All 3 Penny Mordaunt contributions to the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021

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

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

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

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

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Penny Mordaunt Excerpts
Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Paymaster General (Penny Mordaunt)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

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

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

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

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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If I may, I will make a little progress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ministerial and other Maternal Allowances Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Ministerial and other Maternal Allowances Bill

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

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the Whole House Amendments as at 11 February 2021 - (11 Feb 2021)
Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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The haste with which the Bill has been brought forward is perhaps reflected in some of the amendments that we see on the amendment paper. I would like to address the amendments tabled by the SNP. I think they have been tabled with the best of intentions, but if, instead of giving women the option of taking maternity leave, we make it a requirement, we would remove the element of choice, which is incredibly important for women when it comes to if and when we have children, how many we have, and how we balance work and motherhood. Similarly, the amendments that would increase the requirement from six months to 12 months would make us lose some of that flexibility, which is incredibly important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
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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.

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

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

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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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.

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill Debate

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Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

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Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Paymaster General (Penny Mordaunt)
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I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments 2 to15.

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.

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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) [V]
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I would like to say a few brief words and thank all other right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. This is all about making sure that Ministers’ maternity allowances are in place, so the amendments are very simple, as has been suggested, and I believe that there should be no difficulty in accepting them.

I can well remember that when someone close to me had a miscarriage, she was told on Mother’s Day by a lovely lady who had given her flowers in her church with all the other mothers. “You do not have your baby, but you’re still a mummy.” Whether a mother holds her baby in her arms or only in her heart, the creation of life gives her that title and I believe that it is right and proper that we respect that in law. I support the amendments, which simply clarify that position.

I echo the comments of others who have suggested to the Minister in a very nice way that this should be the first stage in delivering for elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and for councillors and those who hold positions in local government. It is time to get it right. In her conclusion, perhaps the Minister can reassure us that those in the devolved Administrations and at council level will find the same liberties, equalities and opportunities.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions. In closing this debate, I will respond to a few of the points made. The Government have been clear throughout the debate in both this House and the House of Lords that the Bill is an important step forward that at last makes provision for Ministers to take paid maternity leave. I repeat my thanks to the Opposition Front Benchers for their constructive support—not only on this, but on the future work we are planning to bring forward. I am pleased that the Bill will be able to make similar maternity provisions for Opposition office holders as well.

I turn to the comments of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith). In earlier consideration of the Bill, I spoke about the context in which we are bringing it forward. I am very conscious that even if we took into account future ministerial post-holders, this is still a tiny group of individuals compared with the general population.

There is work that we want to bring forward, not least the work that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been leading on, to help make progress on a number of related areas. This Bill has afforded me the opportunity to check in with those Ministers and to encourage them. It is understandable that the effort of that Department has been focused on the pandemic, but if we are to recover from that, we have to ensure that women are economically empowered and are supported, and many of the things that BEIS has been looking at will help do that.

The hon. Lady asks whether we have considered premature and sick babies. We have, and I think the provisions in the Bill will certainly help anyone in that situation. We originally drafted this Bill to incorporate adoption leave and shared parental leave, but it was too difficult because of some of the issues around the royal prerogative, Ministers, caps on payroll and so forth, which is why we need a little bit more time to do this additional piece of work before we bring back, I think, future legislation to address those issues.

That will also dock into work that hon. Members will want to do in this place with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. We recognise its independence, but clearly we are talking about the same individuals. Indeed, the Attorney General may have got her ministerial situation sorted—I hope, if this Bill gets Royal Assent—but she will still face the difficulties that other Members have spoken about as a Member of Parliament.

Turning to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), I first thank him and the all-party group for the incredible work they have done not only on domestic issues, but internationally. When we in this place look back at footage of our predecessors and see some of the remarks made decades ago about LGBT people and the homophobia that was exhibited, I am sure that all of us cringe. I think we should ask ourselves whether, were we in the Commons at that time, we would have called it out. Would we have gone out of our way to send our support, empathy and understanding to gay people at the time?

The challenge for us today is exactly the same with trans people, and I hope that all Members of this House—I know that many Members do—take that responsibility extremely seriously, none more so than my hon. Friend. The amendments we are accepting today are legitimate and understandable, and critically they are also legally sound, but let me say in supporting them from this Dispatch Box that trans men are men and trans women are women, and great care has been taken in the drafting and accepting of these amendments to ensure that that message has got across.

So often these issues are presented as an intractable row between two incompatible positions. They are not; they are about all people being able to go about their lives and to be supported in doing so. I know that many hon. Members in this place and their lordships in the other place feel that very strongly and feel a huge responsibility. As a woman, I agree with many of the comments made today. I want the rights of all women to be taken care of and all men to be safeguarded, too.

The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) made some very good points. I have to inform her again, sadly, that Ministers have no rights because of the royal prerogative—I am sorry to say that—and, therefore, the Prime Minister is the arbiter of this, but I cannot imagine a situation where any Prime Minister would not allow someone to take maternity leave. If anyone has any idea how to get around that as a Minister, I am quite keen to have some rights. We will obviously keep that under review, but that is the current situation.