Committee (and remaining stages)
My Lords, the hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask that all Members respect social distancing. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request. The groupings are binding. A participant who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in the group to a Division must give notice, either in the debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments in the usual way and, when putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group. We will now begin.
Clause 1: Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
My Lords, I will speak also to the other amendments in my name.
We discussed this issue extensively at Second Reading. Almost everybody who spoke from all around the House was clear that the use of the phrase “pregnant person” in the Bill was unacceptable. Amendment 1 and the consequential amendments substitute the word “mother”. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, laid out at Second Reading, last year’s judgment in the Court of Appeal in the McConnell case makes it clear that anyone who gives birth is a mother under English law. That is a word that signifies a role—a word that honours the millions of women who undertake it, and honours equally those mothers who do not own to the label “woman”. It is a word well understood in statute and in law generally, and one that should cause no upset to the Government’s legal team. If I was writing the Bill, I suspect I would have chosen “women”, but I can understand and see that “mother” may be an easier word for the Government to choose, and I am delighted that there are indications that they may be looking in that direction.
Words matter, especially on the long road to equality. The use of the word “person” in the Bill as it is now erases the reality that, overwhelmingly, maternity is undertaken by women and not by men. To leave “person” in place would be a step backwards in women’s equality, uncompensated by gains elsewhere and inconsistent with government policy. I am among a large group of Peers of diverse politics but a shared determination to see continued progress towards equality for women and to oppose attempts to roll that back. There is a great deal to do, and this amendment is just a grain of sand in the balance—but it is a grain on the right side of the scales. I beg to move.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I thought it might be helpful if I made a brief statement at this early stage. The Government have listened carefully throughout Second Reading and in the various discussions I have had with noble Lords of differing opinions outside the Chamber. The Government recognise the strength of feeling on this issue and the desire of your Lordships’ House to give effect to this strength of feeling. The Government recognise the concerns that have been expressed, articulated today by my noble friend in his remarks when moving Amendment 1 and by many others in the debate on Monday, that in meeting the legal requirements of legislative drafting there may be more than one acceptable approach.
The amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, seek to change the drafting of the Bill to substitute the words “mother or expectant mother” in lieu of the word “person” in various places in Clauses 1 to 3. The Government accept that such an approach to the drafting of the Bill would be legally acceptable and that the intention and meaning of the Bill would be unaffected by such a change. As a result, the Government will accept the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
My Lords, in speaking to my amendments, I very much welcome the Minister’s announcement, as well as his willingness to talk to noble Lords on numerous occasions over the last four days. I also welcome the review he is announcing alongside the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I had already decided to put my support behind the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I prefer the term “woman” but, as he said, I am very happy with the substitution of “mother” for “person”.
I always wanted to see the Bill delivered so that the Minister can get her maternity leave, but I also wanted it to be clear and respectful to women. I am delighted that we have come to this outcome. There is no doubt that the use of the word “person” rather than “woman” or “mother” is not a technical issue that should ever have been decided by parliamentary counsel. It goes right to the heart of the Government’s attitude towards women, their rights and their ability to speak clearly about situations where their sex matters. In recent months we have increasingly heard about the Government’s concerns about free speech in this country. However, when it comes to issues to do with sex and gender, they have been remarkably silent.
I know that many noble Lords have received countless messages, mainly from women, since our debate on Monday—I have had over 200 messages. What comes through is their fear about the hard-won rights of women and their marginalisation in recent years. I was struck by the comments of one senior NHS consultant, who said:
“Language matters and sex-based rights depend upon that language … You are … aware of what happens when women have … tried to express similar concerns”
to those that noble Lords expressed on Monday. She continued:
“What happened to Rosie Duffield was disgusting, but the silence from her colleagues was also chilling and very disturbing.”
Other comments I received were:
“If we can’t speak meaningfully about sex, we will never end sexism, violence against women and girls, or misogyny”,
“I have campaigned for equality across the board all my life and yet now I’m dismissed as a bigot and a transphobe for even trying to raise concerns at all.”
I too find it chilling that those who speak up for women’s rights can find themselves accused of trans hate and subject to horrific abuse, particularly if they are women. That really is a sign of free speech under threat.
At Second Reading, I listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, because she was one of the two speakers who disagreed with the general theme of our debate. She referred to the importance of the language used in legislation remaining inclusive and referred to trans men believing that using the word “woman” excludes them and therefore removes their rights.
As Louise Perry pointed out in this week’s edition of the New Statesman—actually, in relation to the Brighton NHS trust’s adoption of gender-inclusive language—one risk is that if you exclude one group to include another, you impact on their rights. It goes much wider than health, of course. How is erasing women from the language of the law somehow inclusive? Where is the equivalent pressure to change references to men in public health campaigns? Prostate Cancer UK does not come under fire for transphobia for talking about it as a men’s health issue.
It is women’s safety, dignity and inclusion that are compromised when organisations do not feel confident in maintaining the ordinary privacy of separate spaces for changing and washing. It is women’s specialist services, such as rape crisis centres, that are being replaced by mixed-sex services—the latest example being very recently in Brighton, with the contract being withdrawn from Brighton Women’s Aid.
It is women’s specialist services and charities where the staff are afraid to speak up for fear of losing funding. It is the women in the workplace who feel threatened if they speak up for their rights under the Equality Act. It is female academics who are being no-platformed and silenced because they are seen as “the wrong kind of feminist”. It is the women MPs in the other place who get the hate and abuse. That is not inclusion.
I support trans rights, and I support women’s rights. Sometimes, there can be a tension between them. That is why the Equality Act 2010 was so carefully drafted to recognise that, with separate characteristics and principles for reconciling and balancing rights when they come into conflict. The legislation uses the word “woman” not just in terms of defining the protected characteristic of sex, but throughout the Act in all sections related to pregnancy, maternity and lactation.
All institutions have a responsibility to avoid discrimination in relation to each of the nine protected characteristics as laid out in that Act, but it is increasingly common to find in the equality policies of many public bodies that the Equality Act characteristics of “sex” and “gender reassignment” have been replaced by a single word: “gender”. The protected characteristics of pregnancy and maternity are often forgotten. How can those organisations then assess how their policies impact on people in relation to sex and gender reassignment, when they collapse the two categories into one?
Furthermore, many are advised by organisations that tell them that even thinking about the possibility of a conflict of rights is transphobic. The result, of course, is that single and separate-sex services, which are enshrined in the Equality Act 2010, are coming under increasing attack, not least from the misleading guidance issued by many government bodies, local authorities and the EHRC.
I am very grateful to the Minister. This is a turning point and an important moment, but there is much more to do to protect women’s rights and the other rights enshrined in the Equality Act. I will certainly not move my amendment, but I thank all noble Lords who have given enormous support to this cause; I am very grateful.
My Lords, I had expected to speak to my Amendment 13 but, in view of what the Minister said, it would be detaining the House unnecessarily to go into a long explanation. I had thought to define the word “person” as either an expectant mother within 12 weeks of the expected week of childbirth or, as a mother, a person who has given birth to a child within the previous four weeks. In view of the Minister's acceptance of the word “mother”, however, I see no further need to proceed with my amendment and will not move it.
My Lords, due to the rules of procedure of our House, I was unable to take part at Second Reading but, having listened very carefully to the whole debate and reread some of the speeches, there are some points not made on Monday that I think should be drawn to your Lordships’ attention. My colleagues will deal with the detail of the debate and the Bill.
We are in familiar territory because powerful campaigns have common characteristics and patterns. A classic campaign identifies a minority group—preferably one about which the majority population knows little—ascribes to it characteristics and motivations which make it a threat and repeats those assertions, preferably with the backing of a neutral body or experts, over and over until they become received wisdom. It is what happened to migrant communities in the UK in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, it was lesbians and gay men. Today, it is the turn of trans people. I say in what will be the continuing theme of my speech: there is no evidence, and no evidence has yet been offered, that trans people are a systemic and significant threat to women.
We see a reliance on campaign techniques with which some of us are very familiar. When this House was debating changing the law to allow gay adoption, or enable civil partnerships—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will remember it well—we were sent documents which purported to be research. In those days, they came from organisations such as the Christian Institute. These days, the alt-right has become a lot more savvy. It supports campaign groups and individual academics to produce documents that look like research—noble Lords will have got one during the recess—but, on closer inspection, they are just the same dodgy dossiers as in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his speech on Monday recorded at col. 652, was full of passionate assertions based on that document and others, but if you examine his speech closely, there is no actual evidence of any threat from trans people to individual women or women’s rights. It is just an opinion —admittedly, widely repeated.
On Monday, I listened to the phrases carefully crafted to make it appear that the people using them are not transphobic, just protecting women. We heard that again today from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As a lesbian who lived through Section 28 , I know what it is like to be portrayed as a member of a group that constitutes a threat to women, children and families—it was unsafe to let us into changing rooms, because we could pose a threat—all without any evidence. That was an experience of classic homophobia, often expressed in exactly the same arguments and phrases as we hear today. This time, no matter who the messenger—the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, or the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—and regardless of their record on other equalities issues, the effect of what they propose is the same. It is to limit or deny a minority group—in this case, all trans people—access to services and public spaces.
Another trope was on show on Monday: people supporting amendments, like other people in this wider campaign, stated over and again that they are being silenced. Week in, week out, that claim is repeated in national newspapers and on the BBC and other broadcasters. They are not being silenced; it is just that some of us have the temerity to disagree with them and call them out for what they are doing. They state that they are hounded on social media. They are, but anyone listening to the debate on Monday would have thought that was all coming from one side of the debate. I invite noble Lords to look at my Twitter timeline. I assure them that they will be astonished by what people claiming to be feminists are capable of saying and doing in threatening other women.
I am not surprised that these proposals and amendments have some support in your Lordships’ House. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, is on record as having consistently opposed LGBT equality since 1994. Other noble Lords read the Times, which in each of the past two years has published over 320 articles about trans issues, almost all of them full of gross misrepresentation. Others will have been approached by women—female friends and colleagues—who are scared by the never-ending messages that trans people are a threat to them. That is understandable, given the deluge of this incessant campaign. But I stress again that the evidence behind it is not there.
As a Member of your Lordships’ House, I have worked hard to improve the position of women, in all their diversity. That includes lesbian mothers in the days when they were considered not fit to be mothers. I have worked hard on women’s reproductive rights, so that women and girls, here and abroad, have access to safe, appropriate healthcare. My commitment to women’s health and dignity is undiminished. I ask noble Lords who listened to the strong allegations and assertions made on Monday to note the lack of credible evidence for trans people being a threat.
The wording of the Bill is already inclusive. Amending it would be a deliberate decision to exclude trans men and others from services. That is the first and thin end of a dangerous wedge. When people like me were in the firing line, we depended on allies. Today, trans people are under sustained, unwarranted attack. For those reasons, if I get the opportunity, I will vote against these amendments and I strongly urge noble Lords who may well have listened to the debate on Monday to go back and ask themselves the question: where is the real evidence of trans women in particular being a threat to other women?
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, cannot bring herself, as a woman, to share in rejoicing that women will now be recognised in the Bill. There has been nothing in anything that any of us have said against trans people. This is about recognising that it is women’s place in society that also needs to be recognised alongside other groups.
I was going to make a speech saying that while I supported the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, I preferred to change “person” to “woman”. I continue to prefer that but, given my noble friend the Minister’s gracious intervention in accepting the amendment, I have binned that speech. I could not be happier that we now have agreement on amending the Bill. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the time and trouble that he has taken on this matter. He has shown outstanding leadership. While I regret that I added to the burdens of his office since tabling my amendment at Second Reading, I hope that he will share our satisfaction with the end result.
Since Second Reading on Monday, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, have been inundated with emails and messages thanking me and other noble Lords who spoke for taking part in the debate and saying things that they felt were becoming unacceptable to say in society. We have tapped into a huge well of unhappiness about how women have been eliminated from public discourse and policy. What the Government have done today will be warmly, probably ecstatically, welcomed but there is more to do. We are just at the beginning of the end of the elimination of women from public discourse and I look forward to the review that will follow. This is a great day for women and I feel privileged to have played a small part in it.
My Lords, I am glad to have had the opportunity, like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, to bin the speech that I was going to make and to welcome the Minister’s comments. I also was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for whom I have huge respect and who has done an enormous amount, has courageously spoken out on issues of discrimination. I was glad to hear her speak and that the case that she has argued has been put forward and heard.
For me, the message that has come from this debate is that it is tremendously easy to find ourselves in a horrible and destructive polarisation whereby we feel that we have to be on one side of an argument, at an extreme, and where it is difficult to make accommodations, understand and work through how we do the task that the Equality Act sets out of balancing and calibrating conflicting—or at least not obviously easy to reconcile—rights.
I have not received a lot of correspondence since my speech on Monday but I have had three letters from trans men who were worried that their rights were being taken away by this change of language. That would have been a serious issue. It now appears, unlike the argument put forward originally, that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was right and that no rights would be taken away from people whose sex at birth was female but who transitioned and gave birth. That is important because however small a minority is, we should protect their rights and the services that we give them. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one has to be on one side or another and it is not possible to accommodate in language—and language does matter—the subtleties of the issues raised. As I said at Second Reading, that process is not aided by legislating in haste. More consideration might not have got us into a situation in which people on both sides of this argument, if I may phrase it like that, have found themselves subject to abuse. I sometimes despair at the quality and cruelty of public discourse in current times.
I therefore take lessons out of this. I am an unreconstructed old feminist and of course I have been worried by some of the developments in language, and those seeping into issues regarding women’s spaces and women’s rights. That is not because I believe in any way that trans people are a threat to women. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is absolutely right about that. There is no evidence or reason to believe that. I firmly believe that we should accommodate, support and be kind and sensitive in our language to those people. However, I also believe that we have fallen from those standards in our services for women recently and that today is important for drawing that line in the sand.
I will say one other thing. I was very struck by a letter in the Times the day after the publicity about the Brighton NHS trust’s change of language, which was, in my view, ludicrous but well intentioned. In many instances, it is not the communities and individuals who are themselves affected by these issues who take an extreme line on language; it is those who choose to be their advocates and take extreme positions. I end by quoting that letter. It read:
“Such attempts to control language may backfire spectacularly on transgender people like me as the public tires of being told what they are expected to think. If even the facts of life are deemed to be transphobic, then perhaps transphobia has lost all meaning.”
We must be careful with our language and respectful of minorities. We have made an important stand but it should not be seen as having defeated anyone, least of all transgender people. It should be seen as a victory for women’s rights.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She is of course right: minorities must always be carefully guarded, as long as they behave legally, but majorities have their rights too. It is important that that is recognised. We need to live in a more mutually tolerant and respectful society.
I am very glad not to be going—metaphorically—into the Division Lobby tonight. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord True and his ministerial colleagues for recognising the overwhelming view expressed in the debate at Second Reading on Monday evening. Those speeches were made not because the people making them were intolerant; rather, because all of us were concerned about the role of women in society and the way in which some people have sought to marginalise it. It seemed, to me and to others, quite absurd that a Bill with “maternity” in its title contained not a single reference to “woman” or “mother”.
I rather share the views of my noble friend Lady Noakes, who set us off on a very good path on Monday night with her regret Motion, which she did not press to a Division. If we were to put one word in, my marginal preference would be for “woman”, but there is no more wonderful word in the language than “mother”. I am happy not to join the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in pressing his amendment, to which I am a signatory, but rather to accept with due gratitude the Government’s recognition and incorporate the Winston-Lucas amendments throughout the Bill—because that is what it amounts to.
The problem with a Division is that it would have sent out unfortunate signals, most of all signals that the Government were not prepared to recognise the obvious. They have now done so; for that, many thanks. I am one of that group of colleagues who has met my noble friend Lord True on two or three occasions this week. We have been grateful to have sometimes robust discussions with him. He has clearly listened and talked to his ministerial colleagues. For me, the most powerful lesson of this week is that it is a wonderful illustration of how your Lordships’ House can reach across parties. We must recognise that we were a group made up of Members from political parties, the non-aligned and the Cross Benches, who had a common aim and a common purpose: to entrench toleration in this particular legislation. Not a single one of us opposed the Bill itself. There were, of course, those who criticised the Bill on Monday for not going far enough or being inclusive enough; those were valued comments and doubtless we shall come to them again.
However, the thing that united all but two of the speakers on Monday was the problem of language. We are possessed of a wonderful language in this country. To anaesthetise it in the way originally suggested in the Bill was not really good. By the way, I noticed in the Times this morning that our colleagues in France are also having problems with inclusive language and all the rest of it, so this problem is not limited to our country or our time. We do not have an academy to protect our language in the way the French do, of course, but it is a rich and marvellous language. Quite soon, we will commemorate the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, which will give us another chance to recognise how rich, varied and wonderful our language is.
There is no more powerful word in the language than “mother”. The fact that it will now be in the Bill gives me great pleasure. I have not been deluged by letters—partly because I am very new to email—but I have had a number of them, some of which were heart- rending, from women who felt that they were being marginalised and not recognised. They rejoiced in the fact that they had, as one of them put it to me, some champions in the House of Lords.
This is not the end of the matter—it is not even the beginning of the end—but, as the greatest of Englishmen in the last century, Churchill, said, this is the end of the beginning. It is important that we review how language is used in legislation. It is important that we look at all the kindred aspects of toleration and how women can be properly recognised, having fought so hard for freedom. It is important that that can now be entrenched and not put aside or marginalised. This has been a good illustration of how colleagues can work together with a common purpose and a common aim. I am glad that we have, to some degree, realised that today.
My Lords, first, let me say that I am more than grateful to the noble Lord, Lord True. At one point at Second Reading, he expressed a real sense of humanity, which is important here. Of course, like him, I recognise that “maternity” comes from the Latin “mater”, meaning “mother”, so it would be fairly ludicrous to exclude the possibility of “maternal” and other such words not being feminine.
Like other speakers, I have basically ditched my speech. I want to say just a few, hopefully relevant, things. In my life, there are four issues that have been really controversial and because of which I have received particularly extraordinary adverse and hostile press. The first was when I first discussed the possible causes of chronic fatigue syndrome with Professor Simon Wessely, who is now interested in helping the Government on mental health issues. That issue produced a storm of deeply unpleasant letters. Another is that being a Jewish member of the Labour Party who did not leave the party, that did not lead to anything other than some rather uncomfortable correspondence as well. I am proud of my Jewish heritage, as I am very proud to be British. In a way, this week we have seen a particularly good piece of common sense prevail in this country.
Noble Lords might remember that I raised the issue of bicycles on pavements. The amount of hostile stuff I received was unbelievable, including a few death threats. But perhaps the biggest single thing has been the question of transgender, which I first discussed about three years ago on the “Today” programme with John Humphrys. I had a lot of very unpleasant correspondence. I do not know who it was from. I presume it was from people who had a different sexuality, but I do not know for certain because I did not meet any of them. Many did not sign their name or give me an address, so it was impossible to know.
I was very upset to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, speak in the way she did, because we have agreed on many issues before. I have a massive respect for what she has done. I remind her that I was probably the first person, not only in this country but in Europe, to offer any in vitro fertilisation—it was free, of course—to lesbian couples. I am proud of that. It was important. I am certainly not a bigot or opposed to people’s different sexuality, and that certainly applies to transgender.
One thing I want to suggest is that, clearly, we will come back to this issue. We have forgotten something completely in this discussion that we really need to consider. It is all very well to speak about words, but they are often not being used correctly or with their proper definition. As a scientist and biologist, I recognise that there are very different views on gender, sex and sexuality, and they need to be stated very clearly.
For example, when it comes to sexuality, perhaps the greatest single biologist who has written on this and researched it endlessly is Professor Roger Short, a fellow of the Royal Society, who is now long retired. His work is really important—I dare not use the word “seminal”, but noble Lords will understand what I mean. He has shown, in various important pieces of research, that sexuality is not a single issue. We have genetic sex. Each of us has around 30 trillion cells in our body, which will be either XX if we are female or XY if we are male. That is something fundamental that develops from the moment of embryo genesis. Indeed, what I showed in my work many years ago was that, within three days of fertilisation, a male embryo’s metabolism is more active than that a female embryo. We even thought about trying to use this as a way to determine whether a woman would have a male or female baby during the in vitro fertilisation process, but the figures were not discrepant enough for that to be scientifically useful.
There is also gonadal sex. It is very clear that somebody who has a testis is at least male, while somebody who has an ovary is female. An ovotestis is exceptionally rare. It happens a few times, but invariably all those who have given birth with that kind of intersex have been female. They have all been XX and they predominantly all had an ovary.
There is germ cell sex as well, because we have cells in our bodies that are either sperm, in the case of a male, or eggs, in the case of a female. Those do not change, except in some rare situations. In reptiles, changes of temperature can affect the sex of an egg. It is true that marsupials and some weird voles, Microtus oregoni, seem to be able to dictate their sex to some extent with the environment. However, that is quite unique and does not occur in most mammals and certainly all humans, as far as we know.
Hormonal sex is also important, and it starts before birth, not simply at puberty. Testosterone starts to have an influence very early on in the womb. It is important to realise that women, too, produce the male hormone. In fact, if they do not, the chances are they will be infertile, and they certainly will not be as good at debating in the House of Lords than if they did have testosterone. Somehow, testosterone seems to create a feeling of wanting to express yourself in some way. I make that as a rather ludicrous aside, but noble Lords will understand what I mean.
Most important for me, which I tried to refer to last Monday, is the importance of brain sex, which is determined well before birth in the very early stages of development. We know that all sorts of influences on the foetus inside the womb—that unique connection with its mother—affect that baby in the very early stages of its development. If the woman has high levels of cortisol and is anxious, those babies are likely to be born with depression and problems with fearfulness. They will have more problems as they grow up with all sorts of different traits associated with that effect during pregnancy.
It is also possible that our brain sexuality might even be affected in the womb in the same sort of way. In fact, that increasingly seems likely; there is various evidence for it. In many cases, it is possible that a dying twin—very often we have two embryos in the uterus, not just one, but one does not survive—produces enough of a particular hormone of one sort or another that might affect the sexuality of the other twin. That certainly happens in many mammalian species and probably in the female human as well. These things are important because they affect the development of a child.
When we came to this issue of “chestfeeding” on Monday, I was staggered to think that it should be seen as a substitute for breastfeeding. It is not, because we know from all sorts of animal models that there is a very big difference between how you breastfeed and how you simply groom or cuddle the baby. That is something we need to consider very carefully, because at some point we will have to come back to debate what are impossibly difficult issues. As Roger Short said:
“It is a fascinating but incredibly complex subject which leads to a logical series of events”,
but he also says that sometimes it is very difficult to understand. We have to recognise that.
I do not want to go on any longer, but one of the reasons why I support the Bill so heartily is that it has nothing to do with gender: it is about women, the uterus and the connection with the baby before and after birth. That is a unique, special environment, which we know from when that environment is challenged in different ways, as it was, for example, in Michael Meaney’s work in Canada, when the babies of women exposed to the desperate storm in the late 1990s were, as a result, born with poor cognition in many cases. We have to understand that there are many things we still do not yet to recognise, but it seems critical that we should recognise the need to praise maternity, support mothers and do all we can for women who are pregnant, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In conclusion, I simply thank some of my noble friends. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, has been wonderful in helping this argument through. I am very grateful, of course, to my noble friend Lord Hunt. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who started this with her amendment, was hugely important in getting all of us to think about it. In spite of what has been said, I think that the standard of debate on Monday was exceptionally high. The result is a credit to the House of Lords. Once again, I thank the Minister for being so flexible and helpful in his discussions with us to get this kind of result.
As regards the amendment, which I support, I am very happy to go along with what has been said already by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. From my point of view, if there is no vote I certainly will not press one.
My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I thank him immensely for all that he has done to bring us to this situation, but my first thank you must go to my noble friend Lord Lucas, for giving us the amendment that the Minister has felt able to accept and for putting it down with others. We all thank the Minister for his tremendous work, in the last few days and earlier, in ensuring that the detail of the Bill is as perfect as it can be. He first gave attention to the Explanatory Notes, which he revised and improved. Then, he most generously offered a review, which was a wonderful offer. We are all looking forward immensely to discussing that and participating in a debate later. Today, he has really broken the tape as the winner, in that he has accepted the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas.
I was fortunate enough to put my name down in time for one amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. I support many amendments, including that which says,
“leave out ‘person’ and insert ‘mother’”.
As Shakespeare says,
“Why not a mother? When I said ‘a mother,’
Methought you saw a serpent: what’s in ‘mother,’
That you start at it? I say, I am your mother;
And put you in the catalogue of those
That were enwombed mine”.
It felt a little like that on Monday. When we used the word “mother”, it was as if people were alarmed by the concept. It had to be a “person”. Today, “All’s Well That Ends Well”, which is where that quotation comes from. I thank the Minister immensely.
The first person to thank, from our Back Benches, must be my noble friend Lady Noakes, who opened up the entire debate on Monday by putting forward her regret Motion. That was a timely and correct Motion, which enabled all of us to open our hearts and minds, and discuss this from all corners of opinion. We thank my noble friend Lady Noakes immensely for doing this for us and for not taking it to the vote, because it has brought us to today’s happy moment, when we have something that nearly all of us—I hope all of us—will fully support, which will give the right maternity allowances and so on to the Attorney-General, whom the Bill aims to support.
The wonderful thing about the acceptance of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas, is that it follows the accurate criticism on Monday and in the other place that this Bill was designed to help one person only. Now, with the alteration of the wording from “person” to “mother”, it embraces everyone. It embraces the whole of maternity. It may not name everyone in it, but it opens the door to us having further debates and enlarging maternity support. There are certain pockets and gaps in maternity provision for women in the United Kingdom even now. The criticism of the Bill was correct that it was just for a single mother, but now it is not; “mother” is for all mothers, and that is wonderful. I am really happy about that.
Many others have been working in the last two or three weeks and, as soon as the discussion began several weeks ago, a large group of us coalesced. We coalesced with almost no special drilling, organisation, APPG horrors or anything like that. Yet, as we have already heard today and will hear more of, members of the group have been working together from all corners of the House. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Young, Lord Winston, Lord Triesman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris—wonderful Members of Her Majesty’s Opposition are working together with us. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Lucas, and there are many more people on this side too, whom I can name, such as my noble friends Lady Noakes, Lady Altmann, Lady Eaton, Lord Balfe and Lord Polak. We have the Cross Benches, such as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who apologises for not being here today, because she is in another committee. She has been and will go on being magnificent. We are still to hear from the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox and Lady Hoey, who are non-aligned. We have already heard from others, such as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. This big cluster is growing every day; I cannot name everyone. It is safe to say that we have built on the work of the other place and of Sir John Hayes and Andrew Rosindell—forgive me for not remembering their constituencies. We have had a lot of help from across the Cross Benches and both sides of the House.
This is a beginning. It is a wonderful beginning and the first step in clarifying some of the legislation that appears to have become rather muddled recently. We in the House of Lords have the time, duty, knowledge and obligation. We are people of public service, and we can do all that is possible to make certain that everything that comes through this House comes out again in perfect condition, suitable for the population of Great Britain and elsewhere.
I thank the Minister once more and, just to make him laugh, tell him that the debate that he leads this afternoon has a hashtag. Guess what it is. It is all over the web and the House of Lords. The hashtag is #MumsTheWord.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. I add my voice and thanks to the Minister for his earlier remarks and his acceptance of the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I also express thanks to those noble Lords who have spoken so powerfully in changing the language that was originally proposed for the Bill, in moving amendments to give effect to the widespread view of Members of your Lordships’ House about that issue.
During the Second Reading of the Bill, all were struck by the virtual unanimity, across all parts of the House, in opposing the use of the word “person”. Like others, since participating in that debate, I too have received many emails from women who have expressed real concern about the original proposals and what they meant. One of the things that came out of the debate, more than anything else, was the feeling that it is important to draw a line in the sand on this issue and that it is time to stand up to some of the—if I may say—intimidation and marginalisation that goes on when people try to express what in my view is a perfectly reasonable position.
If it is not possible to talk about a “mother” or “woman”, rather than a “person”, in a Bill of this nature, when would it ever be considered appropriate? Reassurances might have been given that this is to do with legal drafting guidelines, that the Bill is perfectly competent and legally effective, that what is said here cannot be taken as a precedent and so on. I fully respect the sincerity and good faith of the Minister in the arguments that he advanced in the previous debate, but we know that the danger is that, if we had missed this opportunity to resist and rectify something that is palpably wrong, albeit for what might have been seen as plausible reasons, in the future it would have been used as an argument to further do away with appropriate and proper references to “woman” and “women” plural in legislation and elsewhere.
This legislation is very narrow in its application to the circumstances and situation of the current Attorney-General. Again, we wish her and her family well at this important time. It is a pity that the Government found themselves in the position of incurring such controversy on such an issue. I hope that the lesson has been learned. The way in which your Lordships’ House has reacted and taken action is to its enormous credit.
There are a number of wider issues that I and other noble Lords raised during our debate on Monday, and the Government have agreed to come back to the House before the Summer Recess to report on many of them. That is welcome and I look forward to the report. Like other noble Lords, I might have preferred the Bill to refer to “woman” rather than “mother”, but I recognise that the Government have moved today on this most important issue, and I thank the Minister for listening to noble Lords.
My Lords, we are all lobbied nowadays and I am sure that from time to time your Lordships have been bombarded with vast numbers of strikingly similar emails which are collectively less than convincing. But rarely in my time in the House have I received quite so many communications of different sorts in such a short period that have been so measured, and which have come from all quarters, as I have about the language in this Bill.
This is not a party political matter, or even really a political matter at all; I was going to say that it is about tone, but of course it is more than that because it strikes at the heart of who we are. Life is often about achieving balance between different priorities, all of which are important in their own way. I recognise that the rights of trans people are important, and perhaps the fact that they are a tiny minority and often remain hugely misunderstood adds to that importance. But I share the view of other noble Lords that in this instance, the rights of mothers trump those of the trans community.
Legislating gives us the opportunity to take a little more time and to get things right. We do not always achieve that, but the manner in which legislation passes through both Houses, in particular through this House, gives us a breathing space to make corrections where they are needed. Today is a great example of what can be achieved when the Back Benches are united and well led, and when we have a Minister who is prepared to listen to the arguments and recognise a good case—and then, perhaps more important, is prepared to fight our corner with his ministerial colleagues. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lord True for the careful way in which he has addressed the debate both on Monday and today, and for the robust representations he has made on behalf of the House to his governmental colleagues. I also thank my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for their tremendous input through their amendments, in particular my noble friend Lord Lucas for achieving the amendment that has won the day.
Most of all, however, I want to thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for her leadership in this matter. It was her tremendous speech on her amendment to regret on Monday that opened the way to this debate and argument being moved forward to a successful conclusion. For that, the whole House will want to thank her.
My Lords, I echo the sentiments just expressed by my noble friend Lord Mancroft. I do not think that I have ever done this before, but I circulated to a number of people the speech made by my noble friend Lady Noakes. It was outstanding and my only regret is that I was not able to be present to participate in the debate on Second Reading.
This is an important matter. In the 38 years or so that I have been associated with both Houses of Parliament, I have seen a steady decline in respect for both Houses and for the proceedings in Parliament. It is important that we should produce legislation which carries consent and that uses language which people find acceptable and is made as understandable as possible. I cannot imagine—not that any of us are allowed to go to the Dog and Duck or the Rover’s Return, or indeed to any pub—people in the pub referring to “a person” who is pregnant rather than “a woman”, or to “a person” who has given birth to a child, as opposed to “a woman”.
I have to say to my noble friend Lord True that he has done a great piece of work today because I know, having spoken to him earlier in the week, that there were a number of difficulties that needed to be circumvented in order to bring forward his proposition today that he would support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas. Like others, I would have preferred the use of “woman” to “mother”, but I am not going to argue about that. My noble friend has done a brilliant job and I share the view that, had my noble friend Lady Noakes not taken her stand, this legislation, I fear, would have gone through in its original form.
I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who we all respect enormously, that I think that she has gone off the rails a bit here. If the argument is that any Bill should avoid words that are not gender-neutral, the very title of this Bill, which includes the word “maternity”, would not have been able to pass that test, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, pointed out.
I was intrigued by the Government’s argument that they were simply following the procedure established some time ago by Jack Straw. Parliamentary counsel’s drafting guidance, which is perfectly sensible, states that it is necessary to avoid
“nouns that might appear to assume that a person of a particular gender will do a particular job or perform a particular role.”
It is clear that in the case of childbirth, referring to “mothers” or “women” in this context is certainly not contrary to that drafting guidance. I therefore congratulate my noble friend Lord True, who on this occasion has proved to be the midwife delivering common sense.
I should say to noble Lords that my name is down to speak to Amendment 32, but in the light of the Minister’s generous acceptance of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas, I do not consider it necessary for me to detain the House by speaking to it.
My Lords, I was pleased to hear from my noble friend about the drafting rules, as I have tried to fathom them out over the past 24 hours. I thank the Minister for coming round to our view. It is the first time in some while that he and I have agreed. I also thank my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. Without their persistence on this issue, we would not be where we are today.
However, there is the unfinished business of maternity leave not only for Members of the House of Commons, who are Members of Parliament, but also for their staff and for Members of the House of Lords who become pregnant, and other Ministers. I would like the consultation on these issues to be brought forward quickly, so that everyone is in line and has the same support, and the same rules apply.
Further, I am supportive of trans people and it is important that we have respect for language in every way; that is why I accept the language to be used in this Bill. It would have been better to have used the word “mother” rather than “woman”, but be that as it may, I am happy to accept the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Morrow.
My Lords, I too welcome the Minister’s announcement today and I want to pay tribute to him for his constructive and helpful approach during the week. He is a man who is not afraid to meet and to listen—the hallmark of a good Minister. Much that was going to be said undoubtedly will now not be, and I am aware that that applies throughout the House. However, I do want to make a few brief remarks.
It is difficult to understand why a Bill that relates to maternity leave does not once use the word “woman”. That, as we would say here in Ulster, is quite bizarre. While I support all the amendments, I am down to speak to just one. I have stated that my colleagues and I fully support the legislation; indeed, everyone who has spoken, irrespective of their views about the wording, supports the Bill itself. It is just regrettable that the wording did not come up to the standard that some of us felt we could have supported.
A Bill being fast-tracked always raises my suspicions, and I do wonder why this Bill is being fast-tracked. I know that sometimes there are very good reasons, and I think we all accept that this Bill has to be got through. However, unfortunately, this Bill, which is about ensuring the rights of pregnant women, was quite disrespectful to women in its original wording, in that it referred to them as “persons”. In all good conscience, I could not have supported the language used throughout, which made no mention of “women” anywhere.
The terminology stands in sharp contrast to all other UK legislation affording maternity rights and protection. I refer to the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010. Some advocates of inclusion and diversity in Parliament, with whom I would not always agree, have rightly opposed the move towards gender-neutral language, on the basis that you cannot grant new rights to certain groups by taking away the rights enjoyed by others. The Bill would, regrettably, have anonymised and dehumanised the status and life experience of women. But we know that has now been changed, thanks to the Minister’s constructive approach. I believe listening is the sign and hallmark of a good Minister, and the noble Lord, Lord True, has certainly done that.
My Lords, this Bill will now pass unamended and I welcome that. But we recognise that our debate has touched on wider issues and that we are likely to return to them, in spite of our agreement on the government concession, on other Bills.
When I first joined this House a quarter of a century ago, it was dominated by men, most of them hereditary Peers. A Conservative woman Peer told me the hereditary Peers in her group treated the women Peers as if they were “day boys”. Having been at a boarding school myself, I knew exactly what this meant. In my first Session, I objected to some sections of that year’s defence review, which included women in the section on “equalities”, but gays in the section on “disciplinary problems”. When I dared to refer to great commanders of the past whose sexuality might have been called into question if aggressive efforts had been made to investigate them, I was attacked from both the Labour and the Conservative Benches and thought it wise to apologise before the debate wound up. Happily, this House and the country as a whole have moved on a great deal since then. We have all become more inclusive and openly diverse. None of us, I hope, wishes to return to the attitudes or the language of that earlier generation.
It is not only in Britain where we have moved towards gender-neutral language in political discourse. In Germany and France, which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, similar changes have been debated and carried into effect. There have been similar protests over attempts at political correctness—although I am not aware that people in France or Germany have taken over the term “woke” from its American origins. The general direction of change has been towards gender neutrality in language, where possible, to remove the implicit biases against women and LGBT people that were often embedded in language.
We all appreciate that this is a sensitive area where passions can easily be aroused. The last thing we want in this country is to slip towards the aggressive culture wars that have been stoked up in the United States, with partisans of opposing viewpoints more interested in the battle itself than in finding common ground, with well-funded organisations feeding the fire. We have all seen American battles spill over into British debate, from the student rebellions and protests that the Vietnam war provoked, to those over Black Lives Matter and opposing interpretations of each country’s history, glorious or inglorious. I hope all of us wish to resist sliding down the road that has led to such bitter divisions in American society, stoked by rival lobbies and highly partisan media. I hope we are all committed to an inclusive society and inclusive language. I also hope we are united in wanting to avoid moves to secure equality for women and moves to provide equal rights to LGBT people being pitched against each other.
As a former university teacher, I am also concerned about the possibility of freedom of speech in British universities becoming another battleground between cultural radicals and cultural conservatives. I am not persuaded by any evidence I have seen so far from Policy Exchange or elsewhere that there is any real threat to freedom of speech in our universities—any more than there was at the first lecture I gave nearly 55 years ago, when I found myself faced with a student demonstration. I am aware there is guerrilla warfare under way in some American liberal arts colleges—but that is over there, and we have no need to imitate it here.
Last week, a well-known professor published an article in the Daily Mail saying he was part of a secretive and persecuted minority in British universities. He lacks self-irony; secretive and persecuted minorities rarely get published in the Daily Mail. Matters of freedom of speech, women’s rights, gender-sensitive language or inclusiveness for lesbian and gay communities can easily be exploited by populists and hard-line lobbies. Those of us who care about an open society, and tolerant and democratic debate, will want to unite in resisting their attempts to do so. I note that the very concept of an open society is now under attack—in the United States, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere. We must all defend it in Britain.
The 2007 legislative guidance was a move in the right direction. I see no reason to change that guidance. I look to the Minister to continue to defend these open and democratic principles. I assure him that in doing so he will have strong support from the Liberal Democrat Benches, and sharp criticism if he should falter.
My Lords, I am glad to be following the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I welcome the Government accepting amending the Bill. I listened very carefully to the very wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, today and the comprehensive tutorial on development from the noble Lord, Lord Winston.
This Bill concerns maternity allowances for Ministers. For a group to be protected by the law, they must be properly identified in the law, and all I would like to say is that I feel that this amendment is a start.
My Lords, I too warmly welcome the Government’s decision to accept my noble friend Lord Lucas’s amendments. I join everyone in this House who in the last debate offered the Attorney-General their best wishes. Having a child is one of the most magical moments in a woman’s life and it is right that a Minister should be allowed to take maternity leave.
I particularly thank the Minister for his understanding and his realisation that many women felt offended. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, would say, had the testosterone to start this most important debate.
It would have been ironic if, having spent years as a commodity broker, asserting myself and my rights as a woman in a male-dominated environment, I had found that 30 years later women had become a neutral object, neither man nor woman but a person. This is the ideology of the madhouse—or, to put it another way, we might as well have declared that biology was to be struck from the school curriculum. It is a plain fact of human existence that only women can become pregnant and that therefore this piece of legislation could not have been gender neutral. It would have amounted to acquiescing to the obsessive “woke” culture infesting so many aspects of our lives.
There is another issue. As my noble friend Lord Cormack and others pointed out, it is also a matter of language. English is not my mother tongue—or maybe I should say my “person’s tongue”. In fact, it is my third language. Maybe it is for that reason that I appreciate its beauty, its richness and, compared to other European languages I know, its greater flexibility. English is a language that adapts itself to law, to business and to humour better than most others. That is why so many want to learn English. Our schools and universities are a huge source of income and soft power.
Things have moved on a lot since the gender-neutral protocol in 2013 but not all for the better. We are on a slippery slope towards the complete debasement of our language. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said in his passionate speeches, words and phrases such as “chestfeeders”, “birthing bodies” and “menstruators”—my autocorrect does not even recognise that last one—are truly unacceptable. I am not sure whether many foreigners will want to continue sending their children to learn English in the UK if we allow this kind of gender derangement to run riot through our language. It is bad enough to see grammatical mistakes, even commonly on the BBC, but corrupting the English language to this extent and demeaning women with reference to a gender-neutral person was just a step too far. I am delighted that the word “person” has been changed and will be “mother” in the Bill. Let us not continue down this dangerous path.
My Lords, it is right both that we get the wording in legislation right and that no offence is caused. The problem is that what was acceptable yesterday is not necessarily acceptable today. I very much welcome the helpful stance taken so early in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord True, on behalf of the Government, and I hope that will relieve anxiety.
I once caused offence to a colleague in your Lordships’ House in a short intervention because I used the word “man” on two occasions and she forgot that I had used “persons” on three occasions in the same speech. It was a no-win situation. A distinguished law professor at my first university, long before my time, used to say that according to the Interpretation Act 1889, the word “man” embraced “woman”. I have not looked that up and I do not know how relevant it would be today.
What is important, as the Minister said at Second Reading, is that the Labour Government in 2007 and successive Governments have sought to avoid gender-specific pronouns and usages in drafting legislation. I do not think we should overthrow that legislation. I hope the Minister has met the concerns expressed by the mover of the first amendment. The Committee will not mind my reminding it that when there is a departure from the traditional wording by parliamentary draftsmen, the courts are minded to probe deeply into the possibility of different meanings. Taking on board the observations of the Minister, I venture to advise the Committee of the dangers of departing from traditional drafting. Concern about any particular word or words should be looked at, not in this Bill but rather in a review of drafting practice more generally. That is the right place to ensure that we keep our drafting up to date.
I add that, further to the Minister’s speech at Second Reading, when I introduced the Law Officers Bill in the other place in 1997 there was no restriction whatever on the ability of the secretary of the Solicitor-General to exercise all the functions of the Attorney-General. He may want to reconsider his remarks to remove any dubiety.
My Lords, like others, I would have preferred the unapologetic word “woman” to “mother”, but I warmly commend the Government for listening and especially the noble Lord, Lord True, on his patience in talking to some of us. I am delighted to take this as a win.
As we have heard from colleagues, the most gratifying part of all this has been about opening up a broader debate. Second Reading opened a Pandora’s box. As others have said, our inboxes have been bursting with relief and gratitude that the debate happened at all. People who usually sneer at the House of Lords—a lot of my colleagues are not keen on this place—were cheering, which was disconcerting. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, are now considered national heroes, let me tell you; I am expecting statues to be put up soon. I personally commend the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for showing real leadership on this question.
However, we should be careful about too many congratulations because the truth is that we are in a privileged place. In this House, at least, we cannot be cancelled for raising the issue. It might be an affront to democratic accountability that we are here for life, but I am delighted that we have used that wiggle room to say something that has become unsayable. How extraordinary and sad that saying that women give birth is so contentious, and that we are told we are brave for saying it. I feel a bit queasy when people say they commend our courage for speaking out, because we are safe here. We are not facing the kind of threats that Professor Selina Todd, a history professor at Oxford University, has when she needs security to give her lectures because she is gender-critical.
All those emails that we receive show just how frightened people are to speak out. Mostly it is not physical fear but fear that they will be dubbed bigots because they are progressive people—and who wants that? They are frightened that their defence of sex-specific services and the use of sex-specific language will see them closed down. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, when he says that free speech is not under threat. I think it really is.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, in some ways associated those of us making these arguments with deploying the same tactics as those who campaigned against immigrants or lesbian and gay rights in the past. That itself becomes a form of demonisation, which has a chilling effect, but I reassure the noble Baroness that this is not an argument for bigotry; it is for women’s rights. She fears that this is stating that trans people are a threat to women, but that is not what I am trying to do at all. What is a threat to women is a particular brand of trans identity ideology. That does threaten women, but that is not the same as trans people.
There is a shocking consequence for service provision that I want to mention. I have spent hours in this House discussing the Domestic Abuse Bill and will carry on doing so. However, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, it is not only free speech that is under attack but services as well. This week, three specialist domestic abuse agencies lost funding due to local government gender-neutral policies and language. The fate of RISE, a mostly women-only refuge and domestic abuse service in Brighton, means that they have lost £5 million in contract work and will likely have to close, after council chiefs set up a tender intentionally non-gendered so that any women-only organisation would fall short of the new demands. When I expressed shock at this, I was told that I was anti-trans women, which I am not.
Of course, there are tricky questions surrounding this issue. It is a challenging moral and ethical area, and there are difficulties when rights appear to clash with one another. I do not always know how best to discuss what makes someone a man or a woman, or how to create an environment in which we can freely discuss gender identity. I worry about protecting transgender people from discrimination and unfair treatment and I do not want polarisation either. How do we deal with that? We deal with it by grown-up conversation. We need free speech, no demonisation, no calling people phobic or anything else. We need open debate, and I am proud that there have been open debates on this here on Monday and today.
One novelist recently wrote:
“In order to think clearly, we must be able to speak clearly.”
She finished by saying that if the abuse of language and the concerted attempt to cancel womanhood continued, and if the establishment continued to pander to notions such as the statement that it is only women who can get pregnant, we would lose the war on words, and that would be a fatal undermining of precious freedoms that women had achieved. Well, today we did not lose the war on words, and all credit to the Government for that. It is very good news, but there is no room for complacency because this is only the start.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I too was unfortunately unable to take part at Second Reading but congratulate my noble friend Lady Noakes on her brilliant speech on Monday. Did she really expect to be here today listening to this debate?
Like my noble friend Lord Cormack, I think that the cross-party ad hoc group that came into being shows what can be achieved. I pay tribute to my noble friends Lady Nicholson, Lady Noakes and Lord Lucas, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, among many others. Perhaps I may be permitted also to publicly thank Karen Wilmot for her tireless efforts. I hope that my noble friend Lady Nicholson will give her some well-deserved time off this weekend.
My right honourable friend Suella Braverman is indeed my friend. I wish her, Rael and baby George well—as indeed would the majority of people throughout this country. This is exactly my point. The overwhelming majority of people in our country sometimes wonder what we are all about—or, more accurately, what the drafters of this Bill were thinking, or, more pertinently, who they were listening to. What concerns me most is when the Government appear to listen to the noisiest groups and seem to want to satisfy those small, vocal activists rather than the overwhelming but perhaps silent majority.
So, instead of appealing to my noble friend the Minister, I congratulate him. One of the pleasures of being a Member of your Lordships’ House is being present in the Chamber to witness great speeches and intense debate, and to watch and learn from the skill of Ministers in dealing with situations, marrying up the briefs that have been prepared for them with the need to be nimble and articulate. I watched with admiration how the Minister worked tirelessly to pilot the UK trade co-operation Bill through this House. He was on top of his brief, was always courteous, stood his ground and day after day, week after week, did a magnificent job on behalf of the overwhelming majority of people in this country.
In the same way that he deployed an abundance of common sense to pilot that most difficult, complicated and politically charged piece of legislation, I was going to appeal to him to stand back and focus on the amendment, focus on what is clearly the right thing to do and focus on serving the overwhelming majority of people in this country. But I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord True, as I am sure that he led the discussion to ensure that common sense prevailed. I hope that this lesson has now been learned.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his personal assurances and commitment to improving the Bill, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for her leadership and intervention.
The Government have acknowledged the significance of women’s role in giving birth. Language is imperative in setting out law. I would have preferred “woman” but support the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, as this honours mothers. I will say a quick work about feeding babies. Both my husband and I have chests, although mine is slightly adjusted, so it was me who ended up breastfeeding my five children. So I take great exception to the word “chestfeeding” and hope that we will not descend to the farce that has got us here.
Women like me have entered public life and carried on birthing children and experiencing great financial stress. This has reminded me of having to attend a Labour Group AGM on the third day after my daughter was born in 1992. I was immediately informed by the then leader, who is now the mayor of the council, that my baby was not entitled to enter the building and, more importantly, our shared office. I was similarly vilified in a national newspaper for bringing my eight month-old son to this House for one day in 1998—although subsequently sentiments changed towards other colleagues and mothers, thank God, who were regarded as heroic for bringing in their newborn babies and children.
It was a farce that led us to refer to a “person”, not a “woman”, no matter the explanation. While I appreciate the miraculous advances in medicine and science, not least the discovery of Covid-19 vaccines at such speed, I do not foresee that in my lifetime men will be birthing babies. Apart from anything else, it would certainly speed up population control. Until then, we should ensure that we provide women with the necessary support, and I support this Bill very strongly.
Due to House procedures and unforeseen circumstances I was not able to participate at Second Reading. I am glad of this opportunity to do so at this stage, as I welcome and support this Bill very much. I thank all noble Lords across the House for their powerful contributions. Like many other noble Lords, I would like to see the Government give further urgent consideration to improving maternity pay and conditions for all women in other professions, including local authority councillors. I have spent most of my life working first in the NGO context and then as a contracted social worker, not entitled to the luxury of full maternity pay. This has been the experience of hundreds of thousands of women, including Members of this House who have been pregnant during their time here.
Equal access to work is not the reality for many, and despite the Equal Pay Act 1970, our statutory maternity pay is a mere £152 a week, which is probably not enough to cover nappies these days. Over 50% of women from ethnic minority backgrounds work in insecure and low-paid sectors. I have strived for equal justice and whenever I have been in a decision-making position, I have taken action on employment rights, including maternity pay for staff, which is an essential element of workers’ rights.
The very first time any women within the NGO sector had full maternity rights provided was in 1982. I managed a women-led organisation, and I negotiated with the then GLC women’s committee, which had the foresight to support this—much to the angst of the local union, which argued that unless all NGOs were paying their maternity entitlement, one organisation should not be an exception. But I stood my ground, with the support of women locally and other women’s organisations, and maternity payments are still preserved in that organisation 36 years later.
This is really important. I persisted with that organisation. Despite the fact that they were all minority women, they were entitled to proper wages because unless you have proper wages it is no good relying on measly packets of maternity pay. This is a very important factor. Working conditions for minority women remain appalling. The incredible coalition that has been evident throughout these discussions on the Bill has been so powerful. We must now strengthen our resolve to ensure that we do not revert to accepting anything less than the best possible financial care for women, expectant mothers and mothers. We should do everything possible in our deliberations. We have raised hope for women across our country that we commit to making sure that they also are given their fullest maternity entitlement.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister, and I am most grateful to him for the time and effort that he has taken to meet our cross-party group of Peers and to make himself available in such an understanding and courteous manner. I am delighted that he has been able to accept the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas, which I wholeheartedly support. I also thank my noble friends Lady Nicholson and Lady Noakes for their wisdom and leadership, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Winston, and my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Cormack and others on the cross-party group who have been so steadfast in their efforts to address this most sensitive and difficult issue.
In my view, anyone who gives birth is a mother. Respect for motherhood is important. As Aristotle said, the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. The use of the term “pregnant person” undermines the case for women’s equality and seems to marginalise women in the context of their biological role. I apologise to noble Lords that I was unable to be present at Second Reading, and I thank the Committee for allowing me to speak in this debate.
I support women’s rights. Indeed, having worked in the City some 30 years ago and having seen the progress that women have made in what used so often to be a man’s world and no longer is, I regret that there is some perception that standing up for the rights and roles of women in some way denigrates other groups. I am not transphobic. I respect anyone’s right to own their own sexuality, but balancing equalities must not become the sort of topic that in the name of equality marginalises other groups’ rights. I echo the words of so many others that the rights of minorities must be respected. Again, I am grateful that my noble friend the Minister has been able to accept my noble friend Lord Lucas’s amendment, and that the House seems to have been able to make a real difference on this most important debate.
I shall finish with the words of Gandhi:
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.”
I believe we have moved a step closer to passing that test today.
My Lords, it is a privilege, as it always is, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. I think that she and I have two reasons to celebrate today. The first, of course, is the change that has taken place as a result of the Minister’s statement, to which I will return in just a second, and the second thing we celebrate is that we are both from Tottenham, and it is one of those rare days when people from Tottenham will be celebrating as well. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, will know exactly what I am talking about.
I join others in expressing my thanks to the Minister. We have not always been on the same side of debates, but I have been enormously impressed, as have other noble Lords, by his willingness not just to listen but to argue his case and then to come to a conclusion, which I am sure is his conclusion, which he has urged on other Ministers to make the Bill a better Bill. I appreciate that and I thank him for it, just as I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for moving the amendment, which I fully support, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Nicholson, and all others who have provided not only a lot of good sense but a very educative process for the House. I appreciate that a lot.
A number of noble Lords have been quite rightly appreciative of the role on all these issues of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. I am afraid that I am going to break ranks a tiny bit with her, and I hope that one day, if not today, she will forgive me, because when people tell you that you that because of the sorts of things you are likely to say or the things that you have said you are going to be called out, it is important to know what you are being called out about and whether it is true. I said at Second Reading, and I know it is true of very many colleagues across the House, that we have been involved in various fights—led by women’s organisations, I have to say—for the extension of women’s rights. I deeply appreciate those who led those fights, and I am grateful for the chance to have taken part.
The same is true about LGBT. I cannot recall one of the significant campaigns that have come from that community for which I have not had 100% support. That is also true about the rights of trans people, so I do not accept in any sense that by raising these issues we somehow have turned our backs on that history, or on the commitments which we have adhered to or that we have made, or that we are engaging in grievous stereotyping. I completely accept, for example, that trans women are under threat, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, but it is also true that other people and other groups are under threat and I do not think we do any of them any service if we play them off one against another.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said that we would be alarmed if we saw some of the things that have been written and said to her, so let me say that I deplore that as well. That kind of nastiness and incivility is deeply damaging to our political life and social life, and I deplore the fact that the noble Baroness has been on the receiving end of that kind of diatribe. But I hope she will accept that when we talk about evidence, there is genuine evidence on all sides. My noble friend Lord Winston made a point about some of the occasions when he has been on the receiving end. I can confirm that, on some issues, for me in the Labour Party the anti-Semitic abuse was completely intolerable at one stage, as I think it was to all people of good will. You do not accept that that behaviour should be meted out to other people, and I do not expect to be on the receiving end of it either.
The truth is, there is a huge amount of evidence. The most important evidence—referred to with great care by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who has also played a huge role in this, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox—is that organisations and individuals are having their capacity to act on behalf of people who suffer from discrimination stripped out by being denied the kinds of funds they have had for a long time to conduct that fight. That is all real evidence. It is as real as the evidence on any side of this. I have received a large number of very pleasant emails, but I am afraid to say I have also received a significant amount of abuse on social media.
The language is an issue. Getting the right language in our legislation is always an issue, for reasons I will not repeat because noble Lords have made the point very clearly. It is urgent at the moment, not just because of this Bill but because, for example, the basis on which the ONS has decided to collect data on biological sex—or rather, not to collect this data in the census—now means that a number of leading quantitative social scientists believe we will have inadequate data and an inadequate track back through data historically. We have been given almost no time to comment on the wording of the census, yet that wording, which guides so much social policy, so much of our understanding of our country and should guide a great deal of our debates in this House, will now be poorly defined. I suspect too that it will be poorly used in policy-making. I hope the Minister will comment on how we might rectify that problem.
I started my speech, as has every other speaker in the House, with the words “My Lords”. When the Minister replies, I suspect he will also start with the words “My Lords”. We are in an institution which is named after the male Members and not the female Members. We do not raise the issue—I am not intending to raise it as a specific, sharp problem—because it is a matter of historical convenience and we like traditions. On occasion, we use language which I suspect would be thought offensive or inappropriate in other circumstances.
We of all people should be extremely sensitive to the way in which the people of this country speak, what it is they expect from us, how they quite rightly expect not to be patronised, and how they expect what we do to be intelligible. We should not abandon that, and that is why the language is vitally important. I thank noble Lords for having listened to what I have said. We have a long way to go to get this right but let us applaud the start we can make today.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Triesman. We have a special connection—in fact, it seems we have two. He was the general secretary of the Labour Party when I was expelled, although the credit for that is always claimed by Mr Anthony Blair and one or two other people. I subscribe to my daughter’s feeling that the only thing wrong with me being expelled was that it was 20 years too late. Our other connection is that I spent five years as chair of the Tottenham Conservative Association; if anyone ever took on a hopeless cause, that is it.
I first thank the Minister for the concessions that are being given, but I would like to ask one genuine question. Lots of people have said they prefer the word “woman” to “mother”. Can I ask him why the Government prefer “mother” to “woman”? They must have debated and discussed it, but no one here seems to agree with them. Obviously, I am not going to divide the House or anything like that, but I would be interested in that.
Another thing, which probably cannot be debated but should be borne in mind, is that someone got the Government into this mess. This came about because the people drafting the Bill messed it up: it is as simple as that. This is not a policy that is wrong; it is a drafting measure. I hope that steps will be taken to ensure that we are not put in this position again, because it is a pretty awful position to be in.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referenced the article by Louise Perry in the New Statesman. It is an excellent article which brings this whole debate into focus. She says:
“the number of people who will benefit from this move is truly tiny: specifically, we are concerned here with trans or non-binary people, who are biologically female, and able to bear a child following any surgical or hormonal interventions … and decide to do so, and care about squabbles over vocabulary.”
There are a lot of qualifications in there. She goes on to apply some figures to a much more serious problem: the number of mothers presenting at maternity clinics who do not have a full knowledge of the English language, let alone these ways of interpreting it, which would mean nothing to them. As she says, “the first maternity appointment” for a person who does not speak good English—I am not talking about no English—takes “twice as long” as it does for those with a good command of the language. As she says,
“Now try adding terms such as ‘chest-feeding’ and ‘birthing person’ to the official forms.”
In other words, you are making great difficulties. I draw attention also to the work of the psychologist Rob Henderson, who describes much of this as “luxury beliefs”:
“ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class”.
There is a wider issue here. We need to be careful to make our legislation and policies relevant to all citizens, particularly citizens who are not necessarily as wealthy as the rest of us.
At the beginning of my career, as a lay trade union official I was told that one of the golden rules was that you should never get further ahead of the membership than they could see and understand what you were signalling them to do. On issues like this, I regret to say that we are tending to get a bit too far ahead of ordinary people and their desires. We are, after all, a Parliament for everybody and not just for a few.
Maybe in 20 years’ time—this was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, among others—this issue will come back to us, having developed more maturely, such that we look at changing the language. That point is far from where we are now. I close by mentioning that my daughter, who is going to have a baby in a few months’ time, thinks this whole thing is “hilarious nonsense”.
My Lords, as a signatory to many of the amendments, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I am obviously happy that they will not need to be pressed, although personally I would have preferred the use of “woman” rather than “mother”. However, like everyone, I welcome the change. As I think I have said before, when I first looked at it, it seemed amazing that a Bill about maternity, which involves women and mothers who can have children, should not have included those words, so I very much welcome the change.
To add to all the blushes of the noble Lord, Lord True, my admiration for him has escalated even further. The way that he handled our sometimes difficult meetings with him, and the way that he has handled this Bill overall, has been an example of what a good, listening Minister—and, indeed, a listening Government—should do. But whether that helps his promotion prospects, I am not so sure.
There are so many people to thank. There is no point in going through all of them again but, without the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, we would not be here today. Her amendment expressing regret at Second Reading really opened everything up and, even if I had not come to the Chamber that day thinking that what was happening was a nonsense, I would have gone away thinking that it was a nonsense if I had listened to her.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for so diligently getting us all together over Zoom. I also learned an enormous lot from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I found it really fascinating. Today, we have seen Parliament at its best in dealing with the Committee stage of a Bill.
I want to make three points. First, we have to remember that drafting Bills should not be left just to civil servants. Clearly, government and we in Parliament decide on the wording of a Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, the drafters have got it very wrong here and it needs to be looked at. I hope that the review, which I presume the noble Lord, Lord True, will talk about in his summing up, will look at some of that and at how we can get this right in the future.
Secondly, I genuinely hope that the Government will now use this as an opportunity to start challenging those who have been attacking women and will speak up for the protection of women’s rights based on sex. That is absolutely crucial. There has been too much silence from both the Government and the Opposition, and it is very important that that message goes out today.
Finally, we in Parliament and in your Lordships’ House have today sent out a very clear message to women in the country that we will defend their rights and speak out. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, said, we are in a special position and must speak out when sometimes others are afraid to do so.
For me, as a fairly new Member of your Lordships’ House, this has been a wonderful exercise in working together. The cross-party nature of that work has proved successful. I hope that we can continue that because, as has been said very clearly, this is only the beginning of this very important issue, and I hope that the Government will have learned from it. I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, and look forward to hearing from him about the review, because that is very important; it cannot just end here today.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, whose constituent I used to be when I lived in Vauxhall. As three previous speakers mentioned their Tottenham connection, I should mention that, rather than fight the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, I stood as the candidate in Tottenham. I fought Tottenham, and Tottenham fought back.
If I may, I will rattle through my congratulations. First, I congratulate the Attorney-General, whose forthcoming happy event has given rise to this debate. Secondly, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister, whose good sense, patience and quiet determination have brought about this change. Thirdly, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Noakes, whose brilliant leadership and eloquence have infused this whole debate and raised its tone.
Fourthly, I congratulate all the speakers at Second Reading, in which I did not take part. They showed what is best about this House—how it can be a revising Chamber where party allegiances are secondary to the determination to get things right, and thank heavens they did get things right. It would have been deplorable if we, as a revising Chamber, could not even revise a Bill whose original wording did not make sense.
Why does it matter? I was taught as a child “Sticks and stones may hurt your bones but words will never hurt you”, but this is not about insults. It is not even primarily about the rights of women and transgender people; it is about the control of language. Totalitarians of all stripes know that controlling language is a crucial step in gaining control of society. If you determine the vocabulary, you often determine how people think. Orwell spelled it out in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He said that
“the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
That, of course, is part of what is happening.
Incidentally, I do not think that the agenda being pursued by those seeking to control our vocabulary is driven by any sympathy for transgender people. On the contrary, it seeks to use trans people as shock troops in pursuit of an extreme form of egalitarianism which aims not to give equal rights to all of us, despite our manifest and manifold differences, but instead to deny the existence of those differences.
Happily, today that agenda has been rolled back. I hope that we have sent a message to those in the Cabinet Office and those who draft legislation in the future that will be as clear and robust as a message that was sent—as I discovered when I was responsible for Customs and Excise—by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise back in 1865 to a hapless clerk whose wording they did not like. They wrote:
“The Commission observe that you make use of many affected phrases and incongruous words ... all of which you use in a sense the words do not bear. I am ordered to acquaint you that if you hereafter continue in that ... way of writing and to murder the language in such a manner, you will be discharged for a fool.”
I hope that that message has hit home loud and clear today from this Chamber.
My Lords—or, taking a cue from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, how long will it be before I ought to say “My peers”?—these amendments are less about maternity leave, although even that word is now suspect, than they are about the proper use of language to reflect and protect those to whom it refers, some of whom have a special status within the law. If I can cut straight to the solution, it is this. The Interpretation Act 1978 says that
“words importing the feminine gender include the masculine”,
so if the words “mother” or “woman” are used in this Bill, which incidentally and memorably Joshua Rozenberg has referred to as the “Suella Braverperson Bill”, an individual trans person—a man who had given birth— would be covered by the words “woman” or “mother” in the same way that allowances granted to men in other areas of the law include women in their remit. So there is no reason why “woman” should not be used, although I accept that there is a consensus around “mother”.
As drafted, the word “person”—as distinct from “woman”—in this Bill could only be of application to a person born a woman who transitions, gives birth, is a Minister, seeks maternity leave and is bothered about terminology. This number is too small to count. Set against that the worldwide population of women who feel that obliteration of their being is offensive. Human rights organisations have called for the retention of gender-specific language in law because, by neutralising the language, the actual issue is also neutralised. The international NGO Plan International, writing about the needs of girls and women, calls for their protection to be maintained by using the right terminology. It may not be true of women in this House or country, but the status of many women around the world as mothers and child-bearers is all-important and must not be overlooked.
Going wider than the Bill, the use of neutral language is confusing, as has been said, for those who have little command of the English language. In health situations, one risks not reaching them by using phrases such as “persons with cervices”, “menstruators” and “persons with vaginas”. How would noble persons, otherwise known as noble Lords, like to be referred to in health communications as “persons with prostates” or “sperm producers”? As for the threat to free speech, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that it certainly exists: if you try talking at UCL, KCL, Warwick and many other universities, including Cambridge, about Zionism, Israel, Jews, genetics or social mobility, you will be shut down.
Existing law is entirely in favour of retaining the words “mother” or “woman”. The McConnell case was about a man who started IVF treatment just six days after obtaining his gender recognition certificate, which was granted because he had made a declaration that he intended to continue to live as a man until death. He had not had a hysterectomy in part because, reportedly, he had not ruled out the possibility of having children. Section 12 of the Gender Recognition Act says that the status of a person as
“the father or mother of a child”
is not affected by the acquisition of a gender under that Act—so the court ruled that it was correct to list the man as the mother of his baby on the birth certificate, having regard to the rights and welfare of the child. As such, in this Bill we can speak of “mother” without in any way limiting the status of a trans person in a new gender.
Other laws confirm this. Section 33 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 defines a mother as:
“The woman who is carrying or has carried a child”.
The Equality Act 2010 refers repeatedly to “man” and “woman”, “male” and “female”. In Section 13, it says that a “protected characteristic” includes a woman who is breastfeeding and that, when a man is treated differently and might regard that as discrimination,
“no account is to be taken of special treatment afforded to a woman in connection with pregnancy or childbirth.”
Section 60 of the Immigration Act 2016 prevents the “detention of pregnant women”. Regulation 12 of the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 refers to
“a child born to a woman during her civil partnership with a man.”
As such, by supporting these amendments, let us reinforce clarity, precision and dignity in language, preserve the special status of women in childbearing and motherhood, follow precedent and simply show some common sense. I thank the noble person, Lord True, for all that he has done in this respect, and I hope that he does not get trolled. I commend these amendments to your persons’ House.
I am not sure whether the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is able to join us.
My Lords, yes, but my IT connection has been playing up and is weak. I note the lateness of the hour, coming at the end of so many fine speeches. I have listened to them and been inspired and educated; I very much agreed with so much of what has been said. I also laughed at times. It has been an extraordinarily good debate but at this late stage in these proceedings, almost everything that I wanted to say has been said—though not by me.
As such, I say simply that I would have voted for both amendments. But since we are not going to vote, I will simply thank those responsible for what has been an excellent day in this House: my noble friends Lady Nicholson, Lady Noakes and Lord Lucas, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and almost everyone else concerned with this debate. Most of all, I thank my noble friend Lord True, whose heart is always in the right place and whose mind always works so deftly and wonderfully well on our behalf, and clearly in this situation. What follows will be far more important than anything I can say, so this has simply been a very good day for the House of Lords, and an even better day for women and mothers.
My Lords, this afternoon, we have heard once again from many noble Lords who are concerned about erasing women through the use of gender-neutral language. However, as liberals, we remain of the view that wording that excludes or removes the rights of any one group in favour of another is a problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about the rights of one group conflicting with another, but the compromise that his Government and successive Governments have reached shows that gender-neutral language does not do this. That is why it was used: to avoid excluding certain groups. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, made some important points about our own use of language in this House, and I am grateful for his final comments, in which he expressed concerns for trans people and the poor census officials.
I am deeply sorry for anyone receiving abuse on social media. We on this side of the argument, including myself, have been on the receiving end of some over the last few days, but nothing like as much or as horrible as that which I know that my noble friend Lady Barker and others receive on a regular basis. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman; there is an important issue there about our society and its use of social media. The Prime Minister spoke about finding some protection for MPs, especially women and BAME MPs, from this hate-filled abuse. I hope that he will extend that more widely when the online harms Bill starts its legislative journey.
The reality of this change in language in this Bill is that some people, perhaps very few in number, will be affected. I was very moved by the speech of my noble friend Lady Barker; she is right that the law is there to protect all members of our society. Over the years, equal rights have been granted to the nine protected characteristics because they need protecting, not least against those parts of society that not only do not understand them but may even want to do them harm. I note that our trans community is at extremely high risk of being victims of domestic abuse and violence.
As a woman who campaigned for women’s rights over many years and joined the “Reclaim the Night” marches in my student days, I could certainly not support language that I felt totally excluded women, but I just do not believe this to be the case. For all the reasons that my noble friend Lady Barker has outlined, we now risk impacting the rights of trans men and non-binary and intersex people through the revised language.
I am, and will always be, happy—even proud—to be referred to as a mother. However, if I were Freddy McConnell’s mother, I would want to respect his wishes and refer to him as a father to my grandchild because, legally, he is recognised as a man. It is factually incorrect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, has asserted today, to suggest that only women can become pregnant. It has been legally recognised that men and non-binary and intersex people can also get pregnant, so it is vital that the Bill is fit for this purpose and can function in a real-world context. The only way to achieve this would have been for the Bill to retain its original drafting and to refer to “person”.
On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred to Mr McConnell’s case, where a trans man who had gained legal recognition as a man became pregnant and then gave birth to a child. Mr McConnell specifically objected to being recorded as the mother on the child’s birth certificate. It is worth looking at this case to understand the potential consequences of changing the wording from gender-neutral language, given that many noble Lords have referred to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
The case was heard first by the High Court, then the Court of Appeal. It is worthy of note that both courts found that the rights of the child are paramount—so they should be—and that Mr McConnell was legally male, and socially and psychologically the father of the child. The case revolved on how the parent who gives birth to the child should be registered. Society and science continue to develop, so terminology used when laws were drafted and enacted may be superseded by scientific or social progress.
Their court ruling applied to the case before them, but Parliament could legitimately take an informed view and change the policy on registering births. The language that the Government currently use for registering births requires Mr McConnell to be identified as the mother of the child for that purpose. The mechanism was for a legitimate aim and the process was a proportionate means of accomplishing it.
The Bill before this House relates to benefits accruing to those who give birth, not to registering births, and extending those benefits to government Ministers and some opposition spokespeople who currently do not have them. Let me say that again: it does not deal with the registration of births. The process for the registration of births is not proposed to change under the Bill; I am concerned that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, drew the conclusion that an issue relating to the law on birth registration certificates can have a direct read-across beyond that narrow matter.
The judges in the original case and the appeal recognised that this was complex and, importantly for this House and another place, that Parliament had not dealt well with all the issues it should have done in the past. Us trying to do so in what amounts to two working days in your Lordships’ Chamber in one week—and at very short notice—means that there are risks and problems.
The law should deal practically with how our society currently works. We know that people who are legally male can give birth, due to advances in medical science as well as the law. While some may find this baffling or even immoral, the reality is that it is legal and it happens. The scope of the Bill does not extend to either legal gender recognition or restrictions on fertilisation and embryology.
Changing the language on birth certificates would resolve a number of these issues, which is where discussions were beginning to go when things were calm and the language warriors had not got started. That was actually prompted by the changes to marriage certificates during the enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, but this would require changes to statute law and is clearly not feasible now.
However, as the courts made clear in this case, this remains a political issue. If Parliament wants to persist in using gender-neutral language because trans men, non-binary and intersex people can give birth while living as men, there is absolutely no reason why Parliament should not ensure that the legislation does so. Doing so does not erase women giving birth and being called mothers.
I want to end by asking those who have proposed and succeeded with their amendments today whether, in their congratulations to one another on their success, they will undertake to help to protect the rights of our LGBT community, many of whom have felt a very chill wind in our United Kingdom today. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire commented, given the threat that LGBT people face in Poland, Hungary and some of the Baltic states at the moment, we need to protect their human rights. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, for her comments in support of the trans community.
From these Benches, we are proud to stand up for the LGBT community, but we are also proud to support the Bill because it starts to give Ministers and opposition spokespeople some, though not all, of the maternity and parental rights that they deserve.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke in the debate. Many amendments have been laid before us for consideration. I will keep my remarks brief.
There may be many amendments in this grouping but they all have exactly the same concern: that of the language used, particularly the use of “person”. As has been pointed out many times, this is at odds with other legislation covering maternity rights and protections—including the Equality Act 2010, which we now know uses “her” and “woman” specifically. Noble Lords have said that they cannot understand why “woman” can be in the Explanatory Notes but not in the Bill. The concerns expressed by Members from all sides of your Lordships’ House, both at Second Reading and today, could not be plainer.
In introducing his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was clear that “mother” is properly understood in statute and should therefore be used in the Bill rather than “person”. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath talked about the importance of using language that respects women and the need to support them. We must strive for rights and true equality for all members of our society. My noble friend Lord Winston spoke today, as he did at Second Reading, about the important but sometimes difficult area of understanding what we mean by “gender” and “sexuality”.
It is clear that noble Lords support the Bill’s aims, and that maternity leave will be available to the Attorney-General shortly and to other Ministers in future, but, as has become extremely clear, language is very important. I know that the Minister has been generous with his time in listening to noble Lords’ concerns about the language used in this Bill. Clearly, he has listened and appreciates the depth of feeling among many Members of your Lordships’ House, with his acceptance on the Government’s behalf of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lord Winston.
Today, many noble Lords welcomed the statement made by the Minister at the beginning of the debate and thanked him for his remarks. However, as I said, it really is a shame that the Government did not give the Bill—a Bill with such importance for women parliamentarians, and which has the potential to encourage more young women to join us and take up a parliamentary career—more detailed consideration in the first place. Many changes could still be made to improve the Bill; we look forward to working with the Government in the near future to make these further, much-needed improvements.
I end by wishing the Attorney-General and her family all the very best.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and thought-provoking debate—as indeed it was at Second Reading earlier this week. I find it increasingly difficult to recognise myself in the mirror in the mornings; I found it similarly difficult to recognise myself listening to some of the things said about me in this debate.
It won’t last.
Let me say in that respect that being a Minister of the Crown is a high honour but duties come with it. The first is to answer to Parliament and your Lordships’ House, and to carry out faithfully the collective agreed policies of the Government. For all the kind words that people have said about me—I am grateful, of course—the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, put her finger on it when she just spoke: I am here in this debate merely as the voice of the Government, and it must be heard peradventure that the proposals and points I make are not my ideas but the considered and settled position of Her Majesty’s Government.
I thank each noble Lord who spoke. Of course, I was struck by the passion with which everyone spoke on these issues, from whatever perspective. Again, I agree with all that was said about tolerance and humanity. I have nothing to add to what I said on that subject at the outset of my response at Second Reading.
Some of the subjects we have touched on elicit particularly strong views. I am grateful for and endorse what was said about the importance of respect and sensitivity, which have been shown by all your Lordships as we have debated the Bill and the complex issues that have arisen from it.
The Government have been clear throughout the debates on this Bill, both in your Lordships’ House and the other place, that it is an important step forward—a step, but not a complete step—in at last making provision for Ministers who become mothers to take paid maternity leave. I would not want us to lose sight of that, or—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, just said—the important message that it should send about participation in public life by women.
The Bill will end the wholly unacceptable situation where a pregnant woman would have to resign from Cabinet in order to recover from childbirth and care for her newborn child. It is long overdue. I repeat my thanks to the Opposition Front Bench for their constructive support all through. I am pleased that through the Bill we will be able to make similar maternity leave provision for Opposition officeholders, which is also long overdue.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have recognised and sought to respond to the strength of feeling on several issues, none more so of course than the use of language in its drafting, which has occupied many of your Lordships today. I will obviously address that, along with some of the other points raised in the debate.
I turn, first, to the core amendments. I have already set out the Government’s position on the amendments laid by my noble friend Lord Lucas and that the Government will support those amendments if he moves them. I was also asked to clarify the Government’s position on the interaction between these amendments and those tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, whom I thank for the way in which he spoke and his appreciation of the Government’s position. The amendments tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Lucas seek to amend the same parts of the Bill. This House clearly cannot accept both sets. The Government have indicated that they will accept those tabled in the names of my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Winston.
As I have said, the Government accept that the approach to the drafting of the Bill set out in my noble friend’s amendments would be legally acceptable and that the intention and meaning of the Bill would be unaffected by such a change. It continues to be the Government’s view that the terminology of “mother” is preferable in a Bill that is about maternity leave and is, as a number of noble Lords have also argued, more inclusive. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for intimating that he will not press his alternative amendment.
On the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas—Amendments 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 and 30 for the record, so that there is no doubt which the Government are speaking of—I indicated the Government’s position earlier in the debate and I reiterate those points. For the reasons that I set out earlier, we are prepared to accept the amendments. The Government do not take such a decision lightly, but do so recognising the strength of feeling in this Chamber and beyond on this matter. The amendments do not interfere with the core aim of the Bill. They allow us to focus on the positive step forward that this Bill represents and to move swiftly to Royal Assent, thereby enabling Ministers to go on paid maternity leave now for the first time on a statutory basis. Again, if my noble friend Lord Lucas presses his amendments, the Government will support him.
Many speakers obviously raised questions of language and drafting. Our debates in this House have shown that the use of language is a complex and important issue, arousing strong feelings on all sides of the Chamber. It is an issue that warrants proper consideration such that we can arrive at a durable, well-supported approach that can be applied, as many have argued, to future legislation.
Let me say more about how the Government propose to consider these matters outside the passage of the Bill. In the light of the concerns raised in your Lordships’ House, the Government will review their approach to this matter. The review will explore the various approaches to drafting legislation on subjects that prompt these questions around language. As in this Bill, the most obvious area is legislation relating to pregnancy or childbirth, but there will be other related subjects where similar issues arise for the drafting. The review will consider those as appropriate.
In the context of this review, we will of course also look closely at the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, at Second Reading regarding the use of “mother”, given the ruling of the Court of Appeal to which he made reference—I listened also of course to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I believe that this can sometimes provide an appropriate solution, as in this Bill, but it is important that we ensure that all drafting approaches are properly thought through, as many noble Lords have argued, so that we can have full confidence that they could apply more broadly to future legislation. The Government will also look at the practices adopted by other English language legislatures. The conduct of the review will also be informed by Parliament’s views on these matters, including the debates that we have had on this Bill. We all have an interest in these matters being considered in a timely fashion so that any conclusions can be applied to legislation that may come before Parliament.
Several noble Lords asked whether Parliament could have a debate on this issue. As I stated previously, this would be a matter for the Chief Whips in both Houses. However, I would hope that it would be possible to facilitate a debate, subject to parliamentary time being available, when the review has concluded.
The Government have been clear throughout this debate that we must not countenance the erasure of women from our public discourse or our legislation. It is in this spirit that we will undertake the aforementioned review, guided by the point made by a number of your Lordships that we must not erode women from their rightful role in our society.
We do not propose that the review should revisit the 2007 decision to adopt inclusive drafting conventions more generally. As I said at Second Reading, whatever the concerns expressed in this debate, there has not been a call—even in this debate in your Lordships’ House—for the wholesale overthrow of the drafting conventions used since 2007, when the Government moved away from, for example, using “he” to embrace women. As many noble Lords have acknowledged, that was seen as demeaning to women, and the Government continue to believe that change was right.
As part of listening to the debates on this Bill, I hope that the Government’s commitment to review the language used in drafting our legislation will assuage some of the concerns in this area that noble Lords have spoken of, and does show our willingness to engage with Members of this House on this issue.
I want to confirm and underline what I said about the further work—it has not been much discussed today, though the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about it in winding up—seeking to resolve wider issues around parental leave relating to paternity, adoption, shared parental leave, absence for sickness and other reasons, as well as the question of unpaid roles, which I know is an issue of interest to Members of this House. As I said at Second Reading, that work will proceed. As I also said, we are in consultation and Her Majesty’s Opposition will be kept fully informed on the development of the proposals in advance of publication. The Government will continue that work following the passage of this legislation, with a view to laying the report before Parliament as soon as it is practical to do so, and will in any event update Parliament before the Summer Recess. Although it has not attracted much attention today, I think that there is an underlying feeling in your Lordships’ House that this is the first measure in a programme of improvement for women in political office. I reiterate that.
I was asked a very specific question by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, who raised again the Law Officers Act 1997. I am sorry—it is a frailty in me—if the noble and learned Lord was displeased by my remarks on Monday. I actually agree with him that, by virtue of that legislation, the functions of the Attorney-General can be exercised by the Solicitor-General; that is absolutely right and the Government agree with him. However, the point I made on Monday is that, when it is a planned, ongoing leave of absence over an extended period, as is the case with maternity leave, it is important that the position of Attorney-General as the chief legal adviser to the Crown is occupied alongside the Solicitor-General, which is an important office in its own right. I am sure that, on reflection, the noble and learned Lord would agree that it would be asking a lot of the Solicitor-General to do the work of two people for six months.
In conclusion, I thank all those who have spoken in the debate for having done so with clarity, dignity and conviction. I hope that all have recognised that the Government have listened to what has been said today and that they are willing to engage with the House on these matters going forward. The Government would have preferred for the Bill to pass through your Lordships’ House unamended, but as always it is for your Lordships to decide whether that is to be the case. Now that this matter is close to being resolved, we are keen to ensure that the Bill is sent to the other place swiftly for their consideration so that my right honourable friend the Attorney-General can go on maternity leave safe in the knowledge that the security the Bill provides to Ministers seeking to go on maternity leave is available for her benefit as soon as possible.
Therefore, as I stated previously, if it be the will of the House, my noble friend Lord Lucas having moved his amendments, the Government are content, following the debates and the consultations which we have had—for which I have been profoundly grateful—to send the Bill back with Clauses 1 to 3 amended to replace “person” with “mother or expectant mother” where appropriate, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Lucas. I am therefore grateful to noble Lords who have tabled other amendments for indicating their intention not to move their amendments to ensure that we can collectively achieve that aim.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord True, to all his colleagues in Government and to the officials in his team for their decision to support my amendments. It has been a most particular pleasure to be part of the diverse group of Peers that brought these amendments forward. This is, as many noble Lords have said, the beginning of a process—the next step forward in the equality of women.
Along with my noble friend Lady Altmann, I can look back at the City in the 1970s and discussions as to whether we would be taken seriously as advisers if we fielded a woman in the team. One memorable morning, we boys tipped up in our red braces, full of confidence. Our principal opponent was a woman, and she wiped the floor with us. That answered the question for us. One of the pleasures of this House is that the woman concerned is now my noble friend Lady O’Cathain.
We are currently faced with a full-on attack on women’s sex-based rights—a misogynistic and bullying campaign which seeks to diminish women’s rights in the name of the rights of trans people. Trans people are an entirely natural and expected part of the human family. The explanations of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, of the complications of our biology makes that quite clear. It is also clear that we have a great deal to do as politicians in making space in the way the world is run for the needs of trans people and in removing discrimination and hateful behaviour towards them. Many who have spoken today have played their part in that. However, the same strictures apply to women, and there are rather more of them. To my mind, the way forward in advancing both trans people and women lies in conversation and in men doing a large part of the giving way.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for her willingness to engage with her usual courage and clarity. We need openness, listening and honest exploration. It may start out as a rough process—as she notes, it is a bruising world out there on Twitter, on both sides—and there are some fundamental confusions of language in the area of sex and gender that need sorting out. I believe, however, that a committed conversation, such as, I hope, the promised review will enable, will get us to a set of arrangements that is congenial to almost all. I beg to move Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 3 agreed.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 5 agreed.
Amendment 6 not moved.
7: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 7 agreed.
Amendments 8 and 9 not moved.
Amendments 10 and 11
10: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, leave out “person is pregnant and it is no more than” and insert “expectant mother is within”
11: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out “person” and insert “mother”
Amendments 10 and 11 agreed.
Amendments 12 and 13 not moved.
14: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 14 agreed.
Amendment 15 not moved.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed.
Clause 2: Ministerial leave: amount and payment of allowance
16: Clause 2, page 2, line 8, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 16 agreed.
Amendment 17 not moved.
18: Clause 2, page 2, line 13, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 18 agreed.
Amendment 19 not moved.
20: Clause 2, page 2, line 16, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 20 agreed.
Amendment 21 not moved.
Clause 2, as amended, agreed.
Clause 3: Ministerial leave: other provision
22: Clause 3, page 2, line 34, leave out “person” and insert “mother”
Amendment 22 agreed.
Amendment 23 not moved.
24: Clause 3, page 2, line 35, leave out “person” and insert “mother”
Amendment 24 agreed.
Amendment 25 not moved.
26: Clause 3, page 2, line 41, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 26 agreed.
Amendment 27 not moved.
28: Clause 3, page 3, line 2, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 28 agreed.
Amendment 29 not moved.
30: Clause 3, page 3, line 3, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 30 agreed.
Amendment 31 not moved.
Clause 3, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 4 to 6 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 32. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
32: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
If any Minister or Opposition office-holder who would otherwise be covered by this Act gives birth after 22 February 2021 but before this Act is passed, she is eligible for the benefits set out herein.”
I will be half a minute. I tabled this amendment in order to help the Government in general and the Attorney-General in particular when there were noises abroad that her pregnancy was far advanced. It is unfortunate when we have to take legislation so quickly and, save in real emergencies—and this is not one—I wish that both Houses had a little more time. The amendment would have enabled that. However, I am delighted at the way in which things have gone this afternoon and, therefore, although I do not wish to silence anyone who is down to speak, I should say that I have no intention of putting this to a Division.
Amendment not moved, Lord Cormack?
In which case, no further speakers can speak on the amendment.
Amendment 32 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments. Report and Third Reading agreed without debate.
My Lords, this is not the occasion for another lengthy intervention, but I of course express my gratitude to speakers from all sides during the course of the Bill and to all those who have had the opportunity to talk to whatever their views are throughout its passage. It has contributed to a good outcome and all who have spoken have done so with sensitivity and clarity.
I also thank the officials and all those who worked tirelessly on the Bill: my private office, the Bill team, Cabinet Office legal advisers, the drafters and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, and all others who have provided me and, more importantly, us all in the House of Lords with the support necessary to respond so ably to the challenging questions that your Lordships posed throughout the Bill’s passage.
On behalf of all of us, I end where I began—with good wishes to my right honourable friend the Attorney-General on her forthcoming child. It seems to be a baby that has provided almost as much occasion for debate in Parliament as any since 1688. I wish the child and mother profoundly well, and for the child a long, happy and prosperous life. I hope we can now move on with the process of reform that the Bill begins.
My Lords, I can be very brief because a lot of thanks have already happened. I start with the same thanks to the Attorney-General for starting us off on this. I perhaps should not say this, but I doubt that this was the thing in her mind nine months ago when the Bill was triggered. However, where we have got to is very good. I hope we will see the report in due course, as my noble friend Lady Goudie and others said.
I thank the Bill team—I bet they have never had to do one quite like this, with the last-minute adjustments. It is good of them.
I will say personal thanks to my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock for the first of her outings on a Bill. I told her it would be simple and short; she will not believe me again.
I thank the Minister. I know it is not good for his career to have thanks from me, but he will just have to put up with that. He really has listened. He has taken time with us and done so with great courtesy and charm. Most importantly, he has made movement.
I thank the House for what it has done. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who said that it has been a good day in the House of Lords. I agree.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
House adjourned at 5.27 pm.
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.
Amendment to the Motion
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 March 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”,
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Proceedings resumed (Order, this day).
Considered in Committee (Order, this day).
[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]
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.
Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office
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”.
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”.
Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out “6 months” and insert “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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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—
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.
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.
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?
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—
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
Debate interrupted (Order, this day).
The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Order, this day), That the amendment be made.
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.
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.