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 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.