trying to ensure that Members have the options and the support that we are giving to Ministers, one of the things that I have been told is that IPSA has asked Parliament to offer a view. Indeed, this rather anarchic approach to what our employment status is has had an effect. Will the Paymaster General therefore commit to our having parliamentary time for a debate on this? It does not need to be a Government-led debate, but we do need parliamentary time for it, and that is in the gift of Parliament. That way, if IPSA, on a very short timetable, asks the House to take a view, we will get that view, so that we can resolve the matter.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Although time on the Floor of this House is not in my personal gift, I hope that what I am about to set out will demonstrate to the hon. Lady that we are not just doing this as an exercise. These issues must be resolved. Yes, this is a matter that immediately affects Members in this place, but resolving this is also vital if we are to meet our ambition of ensuring that everyone who wants to sit on these Benches and is elected to do so has the working practices that they need to thrive, live their life and raise a family. That is very well understood.

We respect the independence of IPSA, and while we have to work with it—the Government have committed to supporting it—and the House authorities, all Members of the House will want to contribute to this important analysis. We want to look at custom and procedure. We also want to examine what legislative change may be required, particularly with regard to Ministers, which is the most complex issue. Recommendations by and to IPSA will be made through the usual channels. There has been quite a large amount of discussion about this already, with the help of the Opposition. As I have said, the Government will support IPSA on any of that work, and on any of the issues that we are all seeking to address. Its independence will be respected in line with its statutory footing.

Many colleagues who spoke on Second Reading are concerned about the impact assessment. We have undertaken to carry one out, but I add this caution: if Members want an impact assessment of this piece of legislation, that is very easily done, and will be really great for a very small number of people, but of no use whatsoever in advancing anyone else’s rights or opportunities. We want—we have set this out in a note that we have shared, I think with the office of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, and certainly with the Opposition; I would be happy to share it with other colleagues around the House—to undertake an impact assessment that looks at current legislation on the issues we have discussed this afternoon in relation to Members of Parliament. We will also take into account work already done, or in progress, by the relevant Select Committees, particularly the Procedure Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee. As I have said, I would be very happy to share that note with hon. Members. Perhaps the best place for it is in the Library.

There are a couple of other issues that I want to address before turning to amendments.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is incredibly welcome that the Minister is talking about doing a much wider impact assessment. For clarity—this issue has been raised today—looking at the wording of it, can she confirm that it will look at the impact on not just Members of Parliament, but their staff? We are drawing this distinction between parliamentary staff and people who work in Parliament. We need to look at everyone, so that we can be confident that every single woman and potential partner of a woman in this place will get the support they need.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady raises a very important point, and I think Members would feel very uncomfortable looking at their terms and conditions but not those of their staff. Again, that is a matter for this House and for IPSA, but the Government’s view is that we need to look at this in the round. If we are to make changes, let’s do it properly and ensure that all Members of this House and the Committees can contribute.

I thank the hon. Lady for what she said about how we can help mitigate the abuse that Members of this House have faced, and I hope will not face in future, when going on maternity leave. It is appalling what hon. Members on both sides of the House have been through, and I commend her for calling out that abuse when it is taking place in her own party; when others call out abuse from within their own parties, that is quite right, too. We need to support colleagues as they take maternity leave.

I turn to the amendments, and I apologise for the dry nature of what follows. It is the necessary part of putting a Bill through Parliament, and those tuning in at home might wish to put the kettle on at this point.

Clause 1 provides the basis on which a Minister can take paid maternity leave by setting out how and under what conditions a person can be appointed to the position of a Minister on leave. The concept of a Minister on leave is a very important one. As the Bill makes clear, the role of a Minister on leave is outside the restrictions in place at any one time, as set out in the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, and outside the upper limit on the number of Members of the House of Commons who can serve as a Government Minister at any one time, as set out in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. It is through this mechanism that the Government can ensure that the twin aims of this part of the Bill are met—namely, that Ministers are able to take paid maternity leave, and can remain part of the Government, without needing to resign from office.

Clause 1 makes it clear that it is within the Prime Minister’s discretion to designate a person a Minister on leave, subject to a number of conditions. Those conditions are set out in detail in subsections (2) and (3), which make it clear that a person can be designated a Minister on leave only if they are pregnant or have recently given birth, if they are already a Minister holding ministerial office, and if they cease to hold that ministerial office at the point of designation as a Minister on leave. Subsection (5) provides clarity about the ministerial offices that fall within the scope of this Act by reference to the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with the right hon. Lady that the clause uses a dry way of saying something that I think is actually really important, which is that in all of this discussion we need to remember that prime ministerial patronage is limited by that Act for good reason. While that should not be the enemy of improvements for women who are going on maternity leave, I do think that it needs to be considered. If we think of recent Parliaments, in which majorities have been very small, it is quite an increase, percentage-wise, to the payroll if more people are added to it. I am grateful to the drafters of the Bill for having thought this through, and I hope that in any future work she does, that is seriously considered as part of the mix, so that the House at least debates any decision to change that.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for putting that much more succinctly than the clauses do, and she is absolutely right. That is part of the reason why this is so complicated. We tried to put this and other issues in the Bill, but that has not been possible.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Holden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Has there been any consideration of unpaid Ministers in the House of Lords? They get a daily allowance normally, but they do not receive a salary. Has that been taken into consideration at this stage of this legislation?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not part of the scope of this Bill, but the Prime Minister has said in his written ministerial statement that it is one of the issues he wants this future piece of work to look at. I think it is fantastic that we have more women in the House of Lords, and we want those women to be able to hold ministerial office. If they need to take maternity leave, they should be able to do so.

16:45
Subsection (3) of clause 1 deals specifically with the condition relating to pregnancy or maternity that must be satisfied for a person to be appointed as the Minister on leave, namely that they are at the time of designation either pregnant and within 12 weeks of the expected due date of the child, or have given birth to a child in the preceding four weeks. These conditions are designed to take account of the wide range of possible scenarios that can occur in relation to childbirth, including where the child is born prematurely or after their expected due date. These conditions are there to ensure that no Minister can lose out on benefiting from the arrangements set out in the Bill on account of the particular facts of their pregnancy and childbirth, and are partly based on the existing statutory framework relating to maternity leave.
Subsection (4) also makes it clear that a person can be designated as a Minister on leave, and benefit from the provisions in the Bill, even in the terrible situation where the child is stillborn. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) for raising this issue, and the work that she has done on it. In common with maternity legislation as it applies elsewhere, such a tragic event cannot be viewed as a reason to remove the financial security provided by provisions relating to maternity leave.
Subsection (6) sets out how the designation of a Minister as a Minister on leave can be brought to an end. The Bill envisages two scenarios under which the designation can be terminated—the designation terminates automatically six months after the appointment, or earlier, at the point at which the Minister on leave ceases to hold that office. In the latter situation, the designation can be brought to an end by the person in question being appointed to a different ministerial office before the end of the six-month period. That includes situations in which the person is reappointed to their previous role in Government, or to a different role altogether.
Clause 1 outlines the role of a Minister on leave. These arrangements are vital in ensuring that Ministers can take paid maternity leave by providing the mechanism for designations, which the Prime Minister can exercise in respect of Ministers that he has appointed under the royal prerogative. Without these mechanisms, the primary purpose of the Bill would be frustrated, and I therefore strongly and wholeheartedly recommend to the House that clause 1 stand part of the Bill.
I now turn to the amendments tabled to the clause. Amendment 3 stands in the name of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald). I thank her for her commitment and strong advocacy on this issue, and for engaging with me and officials over the past few days. The hon. Member has suggested through her proposed amendments that maternity leave should be mandatory for any new mothers in the Government’s ranks, and I certainly agree that we must do all we can to ensure that new mothers feel able to access this new provision. However, to make it mandatory would cut across the prerogative of making ministerial appointments, as we have discussed, and further would serve to remove the mother’s choice about taking leave. The Bill as it stands has been mindful of the constitutional position of Ministers: they are office holders, appointed by the sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day, under the powers of the royal prerogative. The Bill cannot, and does not, give a right on the part of the Minister wishing to take maternity leave to be appointed as a Minister on leave. Any appointment to such a role must remain a prerogative power on advice of the Prime Minister. Civil servants have taken great glee in telling me over the last few days that Ministers have no rights. The amendment would serve not to only undermine the role of the prerogative power but to constrain a ministerial mother’s ability to choose what leave she takes following the birth of a child. The current provisions have been drafted to preserve both. The Government respectfully ask that it is withdrawn.
I turn to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), beginning with amendment 15. I fully understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the terminology in the Bill, and I am grateful for the practical and constructive suggestion that she has made in the amendment. One of the primary concerns of those drafting legislation is to achieve clarity, so that there is absolutely no ambiguity about what the law does or does not require or how it operates in any particular situation.
As I did not have time to do so on Second Reading, I would like to address the points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi). The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock described very clearly how women and others are feeling about the word “woman” and other words being deleted from our documents and our public life, with descriptions of what it is to be a woman. I am very sensitive to that.
I note that exactly the same Members who asked questions and raised concerns about those issues have also raised concerns about the provision in the Bill for a trans man to make use of the provisions. It is not the case that this is a trade-off between one or the other, and it is a mistake to frame the concerns that have been raised around language in that way. It is about respecting women and women’s rights, and that is completely compatible with respecting trans rights too. I always think that if you want to protect your own rights, you should protect someone else’s, and that will help.
On the specific point that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West raised with regard to the Equality Act 2010, I have tested that with officials and it will not work for this legislation, but I have taken into consideration the suggestions that she and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock made.
The hon. Member for Gower listed some Acts that she says have used the word “woman”. They predate the convention that we are now operating under, which was introduced by Jack Straw in 2007. The intention of the guidance on using gender-neutral language was to avoid demeaning women by implying that only men could undertake certain roles, and that drafting convention has remained. It is not the case that we could legally and correctly use the word “woman” in this piece of legislation, nor could we do so with the term “Minister”, because the designation of a person happens after they have ceased to hold their existing ministerial office.
Although we have been able to put in the legislation the words for the Opposition postholder, we have not been able to use the term “Minister” in the legislation. However, we can put the word “Minister” into the explanatory notes accompanying the Bill. Although that is still gender-neutral language, it is a much less jarring term than “person”, and I hope that in doing so, we can address the very legitimate concerns that have been raised about this, while ensuring that the Bill is legally sound and not subject to legal challenge and is in line with the drafting conventions that we subscribe to.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock for the constructive suggestion that she has made in amendments 16 and 17, but I do not think that the clarity of the Bill would be aided by their inclusion. The amendments in question offer only a partial alteration of the Bill’s terminology, rather than a wholesale one. I do not believe that her amendments would have achieved their aim. They would instead have introduced unnecessary uncertainty and inconsistency into the Bill. The use of the terminology in the Bill is now common practice. The current drafting of the legislation is legally accurate, and it covers all women who are pregnant or who give birth. I respectfully ask my hon. Friend not to press her amendments.
On amendments 18 and 19, which stand in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), let me say that it is not new practice to use gender-neutral language when drafting legislation. I have with me today several Bills relating to women and women’s issues that have used gender-neutral language. In general terms, that is to correct the tendency to use particular pronouns that appear to assume that someone of a particular gender would be doing a particular job or performing a particular role.
Legislation is now typically drafted without reference to gender, and I fully recognise that certain phrases can jar in the public consciousness and leave us open to legal challenge. As I have said, this is not a new convention and it has the specific example of the clauses before this House today. It is not a new approach and there are plenty of examples of other Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments since that change in 2007 that use the word “person”, including in the context of maternity. Section 3 of the Pensions Act 2014 and section 30 of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 are just two examples. I do not think that the clarity of the Bill would be aided by the amendments, which, taken together with the others standing in my right hon. Friend’s name, would offer only partial alteration of the Bill’s terminology. The current drafting is legally accurate and clearly covers all women who are pregnant or give birth. I appreciate the strength of feeling he has on this.
Finally, in respect of clause 1, amendment 4, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire, would have the effect of enabling Ministers to take up to a year of maternity leave on full pay. As I have discussed, we are pegged to the civil service scheme, so I ask her not to press her amendment, and to bear in mind the context of the Bill.
Let me quickly address clause 2, which sets out the rate of ministerial maternity allowance and how that should be calculated, and what should happen with respect to the allowance in the event of the period of maternity leave coming to an end before the six-month period has elapsed. Subsection (2) merely confirms that if a Minister was unpaid in their role before going on maternity leave, no maternity allowance is payable. Obviously, it would not make sense that someone who did not receive a salary should then receive a payment. In such circumstances an unpaid Minister may nevertheless be designated a “Minister on leave” so as to remain a member of this Government while on leave, while not counting towards the headcount limit of 95 Ministers from the House of Commons, as prescribed by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. While the Bill provides for a full six-month period of leave should the new or expectant mother wish to take it, the Bill also provides for flexibility for a shorter period of time.
I turn to amendments 5 to 9, which stand in the name of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire. As I mentioned in respect of clause 1, I commend her advocacy. Her amendments would have the effect of enabling Ministers to take up to a year of maternity leave on full pay. She knows that that is significantly more generous than the maternity entitlements enjoyed by the vast majority of women in the UK.
Let me turn to amendment 1 in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow. If a Minister on leave were to cease to hold the office before the six months had lapsed, clause 2(3) already provides that she would receive the remainder of her allowance as a lump sum. The only circumstances in which that would not happen is if the Minister on leave were appointed to a new ministerial office, in which case she would once again receive a ministerial salary; or, in the tragic event that she died, it would be the case that financial assistance for her dependants would be provided through the ministerial pension scheme.
Let me turn to clause 3. Bear with me; I am trying to respond to all the amendments. Amendment 10—
00:00
Debate interrupted (Order, this day).
The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Order, this day), That the amendment be made.
Question negatived.
Eleanor Laing Portrait The Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Lest there be a lack of clarity, let me explain that although the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), who moved amendment 3, is not here in the Chamber—and, therefore, if her voice were to call “Aye” obviously it could not be heard here in the Chamber—I am satisfied that she is well represented by her party’s Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who audibly did not call “Aye”. The hon. Lady had also previously informed me that, had there been time, it had been her intentionf to withdraw amendment 3, as she was satisfied that the matter had been fully discussed and that was her intention in tabling the amendment.

The Chair then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, this day).

Clauses 1 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment (Standing Order No. 83D(6)).

Bill read the Third time and passed.

William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My apologies for not giving you specific notice of this point of order. We were of the view that the Prime Minister would be coming to the House on 22 February to make a statement on the roadmap out of lockdown. Various Secretaries of State have intimated that that is now the week commencing 22 February. With the two-week notice period required to allow schools to open, that would be pushing it towards Easter. I wonder whether you had had notice from the Prime Minister as to when he will make that statement.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As he and the House know, it is not a matter for the Chair and it is not a matter for me when the Prime Minister comes to the House to make any particular announcement. The Leader of the House indicated that there would be a debate on Monday 22 February about covid matters. At present, that is the timetable set out for proceedings of the House, but of course it is up to the Government either to stick to that timetable or to change it as they will. I am sure that if any change is made, proper notice will be given.

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 22nd February 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 172-I Marshalled list for Committee - (22 Feb 2021)
Second Reading
15:03
Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Bill before the House today will for the first time enable Ministers to take paid maternity leave from their job for an extended period. Women who aspire to, and hold, high office will no longer be disadvantaged against other women in this respect. I am sure that representatives of all three parties that have been in government in the last 20 years will agree that this is long overdue.

It is well known that the occasion of the Bill—and the cross-party agreement to accelerate it, for which the Government are grateful—is the pregnancy of my right honourable friend the Attorney-General. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending best wishes to her and her family.

This should not be a reproach to anyone, least of all to my right honourable friend. Sometimes it is an individual case, and the perception of injustice arising, that propels social advance, and let it be so here. The Bill sends out a vital message to encourage more women from every walk of life to enter politics, and to seek promotion in government without the fear of having later to choose between career and family.

I repeat how grateful I am to Her Majesty’s Opposition for their constructive engagement in the preparation of the Bill. Jointly, we have affirmed—and do here affirm again—that this will be the beginning, not the end, of a journey of reform. To date, within government structures, insufficient attention has been paid to the needs of pregnant Ministers, and there has been only limited progress to date. Yes, the Ministerial Code was changed in 2019 to confirm the ability of junior Ministers to take maternity leave, but this workaround—which several Members of the other place have used—relies on another Minister taking on additional responsibilities. We need to go further, and I will return to this issue later, as I know it is of importance to the House.

Clearly, this approach is simply unworkable for Secretaries of State or other holders of individual offices, such as the law officers or the Lord Chancellor, owing to their constitutional role and the volume and complexity of their workload, which gives rise to a pressing need for posts to be filled. The current law does not allow the Government to take on and pay another Cabinet Minister, or equivalent, as maternity cover, as happens in workplaces up and down the country. No fewer than three Acts of Parliament govern the issue of ministerial appointments and pay, and the restrictions on them. It is worth underlining the constitutional importance of these Acts, as they manage part of the delicate balance between the legislature and the Executive, ensuring that the payroll vote is kept in proportion to the overall size of the Commons. This is a serious consideration, and a balance that should not be adjusted lightly. However, we propose modest changes to prevent putting some women off holding high office for lack of adequate maternity provision.

Until now, for someone to be appointed to cover a Minister at this level, or one of the opposition officeholders covered by the Bill, and for that individual to be paid, the pregnant Minister would normally have to resign. The Bill ends this anachronistic and wholly unacceptable situation by providing six months’ paid maternity leave for all eligible Ministers and opposition officeholders.

Turning to the content of the Bill, Clause 1 allows the Prime Minister to designate a Minister who wishes to take maternity leave as a “Minister on leave” who remains part of the Government—able to be briefed on matters and to keep in touch with work, but not responsible for exercising the functions of the office from which they are on leave. It makes clear the conditions applicable to designation as a Minister on leave. It also sets out how the designation comes to an end, either automatically, six months after the Minister has been so designated, or earlier, should the Minister cease to hold that office—for example, due to appointment to a new ministerial role, resignation or dismissal.

Clause 2 sets out the methodology for calculating the amount of the allowance for the period of maternity leave, and how it is to be paid. It sets the allowance at six times the monthly salary of the Minister on leave’s previous ministerial office. The effect is that a Minister on leave continues to receive the same monthly amount in maternity allowance as they would have received had they still occupied their previous ministerial role. It will come from the same source, usually the relevant department in line with money provided for by Parliament. Finally, Clause 2 also sets out the arrangements that apply when the designation as a Minister on leave ends before the automatic expiry after six months, providing for a lump sum payment of the remainder of the allowance. That applies in all situations where the designation terminates earlier than the end of the six months, unless the Minister is appointed to another ministerial role, or has died.

In order to prevent double payment of a ministerial salary, Clause 3 provides that a Minister on leave cannot receive the maternity allowance provided for in this Bill at the same time as any salary set out under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975. It also makes clear that, where they are a Member of this House, a Minister on leave cannot receive the so-called Lords officeholder allowance under Section 5(1) of the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991. In addition, Clause 3 clarifies that, for the duration of the designation, a Minister on leave does not count towards the limit under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 on the number of Ministers who can come from the House of Commons at any one time. However, once the designation ends, the Minister once again counts for those purposes.

Clauses 4 to 6 make provision for certain opposition officeholders, namely those listed in the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, to take up to six months’ paid maternity leave. The arrangements contained are similar to those relating to Ministers in terms of duration, eligibility criteria, amount of allowance and source of the allowance. However, in contrast to Ministers, an opposition officeholder who is to take maternity leave would stay in post. The Bill authorises a payment to a nominated individual who, at the discretion of the Leader of the Opposition in the relevant House, is to cover the officeholder’s role, on similar terms as those for Ministers.

This difference in approach reflects the fact that opposition officeholders are not appointed by the Prime Minister and do not have statutory functions in the same way as a Secretary of State. It is therefore possible for an individual to provide the necessary maternity leave cover while the original officeholder remains in post. Only one person can be appointed to cover an officeholder’s post at any point during the period of leave. However, should the Leader of the Opposition wish to change the appointment, he or she may do so.

As is the case with a Minister on leave, where the opposition officeholder is a Member of the House of Lords, she is not eligible to claim the so-called Lords officeholder allowance provided under the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991 while on maternity leave. However, the individual appointed as maternity cover, by virtue of these provisions, is entitled to claim that allowance for the duration of their appointment. This is because the allowance is paid to reflect work undertaken in the House.

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 makes provision for both MPs’ and Ministers’ pension schemes. Both Ministers and opposition officeholders are entitled to pensions under the Ministers’ pension scheme. The original officeholder’s salary remains pensionable during their maternity leave. However, the Bill provides that the individual appointed to cover the post is entitled to the Ministers’ pension scheme for the period of their appointment, in relation to the allowance paid to them for this role. The Bill comes into force on Royal Assent, and thus will be of immediate benefit and effect.

I turn to some issues which the Bill has given rise to in the other place and outside. First, on future work to broaden this reform, I have already made clear that the Government recognise that the Bill does not go as far as most will desire. There will understandably be many who would have wanted to see a Bill to resolve wider issues of parental leave such as paternity, adoption and shared parental leave. The Bill also does not address absences for sickness and other reasons, or the question of unpaid roles, which I know is an issue of particular interest to Members of this House. These are complex issues that require careful further consideration, taking into account modern working practices and the wider constitutional context.

The House will be aware that the Government recently consulted on parental leave and pay for employees, and they are due to respond to that consultation in the near future. This work will provide us with a valuable perspective, and any future proposals for Ministers will be developed with those conclusions in mind. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, the Government have undertaken to look into broader proposals, both in the round and in detail. The Government also welcome IPSA’s recent announcement that it will be consulting on some of these issues. We look forward to working with them, and with Members across both Houses, on this work. The Government are committed to building more widely on the progress this Bill represents and will present an update to Parliament by the Summer Recess.

Several Members of the other place raised concerns about the use of the word “person” in this Bill in referring to pregnant women. I know that a number of noble Lords share that concern, and I have, of course, noted the amendment from my noble friend Lady Noakes, who I look forward to hearing shortly. I understand the strength of this feeling, but I will come back to this point in my closing speech in more detail so as to respond more completely to the points raised by all noble Lords on this issue in the course of the debate.

Briefly, I should point out that the language used in the Bill is in line with current drafting convention and guidance; it is legally accurate and achieves the aim of ensuring that female Ministers can take paid maternity leave. Of this there is no doubt. The Bill’s drafting also provides flexibility in the event that the future work programme that I have just spoken of gives rise to the need to revisit its provisions. Nevertheless, the Government have already responded to the concerns from both Houses that this drafting could be misinterpreted, and have updated the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, which now detail how the Bill is intended to support women, and explains the drafting practice. It will continue to be the policy of this Government to refer to “pregnant women” in government publications. As I said, I will reply to the amendment in full in my closing speech, when I have listened to all Members of this House, but I wanted to make this point clear at the outset, and to make clear that the Government are listening to the strength of feeling in this House on this matter.

For the reasons outlined above, I commend this reforming Bill to the House.

15:17
Amendment to the Motion
Moved by
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At end insert “but that this House regrets that the bill is drafted in a way which does not respect the fact that only women can be pregnant.”

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. This regrets that the drafting of the Bill does not respect the fact that only women can be pregnant. Before speaking to my amendment, I would like to assure my noble friend the Minister that, while I deplore the language of the Bill, I fully support its proximate aim, which is to allow my right honourable friend the Attorney-General to take paid maternity leave. I join my noble friend Lord True in wishing the Attorney-General well and that her baby is safely delivered.

I had expected to be given an advisory speaking time of more than six minutes in view of my regret Motion, but this is not a time-limited debate, so I shall be taking a little extra time anyway. I shall, of course, comply with the Companion. My noble friend Lady Scott need not bother to do that Whip thing of head swivelling and jumping up and down when I do go over six minutes.

My Motion is about the drafting of this Bill, but it is set within a broader context of the erasure of women in society. Those of us who care about the position of women have been increasingly concerned about the dilution of the 2010 Equality Act with its protected characteristic of sex, not gender, which should protect women. Some organisations, deliberately or carelessly, conflate sex and gender. The Office for National Statistics, for example, has dug itself into this hole for the upcoming census, with the likely result that inaccurate statistical data about women will come from that.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which should have been vigilant in guarding all the protected characteristics of the 2010 Act, has itself caused problems, and its guidance has led directly to a loss of single-sex spaces. The NHS, which in the past had to be forced to abandon mixed-sex wards, now routinely admits to women’s wards on the basis of self-identification, regardless of the needs or wishes of women. Prisons operate like this, too. And do not get me started on so-called gender-neutral toilets.

There is an increasing use of language that eliminates women, such as the ludicrous use by the World Health Organization of “people who menstruate”. Only two weeks ago, the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust declared that “breastfeeding” was to be replaced with “chestfeeding”, and “mother” with “birthing parent.” That might go down well in woke Brighton, but it will appal men and women in mainstream Britain.

People who challenge this in public are often labelled transphobic, as JK Rowling discovered when she poked fun at the WHO and its use of “people who menstruate” and was then publicly vilified. There is no malice in wishing to maintain the biological facts of womanhood and the lived experience of women, which includes menstruation, childbirth and menopause. That view happily coexists with respect and concern for transgender people. I am proud of my own record on LGBT issues, both in your Lordships' House and in the organisations with which I have been involved, but I am not prepared to be erased as a woman.

Let me turn now to the drafting of this Bill. Clause 1(3) uses the language of “the person is pregnant” and

“the person has given birth to a child”.

It is a biological fact that only women can be pregnant and give birth. That is why laws that relate to maternity issues have in the past routinely been drafted using the words “woman”, “she” and “her”. It is not good enough to just say that we have gender-neutral drafting now. When Jack Straw, as Lord Chancellor, announced in 2007 that the Government would use gender-neutral drafting, the context was the long-standing interpretation rule that words referring to the masculine gender include the feminine. This was thought to be demeaning to women, although I personally never felt demeaned by it. The Statement made it clear that this was not intended to outlaw the use of particular genders where only one is involved. It was not intended to prevent women from being mothers. It is ironic that Jack Straw’s generous gesture towards equality has now been turned against women.

Just three years after the 2007 Statement, the Equality Act 2010 was passed. That clearly uses female terminology to define the protected characteristics of sex and pregnancy. On 12 December 2013, your Lordships' House had a debate on gender-neutral drafting. The Minister, my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble, said: “The guidance”— that is, the guidance from parliamentary counsel—

“also recognises that there must be some flexibility and that there will be some Acts where only gender-specific drafting can be usefully applied. In a case where a person has to be of a particular gender—male or female—gender-neutral drafting does not require drafters to avoid referring to the gender. I think your Lordships would agree that that would be the case for legislation about maternity.”—[Official Report, 12/12/13; col. 1014.]

I say “hear, hear” to that.

As far as I can tell, there has not been a ministerial Statement since 2013 that reversed the clear understanding of what gender-neutral drafting was about. The Minister may well cite some more recent primary and secondary legislation that has departed from that clear understanding, but, as far as I am concerned, that has slipped through below the radar. We have to put a stop to the practice. If this Bill passes unamended, there will be yet another precedent on the statute book for the elimination of women.

When this Bill was considered in the other place, the Minister asserted:

“It is not the case that we could legally and correctly use the word “woman” in this piece of legislation”.—[Official Report, 11/2/21; col. 594.]


I respectfully say to the Minister that this is garbage. There is nothing illegal or incorrect about using the word “women’ in relation to pregnancy. The only thing that appears to prevent the use of the word “woman” is a reinterpretation, by stealth, of the gender-neutral drafting guidance. In my view, it would be entirely legal and certainly correct to use the word “woman” in this Bill. Parliamentary counsel should be reminded that at the end of the day it is Parliament, and not civil servants, that decides how our laws are written.

I have spoken before about your Lordships' House being seen from the outside as a metropolitan bubble. This Bill speaks the language of a metropolitan elite who is unconcerned about its impact on the majority of our society, who are women, or about the view of the overwhelming majority of our citizens that women exist.

This is not a party-political issue, but it grieves me that a Conservative Government, who are bravely standing against all sorts of nonsense that has infested our public life, are abandoning women.

I beg to move.

15:26
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for introducing this welcome Bill, and I take the opportunity to welcome my noble friend Baroness Hayman of Ullock to her first outing winding for the Opposition on a Bill. I also look forward to hearing from the first noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

My honourable friend Rachel Reeves MP paid tribute to the noble Baroness last week, recalling that, back in 1976, she was first woman MP to have a baby while serving in Parliament. However, just 10 days after she gave birth, she had to turn up in the House to vote, as pairing had been suspended. Had the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, realised, 45 years ago, how long we would have to wait for this first step, I do wonder whether she might have given up the will to fight, although knowing her, I think not. Where the noble Baroness led, others followed, and today we take another, albeit tiny, step forward.

For many of us, it is hard to believe it has taken so long to come even this far. When I published my first article on maternity leave—I think in spring 1971—in the industrial relations review and report, virtually no one apart from some very few in the public sector was able to get paid time off. Thas was 50 years ago. Thirty years ago today, my godson was born. Happy birthday, Freddy. Soon after, he became “famous for a day”, when we launched a campaign for maternity leave, contrasting the situation in the UK with that in the EU, showing how two pregnant MEPs—Carole Tongue from the UK and Kirsten Jensen from Denmark—had very different maternity rights. Young Freddy, I have to say, was just a PR prop, cradled by the then Shadow Employment Minister, a certain Tony Blair, but he given star billing in the Times.

So 50 years on from that first article, 30 years from when I launched that particular Labour campaign, I am, needless to say, delighted to support this Bill, even though it is a small, weak thing and fails to cover paternity leave, adoption or, more importantly, every working woman. But it does mean that the Attorney-General will be the first Cabinet Minister in UK history to take maternity leave with proper pay and cover. Where the Attorney-General leads, others will, and must, follow.

As Rachel Reeves also noted in the Commons, the first four female Labour Cabinet Ministers—Margaret Bondfield, Ellen Wilkinson, Florence Horsbrugh and Barbara Castle—were childless. Indeed, that was often the choice for women: have a career or have a child, but not both. Of course, many did succeed and heroically combined both. In my generation, apart from the noble Baroness, I think particularly of the right honourable Harriet Harman and the late Barbara Mills QC, who set up a nursery in her basement to solve her childcare problem. Under the last Labour Government, first Yvette Cooper, some 20 years ago, then Ruth Kelly and Meg Hillier had babies while serving as Ministers, although with no formal provision for maternity leave and with other Ministers having to cover for them; I assume that there was some pairing. Luckily, Yvette Cooper had chosen to live with the person now officially recognised as the “Celebrity Best Home Cook”—Ed Balls.

Here in this House, we have mostly arrived past childbearing age, although I am delighted that this is no longer the case. However, the amendment I want to see would add grandmother leave to the Bill. I am delighted that Lords Ministers will be covered—as is my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, although she has warned me off thinking I might step into her shoes for six months as the lovely Nigel has firmly put his foot down on that.

This Bill makes it clear that there need be no choice between motherhood and a career—at least in Parliament. However, elsewhere, most working women face a very different situation. While statutory maternity pay can be for 39 weeks, it is only for the first six weeks, not six months, that it is paid at 90% of average weekly earnings. For the remaining 33 weeks, it is just £151.20 or less. This leaves household incomes well down for a lengthy period, and that is before parents must start saving to meet the cost of childcare for when the mother returns to work.

It is true that many employers pay more than the statutory minimum, but it is in no way universal. Fewer than one in 10 private sector bodies sampled offered the same as in the Bill. Labour will hold the Government to their word to work on a cross-party basis to introduce comprehensive legislation in the coming months to extend this Bill’s coverage to all of Parliament, but we also want to press for the rights of women councillors and mayors—indeed, all working women—so that maternity rights become the norm, not the exception. We also want paternity leave for men to be similarly extended.

As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, there is one unusual choice of words in this Bill: the reference to a “person”, rather than a “woman”, being pregnant. The Minister has provided assurances that this is a drafting issue and does not signal any change of policy, but there is no doubt that it seems at odds with other legislation on maternity rights and protection, despite Friday’s letter from the noble Lord, Lord True. More surprising, as we heard from the noble Baroness—she actually called it garbage—was the statement made by his colleague in the Commons:

“It is not the case that we could legally and correctly use the word ‘woman’ in this piece of legislation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/21; col. 594.]


Why not, given that it is in the notes and the Minister assured us that

“it will continue to be the policy of the Government to refer to ‘pregnant women’ in broader Government publications”?

We look forward to what the Minister just promised us: his explaining a little more when he winds up about why this language was used and whether there is any chance of it conflicting with other relevant legislation.

Clearly, the wording in no way detracts from the intention of the Bill; maternity leave will indeed be available to the AG from later this week. We would in no way want to signify any lack of support for its provision. We wish the Attorney-General well for the future enlargement of her family and we look forward to working with the Government to ensure that maternity provision is extended to all MPs and working women so that it really does become the norm, not the exception. We hope that the Braverman Bill is, as the Minister just said, the beginning, not the end, of the reform and we look forward to the rest of the debate on this important Bill.

15:35
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Bill and support its proposals.

It implements proposals made six years ago by the Women in Parliament APPG. As the Minister told us, the Ministerial Code was amended two years ago to accommodate ministerial maternity leave, so the Bill should have been introduced earlier—not rushed through now. I accept its use of gender-neutral language, as recommended in the 2007 legislative guidance, but I note the sensitivity of language at stake here. This clearly needs further discussion but I suspect that it would not be helped by dividing the House at the end of this debate.

The battle to improve maternity conditions for working mothers carries strong personal echoes for me. My wife was a lecturer at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology when we were expecting our first child. At that time, there were no older married women on the academic staff and no arrangements for leave. Helen drove home every lunchtime throughout a university term to breastfeed our daughter. Thankfully, conditions for women giving birth while in work have improved immensely since then, particularly in the Civil Service. I welcome this further step in liberal improvements in the status of women.

However, this welcome comes with a number of critical reservations. As the Minister admitted, the Government are rushing this through to deal with the immediate situation that faces a particular Cabinet Minister. It is almost an ad personam Bill. It does not address parental leave for ministerial fathers. It does not cover adoption. It does not address the issue of sick leave for Ministers, even though this arose for a Cabinet Minister involved in one of the most delicate aspects of the Brexit negotiations—the Northern Ireland issue—in 2018. I regret the absence of these elements from the Bill. I thank the Minister for his pledge to set out the Government’s proposals for covering these other dimensions soon.

The Bill provides for maternity leave to enable a Minister to return to their responsibilities six months later. Such continuity offers an excellent principle for good government; it takes most Ministers a year or more to master the full complexities of their portfolio. Yet we now have a Cabinet almost none of whose members has held office for much more than a year. The current Attorney-General is the third to hold that office since 2015. She sits alongside the fourth Foreign Secretary, the fourth Chancellor and the fourth Secretary of State for Education, and the fifth Business Secretary, since 2015—and now there are rumours of a coming reshuffle. Will the Minister tell us whether his Government intend to allow Ministers to stay in their posts long enough to expect to return from six months’ leave to the same office? Ministerial churn at a rate of nine to 18 months per office is the opposite of good governance.

But my most fundamental criticism is that this is the only constitutionally relevant Bill that we have so far seen in this Parliament, apart from those on Brexit. The Prime Minister promised in the 2019 manifesto that

“After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution”.


That commitment was widely welcomed across the political spectrum; think tanks even held meetings to discuss what this broad agenda should include. Instead, in the past year the Government have sacked senior civil servants, broken the Ministerial Code, disregarded the recommendation of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, attacked the Electoral Commission, strengthened the Executive at the expense of Parliament, and bypassed democratic local authorities in handling the pandemic. The constitution commission which the Government promised to set up in less than 12 months from the election has been shelved. The Minister has defended this slide from the manifesto commitment without hesitation. He has repeatedly told us that Conservative victory in last December’s election represented the “will of the people”, on 43.5% of the electorate. He has defended behaviour from this Government that John Major—whom he served—would never have contemplated as Prime Minister.

We have watched the US Republican Party slide away from constitutional democracy towards pluto-populism—rich men claiming to represent the will of the people, while breaking the spirit and the letter of constitutional democracy. We see the beginnings of a similar slide here. That is why we need to hold the Government to the manifesto commitment they want to forget.

While I welcome this Bill, I encourage colleagues across the House to hold the Government to account on their neglect of larger constitutional issues, not least because the relationship between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland has been shaken by Brexit, and will not be resolved without further constitutional changes.

15:41
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who made some interesting points. I thank the Minister for setting out the position in relation to this Bill. I support this short, focused Bill, and believe that nothing should be done to delay or thwart it, although I have sympathy with the points raised by my noble friend Lady Noakes on the language in it. I wish my right honourable friend Suella Braverman well with her maternity, and I hope with her maternity leave—as others have noted, this measure is long overdue. Like others, I note the massive contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who is speaking later in this debate. She was indeed a trailblazer.

With that said, there are wider interests which need to be considered, and I am grateful to my noble friend for admitting that these will be brought forward; the sooner, the better. Setting best practice for parental leave across the board for other employers and employments is something which has been neglected by successive Governments. We need to deal with paternity leave, to consider the position of adopted and surrogate children, and indeed to look at shared parental leave, as the Minister acknowledged. I am grateful that this is going to be part of the Government’s agenda. Something on the timeline for this would be welcome, as we do not want to lose the momentum as we are taking this first welcome step in relation to maternity leave. Good employers should be following practices set out by the Government and by Parliament, so we need to step up to the plate, as has been noted for sick leave, grandparental leave, carers, victims of domestic abuse, and so on. All these can be considered, I hope.

With the indulgence of the House, notwithstanding the importance of those issues, I will touch on another matter which is long overdue, and particularly relates to people in your Lordships’ House. That is the subject of unpaid Ministers. I had the great pleasure of being a paid Minister, and I hope that gives me some latitude to speak on this. It is said without in any way undermining our excellent Ministers, both paid and unpaid, but in this day and age it must not be right that we expect people to serve and not be paid. I certainly know of one potential Minister who was asked to serve but felt unable to do so because she was not going to be paid. That was not under this Prime Minister, I add, but it seems wrong in principle. Eight of our 25 Ministers in your Lordships’ House are unpaid, which is nearly a third. We should not expect people to serve but not get the rate of pay attached to the job. We would not expect that in industry or elsewhere in the public service; it is not right in a modern democracy. It should not be a condition of the job that you are unpaid; I hope my noble friend will undertake that this will be looked at by the Government.

I recognise that there is a legislative impediment to increasing the number of paid Ministers, and that this has impeded successive Governments of all colours; it is not particular to this Government by any means. But it would be a relatively simple matter, and I imagine non-controversial, to amend or repeal the measure. I cannot believe that it is right in the 21st century that we are not paying Ministers for doing the job. It seems like something which belongs to another age, such as quill pens or horse-drawn hansom cabs, perhaps more appropriate to the age of Trollope—Anthony, not Joanna—and it is high time that we moved on.

15:46
Baroness Gale Portrait Baroness Gale (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, while I welcome this Bill, I think it a shame that it has taken so long to acknowledge that maternity leave should be granted to Ministers, and that it is being rushed through both Houses, meaning there is not enough time to scrutinise the Bill.

I welcome the Bill, but even though it is very narrow there are some flaws. For example, there has been no equality impact assessment—why? Is it because it is being rushed though?

As the Government have recognised that women holding ministerial office should have paid maternity leave, this should be an opportunity to look at the wider case of improving paid maternity leave for all pregnant working women. I hope that there will be another maternity Bill before us soon so that we can look at improving the lot of all pregnant working women. The Bill should be an impetus to address low statutory maternity pay, which is around £151 per week, or lower in some cases—less than half of the national minimum wage, so the pregnant woman’s income is reduced at a time when she is preparing for the birth of her child. The Government have done the right thing by the Attorney-General and women Cabinet Ministers. I hope they will put things right for the rest of the pregnant women in the country.

It is surprising to me, and to many others, that the word “woman” is not used in this Bill but instead the word “person” is used, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, explained so well. I certainly agree with her. Considering that only women can get pregnant and give birth, I cannot see any reason why “woman” cannot be used. I believe in using gender-neutral language where appropriate, but I do not believe it is appropriate in this Bill. In his letter to Peers, the Minister explained that “person”

“reflects modern drafting convention and guidance, in place since 2007, and common across much of our legislation”.

I note that the Minister says “much”, which I assume means “not all”.

Jack Straw, as Leader of the House of Commons, in 2007 made a Written Statement to the House of Commons dealing with using gender-neutral language in legislation. It was not debated, but this has become the guidance, and in many respects was good, as no longer in legislation would we see the male gender used when it should have referred to men and women.

But there are examples, such as in the Bill, when the word “woman” should be used rather than “person”. I give the example of the Equality Act 2010, which uses “woman”, not “person”, throughout and in all sections related to pregnancy, maternity and lactation. I refer again to the Minister’s letter:

“We recognise that a drafting convention that was originally designed to avoid denigrating women should not result in the erasure of women from our public discourse.”


As a result, the Explanatory Notes have been changed, using “Minister” instead of “person” in several places. I just wonder about that. The Minister recognised that it was not appropriate to use “person” and changed it to “Minister”, but why could it not have been changed to “woman”?

On the issue of language, at Second Reading in the Commons the Paymaster-General, Penny Mordaunt, said that she would provide further explanation in Committee but that she understood

“how offensive the word ‘person’ or ‘persons’ can be in this context”.

Commenting further, she said:

“I hope that we can make some changes, if not to the legislation then to the explanatory notes, that will address some of”


these

“issues.”

However, she said that the Government could put the word “Minister” in the Explanatory Notes and stated that:

“Although that is still gender-neutral language, it is a much less jarring term than ‘person’.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/21; cols. 559-94.]


When legislation is intended only for women and not for men, I hope that the Minister will accept that “woman” should always be used in place of “person”.

It is not too late for the Government to come forward and amend the Bill to right a wrong. I hope that the Minister will take note of the criticism and of how offensive it is to women, bearing in mind that this is the second Bill before us in recent months in which the word “woman” has been written out of the legislation, as in the Domestic Abuse Bill. Having said that, I support every other aspect of the Bill and look forward to the Minister’s response.

15:52
Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, too, welcome the Bill, which is long overdue in seeking to right a wrong and an anomaly that has been ongoing for some time. However, as has been acknowledged, it is extremely narrowly focused. It ignores the lack of provisions for all MPs and throws up wider implications concerning the lack of protection for others. It is clear that it does not go far enough. The timing and political urgency have dictated that the Bill is rushed through, but there is disappointment that this opportunity was not used to put right other wrongs and anomalies, and it has highlighted the lack of protection for thousands of others.

The lack of an equalities impact assessment, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, is very disappointing, given the subject of the Bill. This would have allowed further consideration and a wider assessment that could have included all MPs, parliamentary staff and, as has been mentioned, local councillors in the round. I look forward to that and the wider issues that have been thrown up today being addressed when the new legislation, which we have heard about, is introduced. It could also seek to address the need for greater and better representation in public life than we have at present.

The Minister in the other place admitted that the beneficiaries of the Bill are indeed very narrowly defined. She went on to say that, although adoption leave and shared parental leave were important provisions, they had not been included in the Bill, as they

“require further consideration in the wider constitutional context.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/21; col. 528.]

That is disappointing. However, she said that the Government would swiftly bring back proposals to address outstanding parental leave issues. I was going to ask the Minister what “swiftly” meant, but he said in his introduction that such proposals would be brought back by the Summer Recess, and I welcome that.

It is right that the Bill will change the law to allow the Attorney-General to take maternity leave—I wish her well in the birth of her child—but I hope it will ensure that the Government show commitment to strengthening the employment rights of all pregnant women and new parents across the UK. The Government also need urgently to take a serious look at the unacceptably low basic rate of both statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance, which, as has been mentioned, are a paltry £151.20 a week—less than the national minimum wage for a 35-hour week—especially while thousands of pregnant women are losing their jobs during this pandemic.

The impressive speed with which the Government are acting to ensure that the Minister is able to take paid maternity leave is in contrast with the failure to act on previous commitments to enhance legal protections for pregnant women and new parents in the workplace, especially in the current climate. It is quite shameful that the United Kingdom ranks 22nd out of 24 European countries, lagging way behind many other countries.

The Government have yet to take action on their commitment back in January 2017 to strengthen legal protections against redundancy for pregnant women and new parents. When are these likely to be brought forward? It also remains an anomaly that the Bill requires a pregnant Minister to seek the Prime Minister’s permission or discretion in order to take maternity leave. It does not create a right to maternity leave. I would like some assurance that there will be concerted action to address questions around adoption, surrogacy and other issues that may well arise in the future.

It is good and positive that the Government have found time for a Bill for one woman, but they should be able to find time to follow this up and bring forward a Bill to help many thousands of others. This is particularly important in the current pandemic, when pregnant women are not covered by the furlough scheme, despite guidance that pregnant front-line staff, particularly in the NHS, are vulnerable to Covid-19 beyond the 29th week of their pregnancy. It is reported that many thousands of pregnant women are unlawfully being sent home on sick pay or unpaid leave. Last October, the TUC, Maternity Action, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives called on the Chancellor to adapt the furlough scheme to protect working women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant. It has been reported that there has been no response, despite a reminder in January. Will this be taken back and responded to as a matter of urgency?

Concern has been expressed about the gender-neutral language used in the Bill. I have received correspondence about it, and I am sure that other noble Lords have as well. People are raising their concerns with us. All legislation is framed using gender-neutral language, as is this Bill. The Minister’s letter said that the guidelines had been amended accordingly to refer to the Minister in question and that “pregnant women” would continue to be referred to in government publications alongside gender-neutral language, as appropriate. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that that is not true, and others are also saying that that is not the case. There is some confusion over this, and I look forward to clarification when the Minister responds. Given that we expect gender-neutral language to be inclusive, I would be happy to be able to use “pregnant women”—we have used it throughout this debate—alongside other gender-neutral language as appropriate.

The Government have done the right thing for the Attorney-General and other Cabinet Ministers and opposition spokespeople. Now, they need to put right the completely wrong and unequal situation experienced by the rest of the women and new parents in this country.

15:58
Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare an interest, although not a current one, as the prospects of my being offered ministerial office are as remote as the chances of my becoming pregnant again. However, 45 years ago, I was pregnant and in Parliament when such a thing was, frankly, considered inconceivable, to coin a phrase. My son, Ben, was born when Jim Callaghan’s Government were hanging by a thread, with no majority in the Commons, running three-line Whips on Lords’ amendments, and with no pairing, following an incident involving Michael Heseltine—now the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine—and the Mace, which older Members might recall. Given the attitudes and circumstances of 45 years ago, it is perhaps not surprising that no arrangements for maternity leave were in place, so I ended up bringing the baby into the House with me two days after leaving hospital, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to.

The day after the first vote in which I participated, which the Government won by a majority of one, the front page of the Daily Express read, “Held Together by a Nappy Pin”, although I preferred the Sun’s headline, “Little Ben strikes”. I thank my lucky stars that my experience predated social media, so my hate mail was confined to those who put pen to paper and to those newspaper columnists who decided to accuse me of neglecting my child, of exhibitionism or of that terrible thing that women do—wanting to have it all.

Like all noble Lords who have spoken, I wish the Attorney-General well and applaud her decision to embark on a substantial period of full maternity leave. I welcome the provisions in this Bill to ensure that she can do so. But over the decades since 1976, many distinguished serving women Ministers and MPs have, I am happy to say, given birth. It is no longer an affront, nor a novelty, and I suspect the current doorkeepers in the House of Commons are no longer instructed by the Sergeant at Arms, as they were in 1976, as to the degree of force to be used to stop a mother bringing a baby into the Chamber.

After all those years and all that experience, I find it dispiriting that we need emergency legislation to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made to provide maternity leave for Suella Braverman. Even more worrying and depressing was to hear the contributions of MPs to the debate on the Bill in another place, their descriptions of the continuing abuse received by pregnant MPs and the many serious unresolved issues regarding cover for their constituency responsibilities. There is clearly much work still to be done.

Today, we are faced with this emergency legislation, which universally in this House is considered unsatisfactory because, by its nature, it lacks the consideration, equalities assessment in advance, and scrutiny to which it should be subjected before its presentation and during its passage through Parliament.

The fact that women parliamentarians have babies has been apparent to my certain knowledge for 45 years. The Attorney-General’s pregnancy has hardly been a state secret. We should record our concern at the lack of foresight and planning by the Government that has led to us having to deal with this Bill at breakneck speed. That haste and lack of time for consideration has meant—as the Minister accepted in his introduction—that we are in the uncomfortable position of putting on to the statute book severely limited legislation which leaves many issues unanswered and does not deal with important questions relating to paternity, shared parental and adoption leave, or the issues faced by non-ministerial parliamentarians.

I fear it also creates the impression that we can find time to legislate to address the needs of our own but not the needs of all the other pregnant women and new parents for whom current provision is far from adequate and for whom Covid has created its own problems, particularly in relation to furloughing, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ecce, said. Only if this Bill is followed by comprehensive action in these areas will the Government have any credibility. I hope the noble Lord the Minister will be able to provide reassurance on this point when he winds up.

Finally, a word about language and the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes: I believe the drafters of this Bill have quite simply got it wrong in trying to Snopake the word “woman” from the legislative lexicon. The price of so-called gender neutrality in this Bill is an awkward and ugly distortion of the English language and an affront to common sense. Far from encouraging respect for language and the recognition of diversity, to which I am fully committed, it risks bemusing and alienating the public and damaging the very causes that passionate advocates of such language espouse. I look forward to debates in Committee on this issue but, even more importantly, I profoundly hope that this Bill can be the spur to do far better for pregnant women, new mothers and fathers, and their babies in the future.

16:05
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. It is always so, but especially on this Bill. As we have heard, she has a special place in the history of mothers in Parliament and as a pioneer of what we are discussing today.

I welcome this Bill and will not detain your Lordships long. One may well argue that the measure is rather overdue, and it may come to many as a surprise that recent Governments have not acted on this issue before. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, it is always interesting that, when Parliament has to act on things which seem to be in our own interests, we can do it in a hurry. I remember well an issue with election leaflets, when it was discovered that the then Home Secretary—Jack Straw, I think—had a whole stack of posters in his garage that were printed incorrectly. We quickly put through a Bill to make sure that those were not redundant.

I am delighted that we are moving bit by bit to aligning Parliament with current workplace practices. As we have heard, some may consider that this Bill should have a wider remit, but as it is being brought forward to address a particular case, legislative time is difficult to find. This is probably a wasted opportunity, but we are where we are, so let us go ahead with it.

One employment issue that was raised consistently by a former constituent of mine was job-sharing for MPs. While I understand some of the reasons why that may seem desirable or attractive to some—and as much as I try to think how it might work, as it does in other workplaces—I was never able to resolve the particular problem of voting being shared. That said, I am pleased that the Bill has a narrow remit and I hope that, as a result, it should have a relatively speedy passage through Parliament.

I am also aware—I could not be unaware—of the concerns we have already heard about some of the gender-neutral language in the Bill. I do not want to get into this controversial and complicated issue, nor do I think I am qualified to do so. I listened to my noble friend Lady Noakes and share some of her views on the excesses of language that we have seen recently, not least from Brighton. However, I fear that my natural inclination to avoid controversy may have deserted me. In times past, I may well have shared more of those concerns. On reflection, I have found myself to be always somewhat behind the curve and that the world has moved on, leaving me behind. Now, somewhat counter-intuitively, I do not see a problem with the language being used—language which has, after all, as we have heard, been a convention for a number of years. It is more inclusive and was originally introduced to enhance the status of women. I am satisfied that there is absolutely no intention on the Government’s part to write out the incredible role of women.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his helpful letter to us, which I found reassuring, and for his opening comments today. I shall listen carefully to his closing remarks. All I will add is this: I find it quite common now when filling in forms and asked to put down one’s gender that there is a box marked “Prefer not to say”. I understand that some do not wish to identify their gender. Perhaps this language will help them. As I have said, I have no expertise at all in gender politics, but I am happy with the wording. However, I will listen carefully to other noble Lords who, I am sure, will put forward a contrary view—we have already heard several today. This is a good and necessary Bill and I support it fully.

16:09
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too support the intent of the Bill and certainly wish the Attorney-General well. As other noble Lords have said, it is disappointing that the Bill provides for only a small number of what might be described as very privileged women when we know that in the workplace many thousands of pregnant women or new mothers face discrimination and risk losing their jobs. In fact, one of the striking facets of the debate in the House of Commons was the number of comments made by Members of Parliament about the impact on women of pregnancy and the insecurities in the workplace. The noble Lord, Lord True, acknowledged that the Bill could have been so much more. It is a missed opportunity. I accept what the Government have said about the work being done, but we are being asked to set up a two-tier system for maternity leave in this country and there is a feeling of discomfort about that.

This has been a very good debate so far and I listened with great attention to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I must say I disagree with him about the issue of language; I do not see it as a technical issue. Fundamentally, a much more important set of principles lie behind the way language is used in the Bill. A colleague of mine counted the number of times “women” was used in the Commons debate and it came to over 300, yet the Bill makes no mention of women. Instead, we heard the rather inelegant terms “person who is pregnant” and “person who has given birth to a child”, which do not seem to add to what we understand as good English.

I have supported trans rights and gay rights over many years. I fought the iniquities of Section 28 and, as a Minister, I took the legislation through this House to allow for gay adoption. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, whose speech I enjoyed, that, working in London and living in Birmingham, I am a fully paid up member of the metropolitan bubble and proud of it. However, I have become increasingly concerned that the hard-won rights of women over many decades are at risk of being watered down and marginalised as the single-sex spaces enshrined in the Equality Act 2010 come under increasing attack.

That is why this language is so important. Many public bodies are misinterpreting the Act, and many women’s sector organisations, especially those that seek to end violence against women and girls, fear loss of funding and commissioning if they want to provide single-sex exemptions. I am afraid that various government departments have weaselled down the words of the Equality Act in the guidance they have issued to public bodies. Local authorities have misinterpreted the Act and are threatening many small charities trying to provide these services at local level, and people there are frightened to speak up because they believe that they will be attacked and, if they are not careful on social media, accused of transphobia. The Government have remained silent because they themselves have a lot of this philosophy embedded in their advisory system. That is why the wording of the Bill is so important.

Work by Jane Clare Jones and Lisa Mackenzie has described the pattern of erasing sex in data collection and other areas of public policy. The ONS has caved into bullying—pathetic. The head of the ONS was interviewed, I think on the “Today” programme, and said that it was not going down the path it has now chosen. However, it has caved in, as many public bodies do, because they come under aggressive attack on social media and are accused of transphobia. The Government remain absolutely silent.

On the language, in her thoughtful contribution my noble friend Lady Gale talked about the fact that gender-neutral terms will often be appropriate. I agree with that. However, do we really want to see demeaning terms such as “menstruators”, “individuals with a cervix”, “birthing bodies” or even “chest feeders”? When the Brighton trust announced the use of the latter term, where was the Department of Health? It was absolutely silent, because it is cowed and frightened to speak up against this kind of absolute nonsense.

There are many parliamentarians who know that this is nonsense but they are frightened to speak up because of the abuse they will receive. Look at my honourable friend Rosie Duffield. What support has been given to her? Hardly anything, except from a few brave, dedicated people. It is shameful that we have allowed this situation to arise. That is why the Bill and its drafting are so important.

The justification was of course Jack Straw’s change in the convention and revised guidance. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, that was designed to promote the rights of women because previously, “he” was always taken to mean “he and she” in legislation. For that to be used against women in this Bill is extraordinary.

I have looked up the parliamentary counsel guidance. The latest version was produced by the Drafting Techniques Group in 2020. This is a most worthy body but it is not one that should be at the heart of government decision-making. I noted the advice on page 2, which says:

“Clarity is helped by the use of short sentences … Tell your story in a moderate, level tone. Legislation should speak firmly but not shout … While brevity may be good, brusqueness is not.”


That is good advice but is it slavishly followed in all legislation? I very much doubt it. We understand that six pieces of legislation since the original guidance was issued have used the word “women”, including the seminal Equality Act 2010.

I have to say that six minutes is a guide; it is not something that can be enforced by anybody in your Lordships’ House.

None Portrait Noble Lords
- Hansard -

Oh!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will carry on. This is a Second Reading debate. We do not have time limits.

None Portrait A noble Lord
- Hansard -

Keep going.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you very much—I do not usually get this support. After 23 years here it makes quite an unusual change.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the six-minute limit is advisory but we have to get through this debate in a certain time.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With respect, we do not have to take the privileges committee report tonight. This is a Second Reading debate and I am afraid that advisory guidance on a Second Reading debate is highly inappropriate. But I shall not go on much longer.

The noble Lord, Lord True, was very helpful in arranging a meeting last week—we are meeting him again—and I am grateful to him. He must know that the Bill in the way it is worded is indefensible. If this had been a normal Second Reading, the Minister would have observed this debate, gone back and said, “We’re going to get an amendment and we’ve got to change it.” I know we have only four days to go but I urge him to think again. He should also say that this will never be used as a future precedent in legislation. He should ensure that parliamentary counsel changes the guidance, because it is not up to the mark.

Finally, this is my great appeal. Please will the Government defend women who speak up for the protection of women’s rights based on sex? I come again to the outrageous abuse that some of my parliamentary colleagues have received by stating in perfectly reasonable terms that they are not transphobic, just reasonable people seeking to do their job, yet they do not get support from the people who know that what is happening to them is wrong. Above all else, I hope the Minister will say something about that.

16:19
Baroness Grey-Thompson Portrait Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am delighted that we have the chance to give this Bill its Second Reading today. It is long overdue and I am sure that there are many outside your Lordships’ Chamber who would be surprised that we do not already have this in place. I congratulate the Government on bringing in this legislation but note the speed with which it is required.

Reading the Library notes on this Bill reminded me of the shock I felt when my grandmother told me she had to leave work when she got married, because she would be taking a job away from a man. That a Minister would have to resign her position to take maternity leave is ludicrous and not in keeping with the world we live in. It is unacceptable that a woman should have to choose between her job and career and having a family.

As an athlete, having to fit the birth of my daughter around my competition schedule because there were no maternity rights was not easy—that is still very much ad hoc in sport today. There is a great deal of similarity between being an athlete and being in Parliament. The reality is that many women have to take different decisions from men about how to make it work, and delay having children or walk away from a role they care passionately about and are good at because it is impossible to find the right balance and support.

This Bill sends out a strong message. I would like to see provision for paternity, shared parental and adoption leave, as well as wider issues of statutory maternity pay and leave for MPs and their staff, included in other legislation.

We should also consider your Lordships’ Chamber. As younger Peers are appointed, we must have increased flexibility. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, on paying Ministers. I remember one occasion a couple of years ago when a returning Peer brought her baby to a Division, and because only a Peer can walk through the voting Lobby, the baby was passed down the line—fine for that one moment, but not a long-term solution to allow women to play a full part in political life. I know from the experience of being a parent of a young child in Parliament that, if you do not live in London, it can be very complicated. I know we choose to do this role, but I really think that Parliament can do better.

The six-month time limit is fine, but we should not stop looking for a greater degree of flexibility if required. I would also prefer it not to be a discretionary power for the Prime Minister to designate a Minister wishing to take maternity leave as a “Minister on leave”. It should be automatic. I have been thinking about whether they could be better described as a “Minister on maternity leave”, but I have concluded that I do not have a strong opinion on this form of language.

However, like others, I will raise the language used in this Bill. I support neutral language, and there are many benefits in terms of driving equality. Yet for so many we do not live in an equal society. The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently said—this relates to the pandemic—that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is the “most urgent and immediate” threat to equality. We should seek to correct this. The fact that we measure pay gap, employment gap, educational attainment and a whole set of other metrics shows us that our society is not equal.

I have been contacted by women and men who asked why the word “woman” is in the Explanatory Notes and not the Bill. I will be clear: I think the word “woman” and variations of it should be used in this Bill. I know there will be many who will not agree with me raising this, but I see my role as a Member of your Lordships’ Chamber as being to raise issues that challenge.

I do not hate or want to dehumanise anyone. As a disabled woman, I have experienced discrimination and received a significant number of emails about the many forms it takes. This is a contentious issue and in this debate there will be many views; we are probably not all at the same point on the continuum. We need to be able to have an open discussion, without fear of retribution, of being cancelled or shouted down for discussing terminology or having a different view. Mine may or may not be the majority view beyond the debate today, but that does not mean we should not debate it.

I thought long and hard about joining the debate today and whether I could deal with any potential backlash that may come my way for saying that the word “woman” should be in this Bill. Many from different viewpoints have said that I should be careful. This is not the time to debate the wider aspects of what freedom of speech means; that is for another time, but we must tackle the abuse that women face for having a public view on a whole range of issues. Being told what my opinion should be does not encourage sharing of views and is detrimental to the long-term goal of equality.

Language is important. I have always said that language is the dress of thought. As we know, the specific language used in legislation is incredibly important. It has far-reaching consequences. It is about providing rights and protection and it is our duty to find the balance in that.

I have spent most of my life fighting for inclusion for everyone that society chooses to label as different. I have spent most of my life being othered by language, attitude and a lack of physical access. Growing up, I was called handicapped or a crippled child; luckily, there has been an evolution in that language. Perhaps we need to find a new form of language to include those who feel othered, but it must not be at the expense of the word “woman”.

One thing I am certain of is that many in your Lordships’ Chamber, and those who have a different view from mine on the use of language, want to stop the denigration of women. Excluding the word “woman” from this Bill and other potential legislation does not help the cause of equality for everyone or anyone.

Finally, I wish the right honourable Attorney-General all the best when she becomes the first “Minister on leave”.

16:25
Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it has become almost formulaic to say that it is an honour to follow the previous speaker, but it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. She is a woman of quiet courage and total determination; she spoke from the heart and I hope we will heed her.

We have all said, and meant it, that we wish the Attorney-General well and a safe delivery of a healthy child. It is totally fitting that we should be passing legislation that enables her not to have to worry about her job or future—unless the Prime Minister changes his mind about her appointment, but that is a wholly different issue—and we can all support the objectives of this Bill, narrow and late as it is. I associate myself with all the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, and others on that.

Apart from my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, with whom I normally find myself in agreement, but certainly and emphatically not tonight, we are all concerned about the language, particularly the erasure of “woman”, “maternal” and “maternity”. We are very fortunate to have a glorious mother tongue—I use the words very deliberately. In our language there are some rich, marvellous and emotive words, none more so than “maternal” and “mother”. There cannot be a Member of your Lordships’ House who does not have fond memories of a mother or grandmother. For many—I include myself—a mother has been the most significant and important figure in their early life. I still think of her very fondly.

I believe it is completely wrong to have the ugly insensitivity of “person” in the language in this Bill. “Personhood and apple pie”—how wonderfully and trippingly it comes off the tongue. I disagree with what has been implicit in many of the fine speeches we have heard, led by my noble friend Lady Noakes: a sort of recognition that we cannot really do anything about it this time. We can. We have a Committee stage on Thursday. If my noble friend the Minister really recognises this, as he does to a degree in the changed Explanatory Notes, and if we can have a translation of that recognition into a free vote, which there should be—I believe all votes are free votes, but I know that is not a commonly held view—we should be able to change this Bill without delay.

If my right honourable friend the Attorney-General is great with child and could produce a child very soon, and this is one of the reasons for the hurry, we can forget that, because I shall introduce an amendment on Thursday which would make this possible for her, if the child is born between 22 February and the receiving of Royal Assent. We can certainly deal with this and make sure that the Bill emerges from our House, as so many Bills do, improved—improved in its language and its recognition of the importance of maternity and motherhood.

I beg my noble friend to talk to his colleagues in government, because the amendments that we shall move do not alter by one jot or tittle the thrust and content of the Bill. All they do, by using the words “woman” and “mother”, is recognise properly that the Bill is about maternity. If the Government were to accept that, the passage of the Bill would not be delayed by more than 24 hours at the very most. As I said, if the child were to be born in that period, and if we accept the amendment that I will have tabled or something like it, then there is not a problem at all.

We are guardians of many things in your Lordships’ House, and one of the things that we should guard with most jealous fervour is the English language. I hope that we will strike a small blow for that as we strike a big blow for motherhood when we come to dispose of this Bill in Committee. I accept the fact that we do not normally vote on Second Reading, and I am not calling for that. I know that my noble friend Lady Noakes, who made a very fine speech, is not calling for that either. I am, however, calling for common sense to triumph over the language of bureaucracy. I hope that we will make progress in the right direction here, just as we are making progress in acknowledging motherhood. We should not do so with a Bill that does not acknowledge motherhood.

16:31
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am going to use the formula: “It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.” He always makes me smile. The Government have got themselves into a real pickle on this one, have they not? The Minister might be surprised to hear that I am going to give him a bit of wiggle room, because I very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is trying to say here. The erasure of women in public life, in literature and in all sorts of ways has horrified me. The debate has become so toxic and so unacceptable that many of us keep our heads down and try not to engage at all. That is quite often what I do, simply because I work on so many issues, and that becomes difficult when I get distracted by the vileness and hate.

However, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that only women get pregnant. Legally, that is not true anymore because trans men have pregnancies and they have babies. I have held a baby by a trans man. Perhaps the Minister would like to put “women and trans men” into the Bill: that might be an acceptable way forward for all of us. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, spoke about “woke Brighton”. I come from Brighton; when I was living there, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was not woke. The whole thing about chest feeding was absolutely ludicrous because, of course, men have breasts; they get breast cancer. The whole thing is utter stupidity, and you have to wonder who thinks these things up. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, also made an interesting point about the wording being at odds with other drafting. That seems a little bit strange these days, but that is something that I gather the Minister is going to expand on.

Most of the speeches in this Chamber today have been very, very concerned with the depiction of women and how we are treated in our society. One thing that we can do is make misogyny a hate crime. That is something that we should do urgently, and we should raise it at every single opportunity so that people who treat women in that sort of way are actually brought to justice.

On the wider aspects of the Bill, it is, of course, utterly unfair. I can see why it is being brought in, but why is it not for all women? It is absolutely appalling that this is only for a tiny section of very privileged, elite women. It should be for all women. Why is there discretionary power for the Prime Minister? That is awful, because the Prime Minister is most often a man, so it has to be a man’s discretionary power.

In the other place, the MP Stella Creasy wrote to Penny Mordaunt, the Paymaster-General, and I will read a few lines from that letter because it exemplifies why this Bill is so inadequate. She wrote:

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently described instances of pregnancy and maternity discrimination as one of the most urgent and immediate threats to equality during the pandemic. A survey by Pregnant Then Screwed found that 46% of women who have been suspended from work because of their pregnancy have been suspended on incorrect terms, including 33% on furlough and another 13% on sick pay, or told to take holiday or to start maternity pay.”


We do not have equality in Britain. We are meant to be a foremost democracy in the world and we do not have equality for 50% of our population. It strikes me that there must be many, many women who have been held back by this because misogyny is so entrenched in our society that we do not even notice it; we do not see it when it is happening. Many thousands of women—millions—have been held back from doing all that they can to improve society. Again and again, we hear that when you have women on boards, for example, or when you have women as part of work teams, the work is better. The thinking is better because it is a different perspective.

Quite honestly, this Bill is perfectly acceptable in its very narrow, late way, and while we cannot blame the Minister for it being this late, we can perhaps blame him for it being so narrow, so that is a message that he could take back. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said in her opening remarks that it is a tiny step. Dear me—it is a tiny step on the right path, but we really need to see a few more giant steps.

16:37
Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my comments are going to follow those that have been made by the majority of Members before me. I am not sure that I have anything particularly new to add, but this is an important issue. I very much hope that the weight of numbers will have some sort of influence on the Minister and the Government.

I welcome the Bill and share the comments that others have made. It is late and, to be honest, we should be leading in this field, but we are very much lagging behind. I remember that, when I was first elected a Member of Parliament in 1992, and when I looked round at my fellow new MPs in the Labour group, it was amazing how disproportionately most of us did not have children. That is what it has been at every stage: we have always been late at making it easier for women to be involved in politics and to have a family as well. Nobody could have explained that more strongly than the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has done. Let us not stop here: it is with some humility that we should say that this is good legislation. It is something to be proud of because the Government have got themselves out of a bit of a difficulty with one person, but it cannot rest here. I welcome the comments that the Minister made about ensuring that we look at the other issues as well.

The main reason why I put my name down to speak in this debate was to offer support for the reasoned amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, very ably moved and that colleagues from across the House have spoken to as well. It might be argued that it does not matter: if you look at this Bill, what is going to change if we have the word “woman” rather than “person”? However, it matters and it matters a lot. My noble friend Lord Hunt really pressed this point and was right to do so.

More than anything, it is just common sense. We are not here to pass legislation that does not make sense to the public whom we represent. If we were to go out into the streets of our country and try to explain to the electorate—to our citizens—that we have got ourselves into a position where we are not permitted to use the word “woman” in a Bill that deals with maternity, they would not know where we were coming from. Yet that is the argument that the Minister in the House of Commons made, and it is the argument I thought that the Minister here made today. Common sense and clarity must mean that legislation that we pass makes sense in its language to the people whose lives it will affect.

Of course, this is even more important because of the wider cultural context in which this debate is taking place. There is a wider debate at the moment which risks denying that biological sex exists. I cannot sign up to that. It makes it far more difficult for women-only spaces and for the protection of women in certain circumstances, which has been hard fought for over the years, to actually be carried out. As my noble friend Lord Hunt said, you can see public bodies and areas of public policy where there is now a struggle with how much or how little gender-specific pronouns can be used. This must be sorted out. Equality of opportunity and gender-neutral language were never about making it difficult, embarrassing or awkward for us to use gender-specific pronouns when it is appropriate to do so. I accept and understand that this debate can be difficult as social mores change. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, it is about finding a language where all feel comfortable—but it was never meant to be a situation where women were fearful of expressing a view they strongly held.

I think language does matter, and I welcome gender-neutral language where appropriate. I remember my first Bill in the House of Commons: I was involved in legislation about teachers and was told that the term “he” in it had to apply to female teachers as well, and “headmaster” applied to head teachers of any gender. That is what the legislation, in terms of gender-neutral language, was trying to overcome. We must be clear on that because we must defend it. We must not allow what was a good piece of legislation, or a good piece of advice, to muddy the waters on some of the key issues.

The last point I make—and this really is my plea to the Minister—is that I am not sure why the Government have used “person” rather than “woman”. I was not sure having read the debate in the House of Commons, and I am not sure having listened to the Minister today. I am pretty sure that the 2007 guidance did not require the Government to use “person”. Is he saying that if he presented legislation to the House today which talked about “women who get pregnant”, the Bill would not have the force of law? If he is saying that, I would challenge it merely on the grounds that legislation has been passed since the 2007 guidance—whether they were Bills related to maternity, pensions or equality of rights—that uses the term “woman”. If it would have been legal to use “woman” rather than “person” in the Bill, why did he not do so? If it was not compulsory, it had to be a matter of choice. If the Government chose to use “person” rather than “woman”, I hope that he will be able to explain that in his closing remarks.

Other than that, I think the Minister has been helpful, both in the meeting he had with some of us before this debate and with the open manner in which he introduced it. I hope he will continue to act in that way as we take the Bill through the House of Lords.

16:43
Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness who has just spoken on the way she discussed the word “woman”, and I was pleased that my noble friend moved her amendment. I would go so far as to say that, if an amendment is tabled in Committee, I will support it. I am a very loyal Member—indeed, at least one of the noble Baronesses sitting on the Opposition Benches teases me about that. But on this issue I am quite clear: we should use the word “woman”.

I have had the privilege of being married for 60 years, and my wife and I have three children. My wife trained across the road at St Thomas’. The first child came quickly, but the second and third were planned, because my wife and I agreed when we were engaged that both of us would like to work in life and that she should work on whatever form of medicine she chose. She chose to be a full-time general practitioner for most of her working life and certainly when she had the third child. By then she was the senior partner and, as I recall, took only three or four weeks off after having that baby. Of course, in those days there was no formal maternity allowance—it was a matter of individual choice. The decision we made was that we would use our resources to appoint a nanny, child help and childcare, and all muck in. Times have changed, and that is good.

My problem is to try to set aside the individual and look at the strategy being followed. Here we have one of the key offices of state. Every key office of state is probably very demanding and very important in its impact on our economy and our country. It happens to be particularly important at this stage because of Brexit and the problems we all know about in its implementation—particularly Northern Ireland and the union. Somebody is leaving a key office for six months. I do not know what plans the Government have made on two aspects, but I imagine that the Prime Minister believes that the present incumbent is absolutely the key person to do the job. They are not a second choice, but for those six months there will have to be a second choice. That is a pretty tough call on whoever that person may be because, under the Bill as drafted, they know they are out in six months.

But it goes deeper than that, does it not? The civil servants, who are key to implementing law, are put in a difficult position because it is a challenge to their management. I wonder what thought has been given to that. This brings us back to one of the core criticisms of the Bill: that it did not encompass a whole breadth of issues raised in the Commons. Therefore, it is a bad stretch, in my view, to have emergency legislation caused by the situation of one person. Are we really saying that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer turns out to be a woman who has a child due somewhere around Budget time, the woman can decide to take six months’ leave? In terms of the interests of the country, I would submit that that is a bit of a challenge. It is a bit of a conundrum, and I have some reservations about the way we are producing this emergency Bill when we have not, in my judgment, thought it all through.

I reflected a little further. I have the privilege to be a trustee of the pension fund. We work very hard to try to help pensioners of that fund who get into all sorts of “scrapes”. But we do not actually change the provisions of a Bill: we find methods to help them or advise them, whatever it may be. Basically, we have a problem here.

I asked my daughter, who is self-employed, “What is the maternity provision for you, my darling?” The answer came back: “None”. Then I did a bit of research. We are talking about 1.63 million women in our country who get nothing. Once again, I think somebody should have done a little bit of pre-thinking.

I have thought very long and hard about the Bill, and I am not going to oppose it. Nevertheless, two things come to mind: first, the ones I have raised on the managerial side, if you like, of somebody taking maternity leave from a very senior position in government, and, secondly, the word “woman”. For me, as a man, it is crystal clear that the word “woman” should remain. The Government will have to wrestle with the management dimensions, but if there is an amendment down on “woman” or “women” I—for once—will actually support it.

16:51
Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, let me declare an interest: I am the chairman of the Genesis Research Trust, which deals with research into women’s diseases and in particular with pregnancy problems, miscarriage, stillbirth and infertility among many other things including cancers. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord True. Should I have said “the noble person”? Perhaps not. I do not wish to behave in any way disrespectfully. He very helpfully listened to our problems beforehand and I hope that will continue before the next stage of the Bill.

Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I have to say that every single one of us in this Chamber, every single person outside in the street and every citizen of the United Kingdom was born from a mother’s uterus. We forgive the muddled biology that we heard a little earlier in this debate. The fact is that only a woman can give rise to a baby. The environment in the womb is critical to our development until we finally die at the age of 70 or 80, if we are lucky. That is important. That defines so much of what makes our humanity. Michael Meaney, who is a very great biologist from Canada, showed very clearly in the studies he did in Toronto and later in Singapore, where I have been somewhat associated, that what happens during pregnancy at various stages affects the development of the baby, including its cognitive ability, its functions and the diseases that it might develop later on at the age of 40, 50 or 60, as have many other scientists. That is fundamental and that depends on the woman, her health and the way she is protected, so we are extremely grateful for the Bill. That the Attorney-General has this opportunity is terrific. The problem is that that does not always apply to some women who have stress with their hormones and all sorts of other problems.

Let me leave Singapore for a moment and come to domestic matters because this is critical. The noble Lord, Lord True, might like to hear from me that, in 2018, 2,943 babies were stillborn, and for 60% of them the cause was unknown. Birth defects were a very minor problem. In many cases, it was poor medicine. Sometimes this was avoidable, but in many cases the reason for stillbirth is completely unknown. These women leave hospital absolutely bereft, and many of them never recover after that loss of a pregnancy. That loss of life within them is critical to that person. If that is not enough, let me remind the House that something close to 200,000 women each year miscarry a pregnancy, and some of them will miscarry several times. I think my record was a woman miscarrying 19 times before she finally gave up being pregnant. One of the commonest things I heard during my professional career from these women when they sat in front of me in tears having had a miscarriage or a stillbirth was, “I do not feel that I am a proper woman.” That was a very common phrase in my clinic in the last 40 years.

If that is not enough either, let me remind the House that about one in 20 women is infertile and they strive hard to become women by being pregnant. That is a goal like none other in their lives. It is for them the most important thing they can do. This is not some aberrant mentality. It is natural. It is born as a result of our evolution as humans. It is part of our humanity, and it is essential. Most of them do not achieve it. For example, figures in Europe show that, after six cycles of in vitro fertilisation, only 43% of women get pregnant. We tend to forget that there is no treatment for them. That is very important.

We are rushing this Bill through for a particular reason, and nobody would doubt the need to get it thorough for the Attorney-General, but what message does it show to women who have lost babies or lost a pregnancy or lost the life within them? Most of them come from poorer, disadvantaged communities. That is true for most diseases that affect us, and it certainly applies to diseases of pregnancy. We have one of the highest stillbirth rates in Europe. We still do not understand why.

Finally, if the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, decides to press her amendment to the Motion to a vote, I will join her because I think it is important to consider this. I think the Minister will see that there is a growing head of steam. I know he was left carrying the baby on this Bill. It was not something that he desires and he had nothing to do with the drafting. We understand that very well, but it is still a problem. Why would I want to go through the Lobby? I would go through the Lobby because I owe it to the hundreds of women who sat in front of me in tears saying, “I don’t feel a proper woman.”

16:57
Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is always an education to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I declare an interest as an expectant grandfather. One of my daughters, Shula Markeson, is expecting her second child, my fourth grandchild, in a few weeks’ time. In this expectant state, I find it extraordinary that until the pregnancy of the Attorney-General, to whom I send my best wishes, no one in Government seems to have recognised that Ministers, like other women, get pregnant and are entitled to paid maternity leave. The fact that we are considering fast-track legislation today, with all the defects in parliamentary scrutiny that that involves—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale—tells the House everything it needs to know about the low priority historically accorded by successive Governments to issues of maternity. I agree with my noble friend Lady Hayman and others that the Government need to give priority to more general reform.

I also think it is regrettable that, in a Bill which belatedly recognises the needs of female Ministers, Clause 1 confers benefits only if the Prime Minister so allows at his or her discretion—a point touched upon by the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece. When he replies, can the Minister give an example of when the Prime Minister might refuse to allow a pregnant Minister to be designated in circumstances where she would be remaining in post but for her pregnancy? Why is this not a duty to pay maternity leave?

Also, can the Minister confirm that it is not intended by this discretionary benefit that the Prime Minister should ever be able to say to a pregnant Minister, “Very sorry but, because you’re pregnant, I’m going to sack you”? That is rightly unacceptable in all other walks of life. In his opening speech, the Minister said that the Bill sends out a “vital message” to women that they can pursue a political career, without needing to choose between that career and their family. Does the Minister really think that the conferral of the benefits on a discretionary basis is consistent with these laudable aims?

On the language of the Bill, Parliament has often referred to the person who gives birth to a child as a woman and, indeed, a mother. Examples have already been given and I add one—Section 33(1) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 defines a “mother” as:

“The woman who is carrying or has carried a child”.


However, your Lordships should recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was correct to point out that there are trans men, who were born female, who have given birth. One brought legal proceedings in the Court of Appeal last year. A judgment was given, in which noble Lords may be interested, by the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett of Maldon, in the McConnell case. It is reported in the third volume of the Weekly Law Reports for 2020 at page 683.

The Lord Chief Justice explained that the claimant had been registered at birth as female, but had transitioned to live in the male gender and had received a gender recognition certificate under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, stating that his gender is male. He then underwent artificial insemination, became pregnant and gave birth to a child. He brought legal proceedings complaining that the child’s birth certificate recorded him as the mother. He said that, because he had transitioned, he should be recorded as the father or as a parent. The Court of Appeal rejected his complaint and said that recording him as the mother was not a breach of his human rights.

The Lord Chief Justice said that, as a matter of common law and under the legislation governing the registration of births, the person who gave birth to a child is the mother, and the Supreme Court dismissed an application for permission to appeal. In light of that judgment, I do not think that there are any legal difficulties in referring to mothers or women in the Bill. The mother of Parliaments, in doing that, would be showing no disrespect to trans men.

17:04
Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his opening statement and for clearly setting out the purpose of the Bill. It is narrow in its application, and I am happy to support it through all its stages in this House. I agree that it is wrong, in this day and age, that Cabinet Ministers who take maternity leave are required to resign. I welcome the extension of provisions to cover the position of opposition officeholders, as well. Women in Parliament and public life generally have faced massive challenges, and our ways of working must be brought up to date as quickly and comprehensively as possible.

However, like other noble Lords, it seems strange to me that it takes the circumstances of an individual case to prompt legislation of this nature. The public will find it very odd that this situation has not been legislated for long before now, rather than being rushed through to accommodate specific circumstances. I also take the opportunity to wish the Attorney-General and her family well, at this time.

I share the view that it would be far better for the Government to bring forward more comprehensive proposals than this legislation to cover paternity, shared parental or adoption leave. I cannot think of any real reason why they could not have included these. None of them is covered in the current legislation; nor is the situation of Cabinet Ministers who are affected by sickness and need to take leave. In recent years, we have had examples of Cabinet Ministers who have had to step down as a result of sickness. It would be good if there was legislation to cover those circumstances, as well.

I welcome the commitment by the Minister and the Government to give urgent consideration to issues such as this and to bring forward proposals to address outstanding parental leave issues in due course. I welcome what the Minister said about an update before the Summer Recess, and we look forward to that. It would also be useful to know how the legislation before us and the situation that has been presented compares to provision made in the devolved Administrations. It is important to have consistency across the United Kingdom.

There are a couple of specific issues that I want to highlight on the particular provisions of the Bill. The first is the time limit of six months for paid leave and the second is the discretionary nature of the provisions, whereby the Prime Minister is vested with certain powers that do not normally apply elsewhere—a matter just alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. That Ministers are public officeholders, appointed by the sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister using the royal prerogative, limits what can be put in statute. I recognise that. However, having to seek the permission of the Prime Minister of the day to take maternity leave, as provided for in the Bill, seems incredibly anachronistic. It leaves open the rather bizarre possibility that the Prime Minister could refuse such a request. Neither a Minister in such a position nor the Prime Minister of the day should ever be put in that position, however theoretical. I think that the six-month period is too restrictive; there is no good reason why it should not be for up to 12 months. The current law on statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, after all, and it would seem reasonable to extend the period to that.

It is also important that the Government address wider, general issues concerning maternity leave and statutory maternity pay. No one should face discrimination or undue financial loss as a result of having a child and no one should ever be in the position of having to give up their job. The low level of statutory maternity pay or allowance generally in this country is cast into sharp relief by the provisions of this Bill, which allow six months’ maternity leave on full pay. As this legislation is brought forward today to deal with the position of Cabinet Ministers, it cannot be long before the Government address wider issues affecting mothers and fathers across the board in this country.

Finally, I fully support the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in her recent amendment. I wholeheartedly endorse the argument that she and other noble Lords have advanced in advocating their support for that amendment to the Motion, and I will certainly support her, if she presses it to a vote.

I have great concerns, as expressed in the other place and by noble Lords, about the use of the word “person”, as opposed to “woman”, in the Bill. I have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation from the Government for why this is the case. It is baffling, and not just to Members of Parliament—it is something that most members of the public will find utterly inexplicable. I hope that the Government listen to what noble Lords have said in this House and move to rectify the situation, as the Bill goes through its different stages.

17:10
Baroness Goudie Portrait Baroness Goudie (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support all that my noble friends Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lady Morris of Yardley have said, so I will not go over those arguments. If the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, wishes to press her amendment, I will go through the Lobby with her, because it is awful that the word “person” rather than “woman” is used in this Bill.

This Bill is either too little or too much. It is too much in the sense that it is extraordinary that the Government have found time to fast-track this measure while, at the same time, protesting that parliamentary time cannot be found for other urgent measures. For example, the Coronavirus Act allows local authority meetings to be held remotely. This is working well but, at the moment, operates only until 7 May. The provision should obviously be extended, but the Government say that this requires primary legislation, and parliamentary time cannot be found.

On this day, coronavirus is at the forefront of all of our minds. This Bill displays an odd sense of non-logical thinking in relation to public administration. It is also inadequate as a maternity and paternal rights measure. We have had maternity and adoption leave since 2002, and shared paternal leave since 2015, yet the Bill omits any reference to these and confines itself to maternal leave. The maternity leave period is far too short, and the measure is merely discretionary in nature and has shortcomings that would have been exposed by an equality impact assessment.

The Bill addresses the position only of Ministers and other officeholders, not Peers and Members of Parliament. It does not address the wider issues of statutory maternity leave and pay and redundancy protection. I welcome the letter that Stella Creasy MP in the other place has sent to all of us today, in which she sets out how things should be.

The Bill is welcome in as far as it goes, but it is a small, rushed step in an important area. I offer the Attorney-General and her family all my best wishes, and I hope that the Minister will come back to us at Third Reading with amendments.

17:13
Baroness Gardner of Parkes Portrait Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my father was the world’s first Minister for Health and Motherhood in the New South Wales State Parliament in Australia. He introduced a child endowment, a form of family support, in the 1920s. I was a founding member of The 300 Group in 1980, with Lesley Abdela and others across the political spectrum, which encouraged equal representation of women in Parliament.

It is disappointing to see that, irrespective of the challenges women face getting into Parliament, we still have barriers such as these for women, should they choose to start or continue to have children once they are elected. Despite this, I welcome the intent behind the Bill, although I find it extraordinary that this issue is only being considered in the 21st century, with the Government lagging behind modern society. Most businesses adopted this approach long ago.

My concern runs deeper than merely timing, as the Bill does not go far or deep enough. The Minister made this point in his opening speech—to

“make clear that the Government are listening.”

I echo the view of Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, that the right to maternity leave and maternity cover should extend to all MPs, and I would go further and say that it should also cover Ministers in the House of Lords. I am also sympathetic to calls for paternity, adoption and shared parental leave to be extended to both Houses—Ministers and MPs—so that they can, if they wish, spend precious time with their families while knowing that their jobs are being covered.

We all know the importance of family, and that those early days are formative. Once gone, you cannot turn the clock back. It feels wrong that we should be introducing a Bill at great speed for the benefit of one senior Minister when, with a little more time and effort, we could be benefiting many more without using up more parliamentary time. I urge the Government to give this benefit and choice to all parents in both Houses.

17:15
Lord Bhatia Portrait Lord Bhatia (Non-Afl) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Members of the House of Commons voted to give Ministers formal, paid maternity leave for the first time, and it was hailed as an important and long-overdue change. The Government pledged to bring forward more sweeping maternity protections before the summer recess. Many MPs made statements during the debate. Significantly, the Minister, Penny Mordaunt, said that the Bill will put an end to the “wholly unacceptable situation” of Ministers having to resign to take leave.

Two significant points were made: that the Bill fails to address adoption, and that it fails to address shared paternal leave. The most important statement was made by the mother of the House, Harriet Harman. She said that the Bill should be an impetus to addressing low maternity pay, and that the Government have “done the right thing”. She went on to say that maternity pay is £152 per week—less than half what you would get on the minimum wage. The Bill was passed without any opposition at Third Reading. I ask the Minister whether it might be wiser to see how private sector companies have provided maternity leave to their employees and paternity leave to males.

17:17
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am sure that we all wish Suella Braverman well in her forthcoming maternity leave, and this Bill is welcome. It is notable for both ensuring her income is fully protected, and for the actual cover it gives her, meaning that she can devote herself to caring for her child without worrying about being on demand 24/7, as is required for the post of Attorney-General.

The Bill is also a big improvement on the predicament faced by my Government colleague Yvette Cooper when she was a Minister, as she explained in the Commons on Second Reading:

“When I needed to take maternity leave as the Minister for Public Health in 2001, I asked the Health Secretary what I should do. He did not know, and said, ‘Ask the Prime Minister.’ He did not know, and said, ‘Ask the Cabinet Secretary.’ He had absolutely no idea, and as Ministers are Crown appointments, he said it was really a matter for the Queen, but nobody thought we should be asking Her Majesty”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/21; col. 552.]


The fundamental problem is that the Bill benefits only a tiny number of women at a time when life is more difficult for mothers with babies than at any time in modern history. I wish to ask a series of questions, for which I would be grateful to have a reply from the Minister.

Does this Bill mean that maternity leave is merely a perk granted by an employer if only this legislation is passed? Thousands of women right across the country are having to leave work to care for a child. Stella Creasy MP has pointed out that during the pandemic,

“one in four women who are pregnant or a new mum have said that they have faced discrimination, and that they are losing their jobs or being furloughed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/21; col. 542.]

Surely this Bill effectively establishes a two-tier system for maternity leave. Where does it leave women MPs of childbearing age? Why does it not extend to them, or, for that matter, to all staff in this Parliament, as other speakers have said? Where does it leave women who are self-employed and who take maternity leave, some of whom have had to take the Government to court to resolve the injustice of the predicament they face? Where does it leave fathers over paternity leave, especially those partnered by women who wish to return to work straight after childbirth?

Surely we need a Bill to give at least every woman in the Palace of Westminster, if not in the country, the same rights that this Bill is giving to the Attorney-General. That being the case, can the Minister indicate whether any advice has been given about whether, once this Bill is enacted, the Government could be vulnerable to judicial review for not granting the same right more widely? As the former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Maria Miller MP, argued during the Commons Second Reading

“being forced to leave a job for being pregnant is exactly what happens to thousands of pregnant women. In righting this wrong for Government Ministers, will the Paymaster General also undertake to right it for women throughout our country? Codifying the protection of a pregnant woman’s job is exactly what thousands of women need now. The people we represent want to know that Ministers are being treated no differently from them. Routinely identifying pregnant women for redundancy is too familiar a problem … We cannot ignore the fact that for thousands, current legislation provides protection only in theory but not in practice.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/21; col. 544.]

That, in a nutshell, coming from a senior Conservative supporter of this Government, is exactly the issue that I ask the Minister to address in his response.

17:22
Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am not the only Member of this House to have been lobbied about the wording of this Bill. I entirely approve of its practical purpose, but I too question the use of the word “person”, when “lady”, “woman” or “mother” would be normal usage in relation to maternity issues or pregnancy and childbirth. I understand the desire to avoid any insensitive use in legislation of gender-specific words, but that convention is not inviolate. We do not stop using the word “Lords” to include all who are Members of your Lordships’ House. The Government’s justification in the other place was that

“the convention that we are now operating under … was introduced by Jack Straw in 2007. The intention of the guidance on using gender-neutral language was to avoid demeaning women by implying that only men could undertake certain roles, and that drafting convention has remained.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/21; col. 594.]

Jack Straw used a ministerial Statement, and a future Parliament is not committed to a convention; it is not law. My personal experience of this was a ministerial Statement by Jack Straw when he was Lord Chancellor in 2008, specifically drafted to enable me to withdraw an annulment Motion, which has since been set aside. In December 2013, answering a short debate about wording and grammar in legislation, the much-respected noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, said from the very Dispatch Box in front of the Minister—it is worth repeating in full:

“The guidance also recognises that there must be some flexibility and that there will be some Acts where only gender-specific drafting can be usefully applied. In a case where a person has to be of a particular gender—male or female—gender-neutral drafting does not require drafters to avoid referring to the gender. I think your Lordships would agree that that would be the case for legislation about maternity.”—[Official Report, 12/12/13; col. 1014.]


Does that clear statement not say it all?

Common sense, reflecting the biologically unique role of a mother who bears a child in her womb and brings it to term, says there is no conceivable discourtesy or demeaning of a woman or womanhood by using the correct wording in Clause 1(3). Clearly the Government and the drafters of this sensible Bill have anticipated the unease over the use of the word “person”. The Minister in the other place called the word “jarring”. Why introduce a jarring word, particularly in Clause 1(3), when a totally accurate phrase is to hand to clarify? I thank the Minister for his letter, but I wonder whether he is able to produce any greater defensive explanation than already mentioned, and whether he is prepared to gainsay the words of his ministerial colleague? Espousing the Explanatory Memorandum misses the point.

If Parliament wills it, a convention which may be totally reasonable and sensible in other contexts does not have to be slavishly followed in this Bill. That would make it legally sound. How can there be any grounds for legal challenge in the courts? As drafted, it only invites ridicule of a delusional Parliament, apart from the distress already expressed by many who object to so sensitive a condition as maternity being depersonalised in this way. I look forward to the Minister’s explanation and hope for a reconsideration, but failing that, this should be a matter for debate in Committee.

17:26
Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, given the number of speakers, I shall take very little of your Lordships’ time. I welcome the Bill to allow Ministers to take paid maternity leave while remaining in Government. The catalyst for the Bill, as we have been told, is the pregnancy of the Attorney-General, and I join other noble Lords in wishing her well.

The office of Attorney-General, which I had the privilege of holding, is unique in the constitution. Shortly after taking office, I swore an ancient oath, in full fig, in the Lord Chief Justice’s court—namely, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf—that I would sue the Queen’s process “after our cunning.” I understand that to mean that I use my cunning in its better sense.

The law officers perform a wide range of duties in the public interest. In those roles, they are independent of the Government and are not bound by the doctrine of collective responsibility. Deploying my cunning, acquired in the course of 11 years in public office, from Cabinet down, I surmised, with the advent of a new Government in 1997, that there might be a gap in the Government’s legislative programme at that point. In short, the Government might not have enough ready-made Bills to hand. As it happened, there was a Bill gathering dust in the law officers’ chambers awaiting such an opportunity to allow the functions of the Attorney-General to be exercised by the Solicitor-General. The Law Officers Bill passed through both Houses without dissent and remains on the statute book as the Law Officers Act 1997.

The Explanatory Notes to the present Bill state that the “legal exercise” of a very senior office, such as a Secretary of State,

“cannot be ‘covered’ by another Minister”.

The Government argue that for these functions to be executed, another Minister may have to be appointed at the same rank. This is the ministerial ceiling problem that the Bill seeks to cure. That must be right for a Secretary of State, but the Bill is of general application and the notes appear to be the same. Will the Minister explain the necessity of the Bill for the role of the Attorney-General? In short, my specific question is: what is the practical effect—other than the payment of maternity allowance, which I strongly support —for the specific office of the Attorney-General, which I, like others, understand to be the trigger for the Bill?

I hope the Minister will assure the House that there is no intention to undermine the office of the Solicitor-General, which is also ancient, having been created in 1461. The Act that I shepherded through Parliament in 1997 to enable the Solicitor-General to exercise all the functions of the Attorney corrected an anomaly in the 1944 Act so that the Solicitor-General can now act without the specific authority of the Attorney-General. I hope the Minister will agree that, other than the payment of a maternity allowance to the Attorney-General, there was no need for this hurriedly introduced Bill to deal with the special needs of the Attorney-General. I look forward to the Minister’s reply. It may well be that the Act that I passed through Parliament was forgotten.

17:31
Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, for the time that he has given in speaking to many noble Lords on this issue in the past week. In my short period in this House, this is the first debate that I have sat through where there has been so much agreement among all noble Lords—agreement about the fact that we all accept that the Bill is being rushed through, and that perhaps it should have happened a lot earlier. Maybe Governments of all complexions tend not to push things until sometimes a particular incident makes that necessary.

It is of course a narrow Bill, which is understandable for the reasons that we have heard. We wish the Attorney-General great health and happiness in what she is going to be going through; I am sure she is looking forward to her maternity leave. There is something to be said for the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I doubt that it will now be taken, but it would have meant that we would not have had to have rushed quite so much to get this through in time for the Attorney-General’s maternity leave.

There have been some wonderful speeches today, demonstrating great expertise. I agree 100% with everything in the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I thought it was a well-crafted speech that more or less said everything that I would have liked to have been able to say, although I would not have been able to say it in quite such a good way. I feel strongly that this today is something that your Lordships’ House has to show some genuine common sense over. I refer of course to the wording and the exclusion of the word “woman” from the Bill. Many people out in the public watching or listening to this or reading about it cannot understand how we in this House of Lords could be suggesting a Bill about maternity while avoiding the word “woman”. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, made many really sensible points about this.

I thought the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was right in what was almost a condemnation of Her Majesty’s Government for not speaking out over the past years, when now it has somehow become almost unacceptable to say certain things. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, it has become so that many women and men—perhaps even more so for men—do not want to speak out and say things that would lead to them being trolled on social media or treated as if they were somehow transphobic.

If we in this Chamber and this Parliament cannot start to make a stand then we are on a really slippery slope. The Bill gives us that opportunity. Yes, it could be in a much wider Bill and, yes, it could have brought in all sorts of other issues, but we are where we are, and we need to get it through.

I appeal to the Minister. I know he is not the Minister who will make the final decision, but I hope that today’s debate, showing unanimity on that particular aspect of the wording, means that we will see that change. If we do not do that this time and we leave the wording as it is, that will send a signal that even here, in this wonderful House of Lords, we are not prepared to stand up for what is right and decent and common sense.

17:35
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey. Indeed, it is a great pleasure to be part of something that happens occasionally but is always wonderful when it does, which is people around the House, with their various experiences, intelligences and insights, joining together to urge on the Government a really sensible change in legislation.

To the suggestion that this cannot be done in time, I am sure there are others around the House who, as I have, have spent time in the City or in similarly pressured situations and have turned wording around overnight and got it right. Indeed, I know there are people like that in government or we would not have managed Brexit. This is merely an application of the skills that the Government have to this particular instance, and I urge my noble friend to get his friends to sort this out rather than thinking that this is something that can be shuffled through as an oversight.

In the matter of women’s equality, little things matter. Yes, there are big things and big occasions and, yes, there have been through history and are now women who have given their lives for this, particularly now in Iran, but generally progress has been made in little things. Getting the MCC to admit women did not count for nothing. It is a grain of sand but one that has landed on one side of the scales and will not come back. It is going to be a while—we have had about 150 years of progress and maybe it will be another 150 before we get where we want to go—but that does not mean we should flag, give up or let things like this Bill pass.

Motherhood is, I hope, something on which the next decade or so will see real progress. It is not an estate that we honour in this country in the way that we should. Yes, all of us are individually grateful for our birth and I think we all recognise that the estate of motherhood is good for society, but those who undertake it are treated miserably when they wish to come back into the world to take their place, having undertaken that duty for all of us. Are they accorded equality? Are they given the same chance and space as if they had stayed working? No. That will take a lot of change. It will not be easy and it will be argumentative, but it is an issue on which we must push.

The status of motherhood in the Bill, its denigration by the choice of the Bill’s wording, is not something that we should tolerate. As other speakers have said, the attempt to erase the word “women”, to remove all its meaning except to be human, is something that we should not tolerate. We have to stand firm against this. I am hoping that the Minister will hear the call of Millicent Fawcett,

“Courage calls to courage everywhere”,


gather his forces and get this Government to remedy the wrong that has been done. Indeed, I hope they will go further than that and get themselves into a position where they are happy to make it clear that women, women’s rights and single-sex rights have a place in society, and that that shall not be erased by the pressure group that must not be named.

17:39
Lord Triesman Portrait Lord Triesman (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will start with what I hope is obvious. Among many others, I consistently supported feminists who campaigned for a wide range of women’s rights including maternity rights. I always supported the rights demanded by the LGBT campaigners for same-sex marriage, adoption and many other entitlements to equality. I always abhorred and campaigned against Section 28. I am grateful for the education and clarity of all those involved for my own political development.

It follows that I wholly support the purpose of the Bill, though I wish it were addressing wider issues. I am also very critical of the language in it for good reason. I cannot accept the slurs levelled at women such as Rosie Duffield MP or JK Rowling for simply acknowledging biological facts. I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and I will back an amendment. The vitriol is ghastly and intended to stop proper debate, to bully and to impose cult thinking on what can realistically be understood only through democratic dialogue.

I trust that nobody will repeat what is sometimes said, and is a slander—that those of us who take this view are transphobic or in the pay of some ultra right-wing organisation here or in the United States. The Government should say today that they will speak up for the people vilified for supporting women’s rights. My objections to erasing words such as “women” and “female” from the description of an individual’s biological sex and their replacement with the tortured formulations of the Bill are simple.

First, legislation must be intelligible and compelling to the people who read it or are affected by it. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, it is very good to know that the Lord Chief Justice understood this. This Parliament is not a private theatre using a private language intended to please a few zealous people. It is a legislature, and legislation belongs to citizens, not to a narrow circle of us. Citizens plainly know that it is women who give birth to babies. Babies are not born of euphemisms.

Secondly, I think most people will find efforts to erase “woman” or words relating to women or their biological sex laughable. We do ourselves no credit by using pretentious meaningless phrases, which nobody would use in their own lives. It patronises people who use plain language about known facts. The Bill, with its laudable purpose, is easy to support. How absurd it would be if its language became a boilerplate for drafting subsequent legislation.

Thirdly, it is an unavoidable and uncomfortable truth that when politicians start using words to describe real people as though they were simply objects—to speak of them as though they are “it”—we erode our sensitivity to the people involved. It was always the way of dictatorships and authoritarians. In our case, it is not what we intend. We probably all accept that it is women who have babies. They are the birth mothers, whoever brings the baby up. However, in this kind of formulation in the Bill, the women and their specific biology become devalued—expunging their recognisable human attributes. In this Bill, let us get rid of foolish metaphors, similes and ill-crafted figures of speech and replace them with everyday English. Our laws and words must never treat people as non-human things.

Finally, like many other noble Lords, I have read the Commons debate and the Minister’s letter to us. I listened carefully to what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said today. I am sorry to say that the Government have been inaccurate in what they have told us. There was no new legislative edict from Jack Straw, with whom I worked. I will bet no one has even talked to him. He wanted gender-neutral words where possible. There is no need for a word such as “chairman” and it is sensible to use “police officer” or “firefighter” or terms which cover both sexes and any gender choice. In these cases, there is no need or purpose for gendered language. That is what Jack Straw intended.

However, the truth is that legislation on maternity rights, employment data, healthcare provision and many of the things the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others have spoken of, almost only ever refer to women precisely because there is a specific need and specific purpose. This is so that any normal person can read and understand the legislation.

I appeal to the Minister to be truthful about this. Do not hide in the thickets of the Explanatory Notes. Our excellent Library has provided copious evidence in legislation—no metaphors, no similes, no foolish figures of speech. We are not living in a regime which requires or writes its laws and explanations to obscure and confuse its citizens. Our sole aim here is to ensure that senior women politicians have maternity rights, just like other women. Many other rights should have been in the Bill as well, but it at least does that. It does so for their own well-being and that of their babies. It is that simple.

17:45
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, because that was a brilliant speech. I have found the speeches today humbling, articulate and wonderful, and noble Lords will know that I do not often start my speeches in this manner. I think we have captured that this is not just a matter of words. There is something else going on and I hope that message comes through.

When I was a teenager, my working mother excitedly told me about the Employment Protection Act 1975, which introduced the first maternity leave legislation. She was thrilled that this would give me and my two sisters choices about work and change everything for future generations of women. In school, my radical English teacher enthusiastically showed me trade union and campaigning leaflets. She proclaimed that maternity leave was a key step for women’s equal employment rights. Her enthusiasm for political change was infectious and I have to confess that I caught the bug. We have to remember that, until then, every woman knew she could get sacked for getting pregnant and faced open discrimination, often related to maternity. I suspect that my mother and teacher would be delighted to know that things have improved so much for women that we can now focus on ensuring that women at the top of government will not be expected to resign because of pregnancy and will have six months’ leave on full pay.

As other noble Lords have noted, the Bill is rather narrowly focused on the women in Westminster. I rather wish that Parliament would show such speed and a sense of urgency in tackling the ludicrously low statutory maternity pay and weak employment protections for ordinary working women on maternity leave. Despite this, I see the Bill as a step forward for women’s rights.

But wait—as we have heard from so many today in the brilliant speeches, can we or the Government claim that it is a gain for women’s rights when the words “women”, “she” or “her” do not appear even once in the Bill? We are assured that this is merely a technical drafting matter. If so, can the Minister organise an urgent review of official drafting guidance so that we can explain that gender-neutral language is not appropriate for sex-specific issues?

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, said that he did not see a problem with the language used. He implied that it was a bit like saying “chairperson”, but giving birth is not like chairing a meeting. Erasing women from public discourse on maternity is not ahead of the curve; it is regressive and demeaning. It is not people who get pregnant; it is women. It is women who give birth. It is women who benefit from maternity leave and it is women’s rights at work that we want to protect. If we erase the word “women”, the danger is that we erase the struggle for women’s rights that got us here.

I stress that, of course, not all women want to be mothers. Not all women can be mothers or are even good mothers. In my opinion, child rearing is well and truly not a mother’s natural job, but the words “woman” and “mother” have specific meaning. It horrifies me that it has become so contentious to say so. I have been gratified in this debate by how supportive people have been of the amendment. If anything shows that this House is far removed from the rest of society, it is that most of us would be cancelled if we said these things anywhere else but in this House. There is a toxic, nasty thrust to political life today. I would like to acknowledge the courage of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and others for speaking out. This is because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, explained, people here will be labelled TERFs and transphobes and will go on hate lists for speaking out. That is the reality.

I say to the Government, please do not be either naive or disingenuous. These language rows are not technical. As many noble Lords have articulated so passionately, we have to consider the political context. The day after the debate on the Bill in the other place, I watched a male Labour MP on BBC “Politics Live” repeatedly refuse to say whether maternity law should refer to the pregnant “person” or “woman”. Why was it so hard for him to say that? I am not making a party-political point; we see this across the political spectrum.

These new language codes and norms are mandating us to adopt doublespeak. Why do I need to describe myself as “cis woman”? I am a woman; that is it—enough. I am not a uterus holder, nor a person with a vagina nor a chestfeeder. These are linguistic abominations, but they are not harmless. Ultimately, these body part descriptions demean women and are a linguistic assault on the notion that biological sex exists at all. There are consequences of this. For example, in medical challenges specific to biological females, how can healthcare workers discuss the risks of mastitis infection if they have to replace “breast” with “chest”?

We can see how language is being weaponised in other areas deemed technical. You cannot get more technical than the census. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, noted, there is now a huge furore about the politicised wording of the questions. The census is a hugely important inquiry to gather factual data and accurate statistics. Dr Debbie Hayton, a transgender woman, teacher and trade union officer, rightly points out that

“the gender-identity lobby has been working hard to obfuscate the issue by mangling sex with gender identity”.

This place is not a students’ union. On too many campuses, mangling and obfuscating language and linguistic policing are often used to undermine academic freedom and to smear and damage the reputation of feminist academics. Noble Lords should check out the new website, GC Academia Network, to read some horrifying tales. In some ways, we might expect this to go on in a students’ union, but this Parliament should not be like student politics or, much worse, even consider removing the word “woman” from this maternity Bill. We in this House—and even more so in the other place—are answerable to millions of women, men and transgender people—that is, transgender people as distinct from transactivist lobbyists. Those millions would expect, in plain language, that legislation expanding maternity leave would benefit women’s equality. I suspect that those millions of citizens would be horrified to think that any part of our legislative body was in thrall to the small—if loud—lobbying organisations which, make no mistake, are using language as a battering ram to march through the institutions and to eradicate the crucial distinction between biological sex and subjectively-defined gender identity, and which bully and intimidate anyone who refuses to repeat the mandated correct terminology.

I urge the Minister not to let the absence of one key word betray the embryonic gains of the 1975 maternity leave legislation and the hopes of my mother, my teacher and my teenage self. It would mean something for women’s freedom. Do not betray us now.

17:54
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too support this Bill, even though it does not go far enough in giving Ministers who are parents the same rights that other workers have now come to expect. As others have already said, these include adoption leave, sick leave and shared parental leave. The last is particularly important and affects any Minister who becomes a parent and who is still missing out on the rights to share in the care of their new baby with their partner. I hope the Minister will remedy this urgently.

There is one other parental benefit that has not yet been mentioned—statutory parental bereavement pay and leave. I worked with the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for a number of years to win this right for parents, but it is omitted from this legislation for Ministers. I urge the Minister to ensure that it is added to the other forms of parental allowance and leave for future discussion. One hopes that it is never needed but it is vital to have it in place to cover such awful circumstances.

My former colleagues, Jo Swinson and Jenny Willott, both had their first babies while they were Ministers. No arrangements were made for them. They had to cover for each other without maternity pay at exactly the time when they were working in government for better rights for women and parents in the workplace.

I agree with my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece about the lack of equality impact assessments. We need to remedy this and to reflect on why, as a society, we have moved over the years to gender-neutral language. The gender-neutral language in this Bill is inclusive. Changing it, as many speakers have asked, would make it exclusive—perhaps not to many, but to some people for whom it matters a great deal. No one is trying to erase women but rather to accept that, over recent years, there have been advances in medicine. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for referring to trans men in Brighton. We also have to remember that non-binary and intersex people who were born women would be excluded. Both equality law and clinical care have kept pace with them and their circumstances. Medical care, in particular, has adapted in order to provide the best possible care for them in rare and difficult circumstances. That is why I would gently correct the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in her reporting of the Brighton hospital trust introducing “chestfeeding” and “pregnant people” and removing “breastfeeding” and “women” from its documentation. It is not. Snopes, that excellent debunker of myths, explains this carefully:

“A maternity department at a U.K. hospital announced in February 2021 that it was expanding terms it used in maternity care to include, for example, ‘chestfeeding’ and ‘pregnant people’, in order to be more inclusive of trans and nonbinary patients … To be clear, the NHS said that such language—like referencing ‘pregnant women’ and ‘breastfeed’—will not change for those who identify as such … Adding terms like ‘chestfeeding’ and ‘birthing parent’ was not intended to take away from women-oriented language already in use. Rather, the move was meant to be additional support that offers more inclusion for trans and nonbinary individuals.”


I was also moved by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. Like her, I am disabled and have been on the receiving end of some pretty despicable hate crimes and trolling. Just like her, I am concerned that the trolls will descend on me this evening, but they will be those from the other side of her argument. However, that is nothing as to the daily abuse that trans and non-binary people suffer.

Over the years, your Lordships’ House has learned how to disagree well. In this sensitive debate, I hope that people who are not here with us in the Chamber will choose to watch and listen to those on both sides of the argument. I have heard from trans men that, even though there are currently no trans Members in either the House of Lords or the House of Commons, they think it is important that language used in legislation remains inclusive. Using the word “woman” excludes trans men and therefore removes their rights.

Finally, we must focus on the specific nature and the urgency of this Bill. I hope that the Minister can reassure the House not only that the Bill will proceed but that all Ministers who are new parents will benefit from the same parental rights as workers across the country.

18:00
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for her determined and timely action in flagging up the wording in this Bill. I thank the Minister for his sensitive and careful acceptance of the comments that several noble Lords have brought to his attention on the use of the word “person”, as opposed to “female”. As other noble Lords have noted prolifically in this important debate, the drafting of the Bill has eliminated females from the very act that only a female can carry out.

As a former Member of Parliament, of the European Parliament and of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have fought all my political life to bring females in to all aspects of politics and in to all circles of political power and responsibility at all levels of society. As a former director of the world’s largest children’s charity, a senior consultant to another six or seven of the world’s largest NGOs serving children, and a former World Health Organization ambassador, I know well that the child to be trafficked, abused, enslaved or sold is the one who has been successfully detached from its mother. In this Bill, this detachment begins before conception.

The knowledge that, both before and after birth, a mother is needed for the foetus to be safely developed in the womb and securely delivered with a safe birth, underpins the Children Act and all child’s rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which were framed and intensively discussed, debated and agreed by our former, late, much lamented and loved colleague Baroness Faithfull, whose work for children seemed eternally enshrined in British law. This Bill betrays her heritage, as much as it betrays that of Professor Bowlby, with his attachment theory for babies and children throughout their beginnings.

This is something that successive British Governments have always known about and supported. Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, signed in 1976 and ratified by the UK in the same year, states that:

“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that: The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society”—


that comes out of the European Convention on Human Rights, of course—

“particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children. Marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses. Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth.”

The Government are right to put this Bill forward because, as Article 10 goes on to say:

“During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits.”


Nothing could be more suitable than that. However, we also have CEDAW, ratified by the UK in 1986 to

“provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them”,

and to

“ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.”

Nothing could be more appropriate for this Bill, which our Government have correctly put forward, save that both those great statements mention women—mothers, females, not persons. In the dictionary, “person” means man, woman or child.

Today this House is talking about a female activity. I find it astounding that half a million years of human knowledge, custom and practice is cast aside for the sake of today’s unwillingness to recognise reality; to discard “mother”, “female”, “woman” in favour of a mythical being, the neutral “person”, the very neutrality of the word negating females. Those successfully impregnated by males for conception are females. Maternity is not a male activity, nor can it be hijacked by a change of wording. While wishful at all times of supporting mothers at any stage of their responsibilities, I cannot sit silent while we wipe the female out of a piece of maternity legislation which is designed for her.

Of course, we want our laws to be understandable to the ordinary person. That means everyone who votes and those who are not yet old enough to do so. One of our most wonderful authors, Shakespeare, has a lot to say about motherhood and mothering. He refers to breastfeeding several times, for example in “Romeo and Juliet”, “Macbeth” and “The Winter’s Tale”, in which he presents the heavily pregnant Queen Hermione. In “Pericles”, Queen Thaisa vividly gives birth to a princess during a storm at sea. I will give an example, from Shakespeare, of what happens when you lose the word “mother” or “female” and replace it with “person”. It makes a very interesting distinction. This is from Sonnet III:

“Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;”

Now let me use the wording of the Bill:

“Thou art thy person’s glass and it in thee

Calls back”—

what can it call back? It cannot be “the lovely April of its prime”. I suggest we can only offer that it calls back “the flat and gloomy February of our time”.

If, despite his kind words, the Minister is unable to offer any real sweetness to salve our strong concerns, would he be willing to accept a full debate on language used in legislative drafting, in other governmental organisations and institutions, and in those which are sustained by funding from the Government, such as schools? The concerns of this House today about language cannot be easily ameliorated, as the present debate so clearly shows. I deeply and profoundly regret the drafting and the misgendering of women in the Bill.

18:06
Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is fascinating how such a small Bill has demonstrated the ability of the House of Lords to rise to the occasion and scrutinise every word and line. I welcome the Minister’s assurance that he was listening carefully to the debate. His recent letter gave some reassurance, but not enough. It did not deal with what most of the speakers today regard as a misinterpretation of the guidance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, started this debate with a bang. She used a colloquial term, “garbage”, to describe the failure of the Bill to recognise the role of women in motherhood, and she was right. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded the House, we are privileged to have this debate in a non-toxic atmosphere, without being accused of transphobia. That would be ironic because, as he and many other noble Lords said, most of us have spent our adult lives fighting against homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and Section 28. We do not need to be taught lessons on tolerance and being anti-discriminatory. No wonder there are mixed messages from the Government. The gender equality office takes advice from an organisation called Gendered Intelligence and carries its logo on its letterhead.

A number of noble Lords were right when they said that the Bill is less than perfect. In her moving contribution, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, demonstrated what it was like to experience discrimination; we felt for her. My noble friend Lord Winston showed how women struggle to achieve motherhood. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, took the House through the legal minefield to arrive at the conclusion of women in the role of motherhood. As I have said, the Bill is too narrow, and I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the Government will look at the wider issues.

We do not normally vote on regret Motions in this House, and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, indicated that a vote was not her intention. This is helpful, because it gives the Minister the opportunity to consider the overwhelming feelings of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox and Lady Hoey, and a whole range of speakers from all the Benches demonstrated their support for the amendments. I know the Minister is in a listening mode; he has agreed to a further meeting with Peers, which I hope will enable him to reconsider his response to the amendment in Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was wrong, I feel, when she said that if we used the word “women,” it would discriminate against trans men, as was demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It is ironic that the recent decision by the Office for National Statistics to cave in to the demands to remove sex from the forthcoming census, and allow gender identification instead, will actually work against ensuring that services for transgender people will be provided.

I end my contribution by thanking the House for having this debate in a rational logical way, where Members did not worry about which party they would normally, if you like, support but looked at the issue carefully and rationally. The overwhelming majority of people who contributed to this debate saw the need for amendments. I hope that, in making his response, the Minister will recognise this strength of feeling.

18:12
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for providing the background to this short piece of legislation, and I wish the Attorney-General well with her pregnancy leave and her confinement.

There has been striking unanimity during this debate, and at the end of a long list of speakers certain themes have emerged, such as language and whether it is better to use the word “person” or “woman”. In my view, it is women who give birth, so I favour the use of the word “woman”. But I want to be clear that I am not opposed to other gender-specific areas.

Other issues were raised, and it became evident that the Bill is seen to be narrow in focus and needs to be widened. Therefore, there is an opportunity for the Minister, when he comes back later this week, to bring forward amendments to widen the scope of this Bill.

Notwithstanding that, I support this Bill, because the Government are addressing the realities of wider society. Many people in senior responsible positions are women, and the Government are helping to ensure public life is being made more accessible. It is a fundamental right to take time off to have a baby, and it is important there is financial protection to celebrate motherhood.

I support the general thrust of the legislation as a first step towards addressing working conditions for women in Parliament. It does, however, miss an opportunity to address pay and working conditions for ordinary women who earn low incomes and are forced to work long hours in advance of pregnancy and, often, to return to work a short period of time after the birth, endangering their health and preventing a proper early bonding relationship with their child. That issue requires urgent attention. As my noble friend Lord Hain said, in Covid conditions such situations become that bit more acute. So I would like to hear from the Minister how he and the Government intend to address these issues for all working women who face motherhood.

Because Ministers and their opposition numbers are appointed, there is not security of tenure in the employment, and they should be financially protected, and theirs jobs secure, during their pregnancy leave. The provisions in the Bill mean that Ministers and those holding principal opposition offices will not have to resign, and they create a discretionary power for the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition in the relevant House to grant certain office holders six months’ maternity leave. But it is important that this is extended to women MPs and MPs on paternity leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave—to widen the scope and remit of provisions of this Bill. I look forward to the Minister addressing these issues.

Both the Minister and Penny Mordaunt, who introduced the Bill in the other place, said the Government would bring forward proposals to address outstanding parental leave issues. When will this happen? What will be the extent and remit of such proposals? Will they be subject to legislative provision? Reference has been made to the fact that discussions have taken place regarding this matter. With whom, and for how long, have they been going on? Do they involve the Lords? Do they include provisions for maternity leave entitlement or for those seeking to adopt or those on shared parental leave? Will the new provisions include the need for the Government to strengthen the employment rights of pregnant women and new parents across the UK? Will it also include redundancy protection for pregnant women and new mothers?

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred to bereavement leave. I think that is a particularly important issue, and maybe the Minister could advise us on that. There is also the need to focus on: the wholly inadequate levels of maternity allowance and statutory maternity pay; the lack of employment protection for women on maternity leave; and the low level of take-up of parental leave by fathers because many cannot afford to take it.

I am happy to support the provisions in this Bill, as far as it goes. But I believe the remit and the strength of this Bill will be in the Minister bringing forward government amendments to widen the scope of the Bill to ensure it covers a wider spectrum of women.

18:17
Lord Tyler Portrait Lord Tyler (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, first and foremost, I am sure all Members of your Lordships’ House will want to join me in offering our best wishes to the Members of Parliament for Fareham, Enfield North and Walthamstow. As we all now know, Suella Braverman, Feryal Clark and Stella Creasy are expecting babies in a few weeks’ time. Access to appropriate maternity leave is equally important for all three.

There has been a tendency for successive Governments to inflate the importance of Ministers at the expense of Parliament, and this Government are certainly not immune. But under our constitution, Ministers are accountable to MPs, who are themselves accountable to constituents—not all the other way around. It follows that it is vital for MPs and their constituents to be effectively reinforced for parental leave that they are encouraged to take.

It happens that the Member for Fareham is to be fully supported in her ministerial role, throughout the six months’ leave, by this Bill. What about her MP role? I am sure her constituency office staff would do an excellent job with her casework, and she would, presumably, be able to nominate a proxy to vote for her.

However, the electors of Fareham will be without a parliamentary voice for the period of leave, and that will also be true for the people of Enfield and Walthamstow. When I was shadow Leader of the House of Commons for the Liberal Democrats, I worked with Robin Cook and Sir George Young—now the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—to seek ways to strengthen the role of Members who did not seek ministerial advancement. That led, among other things, to improved status and influence for committee chairs.

But the Bill provides the Government an opportunity to drive a further wedge between the treatment of Ministers and MPs. That cannot continue indefinitely. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire pointed out, the gestation of this narrow Bill has been much longer than a pregnancy. It is disappointing that the opportunity to develop a much wider reform has not been taken. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, pointed out, with her memories of the inconceivable situation that arose in 1976, it is curious that this must be emergency legislation after decades of inadequate gestation.

There are other ways in which this ad personam Bill must clearly be followed by more comprehensive legislation, as my noble friends have been emphasising in this debate. There are serious inequalities to be addressed both inside Parliament and beyond. Better provision for all forms of parental leave has been a theme right through the debate. For all MPs would be a good start, but paternity, adoption, shared parental and child bereavement leave all need to be addressed urgently, not just for MPs but more widely. In that context, I was very moved by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, whose professional evidence we all take so seriously.

The MP’s life is exceptionally demanding. I knew that, but it has become even more so since I was a Member. My wife was expecting when I defended a tiny majority in October 1974, only to lose it by a few hundred votes. In retrospect, we both agreed that this was a blessing in disguise, when the first months of 1975 were dominated by the arrival of our new son, to join a very lively two-year-old daughter. I do not think that I would have been able to give good service to my constituents then. If the constituents of Fareham, Enfield and Walthamstow—and many others in future—are not to be discriminated against, the Bill is addressing only a relatively minor problem. Ministerial duties can be undertaken by others, with a huge back-up of civil servants, but not so parliamentary duties.

I have no doubt that the Minister will have at his fingertips comparable maternity allowance provision, not just as recommended for MPs’ staff but for all the employees of the two Houses of Parliament, to set beside what we are considering simply for Ministers and a few others. If he does not, I am sure that in his usual way he will have the courtesy to let us see something to compare before the further stages of the Bill. Meanwhile, as all my colleagues have urged, and other Members right across the House, if the Government mean what they say about the need for generous parental leave, then they cannot give up on the process to provide it throughout the country once the Bill is passed. I hope that it will be passed—but words are significant, especially in legislation and especially in this place. Of course the semantic concerns expressed on all sides are important, and I do not envy the Minister’s job in squaring the circle to achieve plain speaking and accessible language in the context of the Bill, as he has been asked to do. Personally, my bafflement is very simple: I do not really understand how “women” is legislatively unacceptable but “maternity” can be used throughout the Bill from its Title onwards. The dictionary definitions seem equally restrictive.

Above all, we note the promise from the Paymaster-General, Penny Mordaunt. In the Commons Second Reading, on 11 February, having acknowledged pressure from all parties for a more comprehensive nationwide approach to parental leave, with legislative proposals, she said:

“I think we should be bringing this back to the House before the summer recess in order to address those other issues.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/21; col. 559.]


As the noble Baroness has just said, a lot of us are looking for that—and the Paymaster-General was referring to legislation, not just consultation. That sounds to me like an expectation of inclusion in an early summer Queen’s Speech. On behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I ask the Minister to reiterate that promise. Our support for the Bill is not unconditional; we support it but we hope that it leads to the much greater, more comprehensive improvements to all parental leave which we are looking for. It would be totally unacceptable for Parliament to give special maternity entitlement to Ministers—and in Clause 4, to a small selection of Labour officeholders—without that firm commitment to make progress for wider parental leave to both MPs and the nation which they serve.

18:25
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I welcome the Bill. A maternity Bill to support parliamentarians has been too long in coming forward, and I add my best wishes to the Attorney-General, whose pregnancy has finally spurred the Government into action. My noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, who has spent so much of her exemplary career working to improve women’s rights, said in her speech that it is hard to believe that it has taken so long for us to have come this far.

Repeatedly, the Government have insisted that reforming maternity rights would take time, so it is disappointing that the Bill is being rushed through with such a narrow remit. I have listened carefully to the debate today, and the many important contributions as to how this Bill could be significantly improved. The Minister stated in his opening remarks that this is just the beginning of the journey of reform, so I hope that as well as listening he has heard, and that the Government will act on the well-needed improvements without delay. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in his passionate speech in support of women, and my noble friend Lord Winston, speaking from the heart about his extensive experience, have talked about the language used in the Bill, and particularly the use of “person”. As has been pointed out, this is at odds with other legislation covering maternity rights and protection, including the Equality Act 2010, which uses “her” and “woman” specifically. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, clearly explained why she is concerned about this in introducing her regret amendment. In his letter to noble Lords on this issue, and in his introduction, the Minister explained that the wording reflects modern drafting convention and guidance and looked forward to discussing it further at this Second Reading. My noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley was particularly informed on this issue, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s more detailed response in his closing speech.

There has been much discussion of the number of omissions in the Bill as it stands. As I know the Minister recognises, the proposals do not include any provision for paternity leave entitlement, premature baby leave, those seeking to adopt, or those on shared parental leave. It is a shame that the Government have not given more detailed consideration to a Bill which has such importance to women parliamentarians, and which has the potential to encourage more young women to take up a parliamentary career. With more thought and proper consultation, the Bill could have been so much better.

We should be encouraging more fathers to take up paternity and shared parental leave. The Bill sends out the wrong message by failing to make those provisions, and as drafted helps only a small number of women. I was especially interested to hear from my noble friend Lady Hayman about her experience of having a baby as a Member of Parliament in the 1970s, and how dispiriting it is that there has been so little real progress since then. Backbench MPs are able to take maternity leave, as we know, but have no guarantee that their constituency responsibilities will be covered in their absence. Following the debates on the Bill in the other place, IPSA published a consultation on funding MP parental leave and allowing MPs on parental leave to hire new staff to cover their constituency duties. The consultation closes shortly, and I hope that the Government will take swift action to bring in this much-needed support for all Members of Parliament. As my noble friend Lady Gale mentioned, it is concerning that no equalities impact assessment has been published. An EIA might have highlighted the Bill’s many deficiencies and brought a focus on wider paternity rights issues. Can the Minister assure us that the promised improved Bill will include an EIA?

As other noble Lords have done, I now draw the Minister’s attention to maternity leave pay. The Bill effectively provides for salaried Ministers and opposition officeholders to receive six months paid maternity leave. The Explanatory Notes explain that this is comparable to maternity pay in the Civil Service and Armed Forces. However, as has been pointed out, this is far more generous than the statutory rate of maternity pay and maternity allowance, which can leave many women in financial poverty. The Government need to address this—babies are very expensive.

Noble Lords have talked about the fact that the speed with which the Government are acting to make sure that the Attorney-General can rightly take maternity leave is in stark contrast to their failure to support pregnant women, who have faced discrimination and hardship throughout the pandemic. The Minister will no doubt be aware of the recently published report by the Women and Equalities Committee on the gendered economic impact of Covid-19. It specifically highlights the position of pregnant women who have been incorrectly put on statutory sick pay instead of maternity pay and those who have been denied furlough, even though they were entitled to it, because they were pregnant.

It is disappointing that the Government are yet to act on their commitment in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech to strengthen the legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new parents and introduce leave for neonatal care. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will act on the committee’s recommendations? Although it may be outside the noble Lord’s remit, will he provide an update on the Employment Bill, which could include provisions on such things as miscarriage leave, and leave for parents with a sick child?

It is clear from today’s debate that there is much work to be done to improve the Bill, but also that the proposals have strong cross-party support and a commitment to see improved legislation as soon as possible. It is vital that the areas that have been omitted and other issues are addressed. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, just said, when the Bill was debated in the other place, the Minister said that we should bring this back to the House before the Summer Recess to address those other issues. The Minister himself has referred to an update. Will he confirm that the Government’s intention is indeed to bring the Bill back before the Summer Recess? On the understanding that better legislation will be achieved by cross-party working, will he confirm that the Government are committed to this so that we can properly reform the narrow Bill before us today?

18:34
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a privilege to respond to the debate, which I have listened to intently and with deep consideration for what everybody has said. If I may be allowed a personal comment, I too was moved by what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, because the reason there were seven years between my late brother and me was that my mother was one of the women to whom he referred and, of course, never forgot that. In my life, I have tried to follow the example of that remarkable woman. Part of that example was always that you should listen to the other person and that bullying and hatred have no place in personal life or public life. I echo very strongly what the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said on that in her intervention. No one should have fear in expressing any view. We have heard contrary views in this debate—although there has been an overwhelming voice on one side, we have heard countervailing voices—and I assure the House that I respect all those.

I thank everybody who has taken part. The contributions have been insightful if, from the Government’s point of view, sometimes challenging. I have rarely heard the House so unanimous, or near unanimous, in its expression of concern on the two main points that have come out of the debate: first, what we do next in broadening the work, which I spoke about in opening; and, secondly, the issue of language, on which many have spoken.

Before I come to that, I shall answer some of the other points raised in the debate. We could begin on one point on which I think we are all agreed: although the Bill is specific and limited, it is a significant reforming measure for women and points the way to wider reform. I welcome that that has been recognised by most of those who spoke. The Bill makes an important and long-overdue change to existing law by for the first time enabling senior Ministers to take paid maternity leave. The prior situation—that such a woman had to resign—was unacceptable and, frankly, shameful in the 21st century.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Noakes for her heartfelt contribution at the outset of the debate. The very fact that she has tabled an amendment demonstrates her feeling on the subject. If she and other noble Lords will permit, I will address some of the other concerns first and come to the language later in this speech.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her support for the Bill. She rightly highlighted the past injustice of women having to make a choice between having children and pursuing a career. That is entirely wrong. It is why the Bill and what I hope will follow are so important. The Government acknowledge that the Bill does not resolve wider issues, and we will present a report to Parliament. I shall say more about that later, setting out considerations and proposals.

I turn to some other points raised in the course of the debate. On the constitutional aspects of the Bill, particularly the royal prerogative and how the Bill operates in that space, several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Hain and Lord Pannick, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hussein-Ece, Lady Grey-Thompson, Lady Jones and Lady Hayman, asked why the Bill does not grant a right to maternity leave and why it remains within the Prime Minister’s discretion to appoint a Minister as a Minister on leave. As my right honourable friend the Paymaster-General said in the other place during the Bill’s passage, Ministers are not employees and therefore do not enjoy employment rights. They are officeholders appointed by the sovereign on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of the day. The Bill is careful to ensure that the arrangements put in place to allow Ministers to take maternity leave do not interfere with that prerogative in relation to the appointment of Ministers.

Noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Grey-Thompson, and many others, said that while the Bill is welcome, it does not go far enough. I agree, as I said in my opening speech and just now. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the Bill does not resolve wider issues such as ministerial adoption and parental leave, absences for sickness and other measures—we heard about some in the debate—or unpaid roles and that we should proceed to consider them too. I will come to that in more detail later.

Noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, also raised maternity provision for Members of the other place. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work as part of the APPG on Women in Parliament, which advocated paid cover for Ministers in 2014. In respect of Members of Parliament, it is a matter for IPSA, which is entirely independent of the Government, and for Parliament itself. I note and welcome the fact that IPSA has launched a consultation on funding for MP parental leave cover and I encourage all those with an interest to make their views known to IPSA.

Others raised wider issues affecting pregnant women across the country. That was the gravamen of the wind-up speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, whom I welcome to her position on the Front Bench opposite. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is already unlawful, but the Government have recognised that pregnant women and new mothers continue to face challenges in the workplace. They have consulted on this issue previously and published their response in the summer of 2019. We are looking to bring forward reforms to the current statutory framework, as was committed to in our manifesto. It will provide security for expecting and new mothers, and flexibility for employers.

I thank noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Bourne, for their advocacy on behalf of unpaid Ministers in your Lordships’ House. I recognise that this is an issue, and, understandably, a number of noble Lords feel strongly about it. I am happy to confirm that the Written Ministerial Statement laid by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister specifically envisages the use of unpaid roles as being within the scope of further work that the Government have committed to, following the Bill. The Government will present a report to Parliament setting out considerations on this matter, alongside the other matters that I have explained. I paid careful attention to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Bourne and others, and I hope to be able to update my noble friend and the House on the progress of that work by the Summer Recess, as was stated by my right honourable friend the Paymaster-General in the other place.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, who made a powerful speech, and others for their points on equalities impact assessments. It is absolutely right that the Government should give proper consideration to the equalities impacts of a policy underlying any legislation. Although the provisions of this Bill are of narrow scope, they apply to all ministerial offices and the opposition officeholders who are paid under the ministerial salary legislation to allow for maternity leave. This means that, for those women who are Ministers or are considering accepting appointment to ministerial office, there is now less of an impediment or barrier to doing so when considering starting a family at the same time. This improves equality and removes an injustice. It is part of the wider work that I have referred to before, which will look at, among other things, parental leave, adoption leave and the position of people in public life who are not Ministers. The Government have undertaken that, as part of that, they will take into account the equalities issues. The starting point will be to consider the impacts of the current legislation, as well as work from relevant Select Committees.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, raised the Law Officers Act 1997. He is of course right to say that, by virtue of that Act, which he helped steward through Parliament, the functions of the Attorney-General can be exercised by the Solicitor-General. That provides important flexibility on a day-to-day basis. However, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will recognise that that is not a solution for a planned and ongoing leave of absence.

In addition, the office of Attorney-General, as chief law officer for England and Wales and chief legal adviser to the Crown, is an important part of our constitution. Advice on the most serious and sensitive issues is provided to the Cabinet by the Attorney-General, who attends Cabinet. In those circumstances, it is not about the possibility of the Solicitor-General deputising but about ensuring that there is clarity about who discharges the role of Attorney-General.

I would now like to address the concerns raised in the other place and so strongly and repeatedly in this House today regarding the language used in this legislation. In the debate, almost all noble Lords raised the fact that the Bill refers to “persons”, rather than “women”, who are pregnant. What others see as neutral language, many of your Lordships have perceived as rejecting the special role of women in childbirth. Questions have been raised about whether this is the application of extreme gender ideology. It is not. The overriding drafting principle for all legislation is that we must create the legal conditions to deliver the policy intent.

I will address the specific issues directly and hope to be able to give the House some reassurance, but it is important to disentangle the broader issue of non-specific language on the one hand and how it is perceived and operates in the Bill. I submit that few would want to go back to the situation before 2007, when, for example, “he” was regularly used in legislation to embrace women. That, as many have argued, was seen as demeaning. The changes introduced by the then Labour Government and supported by successive Governments of all parties have sought to avoid gender-specific pronouns and usages when drafting legislation. Whatever the concerns expressed in this debate—I heard them and will come to them—I have not heard any call for the wholesale overthrow of the inclusive drafting conventions used since 2007. The Government continue to believe that that change was right.

I will come to the specific context of the language of this Bill. However, the Government do not—this reflects our discussions with the Official Opposition—propose to amend this Bill, for several reasons. First, the specific circumstances of the Attorney-General’s pregnancy mean that there is some urgency to secure Royal Assent to allow her to go on maternity leave. Secondly, in that context, the current drafting achieves its purpose in legal clarity and certainty.

As I said in opening, the Government have committed to return to the House with a report on furthering the reform begun in this Bill, looking into wider issues including adoption and parental leave, sickness and unpaid roles. If that review leads to this Bill being revisited, the way it is now constructed will facilitate further additions for other forms of ministerial leave.

The Bill is legally accurate and will allow women to take maternity leave. To disturb that by amendment now might lead to unfortunate delay or unintended confusion in drafting. I acknowledge, having heard the debate, that this is not a satisfactory position for this House, but we will return to these matters in due course.

Although the drafting of this Bill in the context of maternity has been criticised by many, I repeat that it was neither novel nor intended in any way to denigrate women. I and the Government have heard today the concerns of both Houses on the “erasure of women” from public discourse and legislation. It is not intended to do this. The overriding drafting principle is that we must meet the legal requirements to deliver policy intent. The use of “person” in relation to pregnancy or childbirth matters in legislation is in line with current drafting convention and guidance, but, having heard the debate today, I will make the following points in reassurance.

First, I repeat that it will continue to be this Government’s policy to refer to pregnant women in government publications. That point has been made very strongly by many who spoke. Secondly, the Government have already responded to concerns that this drafting could be misinterpreted, and have updated the Explanatory Notes, which now detail how the Bill is intended to support women and explain the drafting practice.

The Government recognise the continuing strength of feeling on this issue in both this House and the other place. We are clear that the drafting is accurate and effective, but we recognise the concern expressed today that meeting legal requirements in drafting legislation does not mean that there is only one drafting approach available. In addition to committing to make myself available to noble Lords who may wish to discuss this matter further before Committee—I express my gratitude to those noble Lords who have taken the time and engagement so far to enter into discussions with the Government and me—I also state that the Government are open to further discussions on this issue. I will reflect with colleagues whether we can commit to doing more on this wider issue as we approach the later stages of this Bill.

Following my undertakings on this, many noble Lords expressed a wish to see reform go further to resolve wider issues around ministerial parental leave. The Government acknowledge that the Bill does not resolve these wider issues. That is why we have committed to further consideration. These are complex issues which require careful further consideration, taking into account modern working practices and the wider constitutional context. While respecting the independence of IPSA, the Government will present a report to Parliament setting out considerations and proposals.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, the Government’s work will consider how the issues are resolved in other contexts, including for MPs, other officeholders, workers and employees, to draw up proposals for how they can be made to work in the context of ministerial office.

I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that as part of this work, the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to consult with the leader of the Opposition on the development of the proposals in advance of publication. The Government will continue the work following passage of this legislation with a view to laying the report before Parliament as soon as is practicable, and will in any event update Parliament before the Summer Recess.

I hope that I have been able to address some of the issues raised by noble Lords, including those raised by my noble friend Lady Noakes and others throughout this debate. I urge her to consider withdrawing her amendment, and repeat my offer to have further engagement between now and the next stages.

The Government agree that Parliament and Government should seek to lead from the front on working practices, providing as much flexibility as possible to officeholders to aid the effective discharge of their duties. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out in his Written Statement on this topic two weeks ago, the Government have undertaken to look into considerations and proposals, both in the round and in detail.

Returning to the essential, this Bill will end the unacceptable situation where a pregnant woman would have to resign from Cabinet to recover from childbirth and care for her new-born child. For this reason and for the reasons outlined above, I again beg to move that the Bill be read a second time, and urge my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.

18:51
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have supported my amendment. There have been some wonderful, strong speeches today, far too many for me to refer to individually. The Minister has been left in no doubt as to the strength of feeling on the matters raised by my amendment.

The vast majority of those taking part today supported my amendment, and I have had a number of messages during the course of this debate from other noble Lords offering their support. The Minister has absorbed the fact that many of us who have spoken have risked being targeted by activists as a result. It is not easy to support women nowadays.

We had 34 speakers on the list today, but I am sure that more would have spoken had they been aware of the issues. The plain fact is that the expedited process, coupled with the recess, meant that the majority of the House was not even aware that I had tabled my amendment, let alone seen the content of it, until well after the speakers’ list had closed. That is not good for the health of debate in your Lordships’ House, and I hope that the usual channels will look carefully at this going forward.

The Minister responded to the debate with his customary dignity, but I was disappointed on two counts. First, he did not agree to bring forward Government amendments to Committee on Thursday; I cannot say that I was surprised at that, but I was disappointed. Secondly, he did not agree to ensure that the recent gender-neutral drafting guidance, which has caused this problem, would be reviewed by Ministers and then by Parliament. We can do nothing in this House about revising the drafting guidance, although I am sure that we will be seeking to debate that further in due course, and my noble friend Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne raised that specifically.

So far as the Bill is concerned, we do have Committee on Thursday, and noble Lords across the House will want to speak to amendments which have already been tabled. Very little change to the Bill is required, and it would only add a day or so to the timetable for getting Royal Assent if that course were pursued. I have not given up hope that the Government will work with us, and I look forward to meeting the Minister with other noble Lords later this week.

If the Government will not work with us to amend the Bill—as I said, I hope they will—there is another potential obstacle to our ability to change the Bill in your Lordships’ House, namely the question of whether any vote would be whipped by our Front Benches. I cannot speak for other parties, but my party, in the other place, was given a free vote on this Bill, which is right and proper for an issue such as this. I very much hope that our Chief Whip will see the good sense of this on Thursday. With that, I will not seek the opinion of the House today and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment withdrawn.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
18:56
Sitting suspended.

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 25th February 2021

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber