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Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Tribunals

Volume 634: debated on Thursday 11 January 2018

7. If she will discuss with Cabinet colleagues the adequacy of the time limit for a woman to bring an employment tribunal claim for pregnancy and maternity discrimination. (903238)

Discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is wholly unacceptable, but research the Government commissioned with the Equality and Human Rights Commission did not suggest the three-month time limit for bringing a claim to an employment tribunal was a particular barrier to pregnant women and new mothers. However, the rules permit an extension to that time limit if needed, and of course we will consider further guidance on this if that would be helpful.

What steps are this Government taking to prevent further job losses after reports exposed the fact that on average 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs each year because of maternity discrimination?

We have to make sure the message is clear to employers that this sort of discrimination is wholly unacceptable, and give new mothers and pregnant women the courage to put forward a claim if it is appropriate. But the message from the Government is clear: this is not acceptable.

In response to the Women and Equalities Committee report, the Government have already agreed to act on this issue. Will my hon. Friend update the House on whether the president of the employment tribunal will be issuing guidance in this area on the extension powers she has already mentioned? My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) has also agreed to start collecting data on applications for time extensions on maternity-related cases. Will the Minister undertake to update the House in future on the progress on that?

In late 2016, the Select Committee, which my right hon. Friend chairs, published a report on this. The recommendations were considered and the research we commissioned with the EHRC did not suggest that the three-month time limit for bringing a claim to the employment tribunal is a barrier. I will of course look into it and write to her.

I welcome the new Women and Equalities Minister to her place and pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for her dedication to the role. In January last year, the Women and Equalities Committee joined the Justice Committee in calling for an extension of the deadline from three to six months. In response, the Government said that they would keep the time limit for claims to be submitted under review, and we have heard a continuation of that narrative today. Since the statement, the Supreme Court ruled that the UK must abolish tribunal fees and repay those who had made their claim. Is now therefore not the time to make a full review of that system of delivery, remove the further barriers and make a serious commitment today to increasing that time limit to six months?

As I say, the Government continue to keep this under review. Following the Supreme Court judgment on employment tribunal fees, we stopped charging fees immediately and arrangements are being put in place by the Ministry of Justice to refund the fees to those who have paid in the past. As I say, this point on discrimination against new mothers and pregnant women is very much being kept under review.