Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 25th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 View all Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 172-I Marshalled list for Committee - (22 Feb 2021)
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
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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.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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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.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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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”,


and:

“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.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab) [V]
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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.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

None Portrait A noble Lord
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It won’t last.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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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.