Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My noble Friend Lord True said on Second Reading in the House of Lords that, although “specific and limited” in its aims, this Bill is a significant reforming measure for women and points the way to wider reform. It will make an important and long overdue change to existing law by enabling Ministers and Opposition spokesmen for the first time to take paid maternity leave from their job for an extended period. It ends the unacceptable situation where a Minister would have to resign from Cabinet or their post to recover from childbirth and to care for their newborn child. Members in the House of Lords have exercised their role as the reviewing House and have decided to return the Bill to this House with amendments and the Government are content to accept those amendments in the House today.

The Lords amendments make a number of changes to the drafting in clauses 1 to 3 of the Bill, substituting the word “person” with the words “mother” or “expectant mother” where appropriate. These amendments tabled by my noble Friend Lord Lucas were supported by the Government in the House of Lords in recognition of the strength of feeling on this issue displayed in both Houses. The Bill, as originally drafted, was in line with the long-standing convention to use gender-neutral drafting where doing so is necessary to achieve the full policy intent. The use of the word “person” in this Bill as originally drafted achieved both those aims.

The amendments that the Government are accepting today to substitute “mother” or “expectant mother” where appropriate for “persons” in clauses 1 to 3, although grammatically challenging in places, do not affect the operation of the Bill and achieve the twin aims of being legally accurate and delivering on the policy intention. Moreover, the use of the word “mother” or “expectant mother” where appropriate is in line with recent case law of the Court of Appeal, as was noted by Lord Pannick in the House of Lords. These amendments are legally acceptable and the intention and meaning of the Bill would be unaffected by such a change. As discussed previously, the word “woman” or the word “Minister” would have run into legal difficulties, and I hope the words “mother” and “expectant mother” will be acceptable to hon. Members. During the passage of the Bill through the Commons, we also amended the explanatory notes.

I know that there will be some who are concerned by these amendments and by the Government’s accepting them, and I hope to give them some reassurance today. Many of their lordships who spoke in favour of these amendments also spoke about their understanding of and commitment to LGBT rights. Many hon. Members in this place who I think would support the revision were, when discussing the Bill with me, also focused on ensuring that if we ever had a trans male colleague in future who needed to make use of the provisions, that would be the case. We also hope to bring forward work in future on shared parental leave and adoption leave. If legislation is needed, and we expect that it may well be, we would add new sections to the Bill, and we anticipate not having to return to amend the wording back to “person”.

I thank all those who have taken part in debates in both Houses and made interventions. The Bill before the House today makes an important and long-overdue change to existing law. It will enable all Ministers, for the first time, 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. It is in recognition of these amendments that the Government wish to proceed on that basis.

We also recognise that there is much more to be done, and, as we have said, this Bill is the first step. Throughout the Bill’s passage, the Government have made commitments to Parliament both on the wider reports on issues that could no longer be accommodated in the Bill and in relation to a review of language used in drafting legislation, with a genuine willingness to work with parliamentarians. We are thankful to Members of both Houses for their willingness to work with the Government on this issue.

I once again thank the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) and her colleagues for their engagement on this Bill, and all hon. Members who have contributed to and spoken with passion in these debates. The Government are keen—some members of the Government in particular, I might add—to ensure that this Bill receives Royal Assent as soon as possible. I ask the House to accept the amendments and send the Bill for Royal Assent.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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Having covered many of the key arguments on this Bill in previous Commons stages, I will keep my comments brief. Labour has agreed to support the Bill for the specific purpose of ensuring that the Attorney General can take maternity leave as a matter of urgency. It is shocking that we are currently in a position where women Ministers face resignation or demotion when choosing to have children.

While Labour supports the Bill as a small step forward for pregnant Ministers, there is no doubt that far too many gaps remain in it to make it fit for the 21st century. This is an important opportunity to reflect on the desperately unequal reality faced by so many women across our country today. As Centenary Action Group highlighted,

“The legislation must not be seen in a vacuum but instead as the opportunity for a…call to action to protect parents in the workplace during these difficult times.”

I am shocked that the Government have failed to respond to the discrimination faced by pregnant women trying to access the Chancellor’s self-employment support scheme during the pandemic. Indeed, the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed highlights that nearly 70,000 women were unlawfully put on statutory sick pay, thereby negatively affecting their maternity pay and other entitlements. I hope the Minister will address these broader concerns in her closing remarks.

Members across the House have expressed the widespread disappointment that the Bill lacks the ambition that it should have or any attempt to broaden it out in terms of other forms of parental leave. I welcome what the Minister has said about aspirations for Government to include paternity and shared parental leave in future legislation. I urge her to also consider the need for adoption leave and leave for parents of premature and sick babies. Indeed, the debate over the wording in this legislation and the consequence of the Lords amendments reflects the extremely limited nature of the Bill. We would not be having this discussion if the Government had made adequate provision for all parental leave.

Let us be clear: every single person, no matter their gender, deserves to have parental leave when they become a parent, but the Government’s last-minute rushing through of this Bill has stifled any wider progress on this issue. I point out that the speed at which the Government are acting to ensure that the Attorney General can rightly take maternity leave is in stark contrast to their failure to support pregnant women facing discrimination and hardship throughout the pandemic.