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House of Commons Hansard

Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill (First sitting)

31 January 2018

    The Committee consisted of the following Members:

    Chair: James Gray

    † Antoniazzi, Tonia (Gower) (Lab)

    † Argar, Edward (Charnwood) (Con)

    † Gibson, Patricia (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)

    † Griffiths, Andrew (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

    † Harris, Carolyn (Swansea East) (Lab)

    † Hollinrake, Kevin (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

    † Johnson, Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

    † Jones, Andrew (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)

    † Linden, David (Glasgow East) (SNP)

    † Masterton, Paul (East Renfrewshire) (Con)

    † Newlands, Gavin (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)

    † Pidcock, Laura (North West Durham) (Lab)

    † Prentis, Victoria (Banbury) (Con)

    † Quince, Will (Colchester) (Con)

    † Sandbach, Antoinette (Eddisbury) (Con)

    † Soames, Sir Nicholas (Mid Sussex) (Con)

    † Yasin, Mohammad (Bedford) (Lab)

    Farrah Bhatti, Committee Clerk

    † attended the Committee

    Public Bill Committee

    Wednesday 31 January 2018

    [James Gray in the Chair]

    Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill

  • I welcome the Committee to this stage of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton’s private Member’s Bill. My inclination is to apply the same rules on general behaviour in Committee as we do in the main Chamber as regards dress, not drinking coffee and all those things, as well as the normal procedures and courtesies, if that is all right by everybody.

    Before we do anything else, we need to deal with the sittings motion, which stands in the promoter’s name.

    Resolved,

    That, if proceedings on the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill are not completed at this day’s sitting, the Committee shall meet on Wednesdays while the House is sitting at 2.00 pm.—(Kevin Hollinrake.)

  • On the basis of that motion, and given that the required notice period for amendments in Public Bill Committees is three working days, amendments should be tabled by the rise on the House on Fridays for consideration on Wednesdays. Therefore, the deadline for any amendments for consideration next Wednesday is this coming Friday. If possible, submit amendments prior to that. As a general rule, I will not call starred amendments that have not been tabled with adequate notice. If you want amendments to be discussed next Wednesday, get them tabled by Friday.

    We come to line-by-line consideration of the Bill. As neither clause 1 nor 2 is to be amended, my inclination is to have a stand part debate on them both, rather like a Second Reading debate, and then move on to the more detailed stuff.

    Clause 1

    Parental bereavement leave and pay

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 2 stand part.

  • It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I will set out briefly the purpose of the Bill. No one would doubt that losing a child is the most harrowing experience for any parent. It is the thing we dread most. As a father of four, I know that is every mother or father’s worst fear, and one that never goes away.

    First, I pay tribute to members of the Committee, in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury and for Eddisbury and the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran—and, of course, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester for his incredible work in this area. I am fortunate to have the opportunity hopefully to carry the Bill through to its final stages, and I am keen to do so as quickly as possible to ensure that we get it over the line. So much good work has been done in this Parliament and the previous one to ensure that this important piece of legislation comes forward.

    Many charities have been in touch to express their support for the Bill, such as Child Bereavement UK, Bliss, Together for Short Lives and Jack’s Rainbow, as well as the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss, the all-party parliamentary group for children who need palliative care, and my constituents, Annika and James Dowson, who first drew my attention to their terrible tragedy with their daughter, Gypsy, who was stillborn. They—like many people in such situations—have found a way to channel their grief by using their efforts to alleviate the suffering of others in the same situation. In their case, they have raised much money for the bereavement suite at Scarborough hospital.

    I am also grateful for the cross-party co-operation we have seen—we are all keen for the Bill to progress. Many other people have been involved, including the parliamentary digital outreach team, who helped us to get in touch with many people who have suffered these terrible tragedies and let us learn of their experiences.

    The Bill puts on the statute book for the very first time that parents will have a day-one entitlement to two weeks’ leave if they should suffer this tragedy. We talked to many people about this Bill, and when we explain its provisions, people say, “Why is that not the case already?” That is a good start to introducing new legislation; there is clearly something wrong when such legislation does not exist already.

    The entitlement is for a child below the age of 18. I know that there are some amendments that we will debate, which ask whether we have all the provisions in the Bill in the right place. I am very keen to hear from members of the Committee about whether the current qualifying criteria are correct.

    There is also the rate of pay for this leave. After 26 weeks, there is an entitlement to statutory pay—£141 a week, or 90% of earnings. There is also flexibility in taking the leave—those two weeks over the first eight-week period. Again, I know that is something we need to discuss in this Committee.

    We will also consider eligibility. Is the leave for biological parents, or for a wider group of people who come under that umbrella term, “parents”? These days, of course, people tend to have a number of parental figures in their life and we need to take time to consider such points properly.

    I think that we are all aware of the fragility of the private Member’s Bill process. We are delighted to have Government support for this Bill, but we are very keen to ensure that we get it through at the earliest opportunity, so that those people who have lost children receive the support they need.

    On examination of the Bill, all hon. Members will have noticed, of course, that clause 1 is uncontroversial and simply allows for consideration of the substance of the Bill—the schedule that is referred to. Clause 2 is just a procedural clause, which provides for the date on which the Bill will come into force, the extent of any amendment or appeal as set out in the schedule, and the short title of the Bill.

    With your agreement, Mr Gray, I propose that we do not dwell on clause 2 and instead move on to the substance of the Bill, which is in the schedule, once we have considered the proposed new clause.

  • I call Laura Pidcock to speak. It would be helpful if Members who wish to speak stand up.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Gray, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to come to this Committee and work on this Bill, which is the first Bill that I will consider in my new role. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has outlined what the clauses do; I will not repeat that. I will just say that I support the purpose of the clauses.

    The hon. Gentleman also said that the fact that this legislation does not exist already is almost unbelievable; I cannot believe that it has taken until 2018 to table such a measure, and create the right to parental leave and pay. I am therefore pleased that, through this private Member’s Bill, we will create such legislation. I give thanks to the hon. Gentleman. By the way, we agree that everything is better up north; that is one of the few things we agree on. We also agree on the purpose of this Bill and we will use this Committee not only to improve the Bill—potentially—but to ensure that it is passed.

    I have to say that I am humbled to speak in this debate alongside people who unfortunately have first-hand experience of losing a child, and I place on the record how much I admire all of them and all their strength.

    The principle should be that if someone is in work—whatever type of work they do and for however long they have done it—when catastrophe strikes and their child dies, either as a result of a long-term health condition, a freak accident, or anything in between, they should have time off to recover and there should be no financial detriment to their taking that period of recovery. I just cannot imagine the pain and grief that someone experiences when they lose the closest person to them, and the fact that they need to function so quickly after they have felt such grief is impossible to comprehend.

    As has been mentioned in previous debates, there are of course employers who will be very understanding and who will make time for people to grieve and to make arrangements. However, we also have to acknowledge, as I think this Bill does, that there are employers who do not show the same compassion at this most dreadful time.

    All the statistics tell us something. For example, he National Council for Palliative Care says that a shocking 31% of people who have been bereaved in the last five years felt that they had not been treated with compassion by their employer. In my view, that is an astounding statistic and it is also proof that the Government must take action, and rightly are taking action, to provide protection for these people.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.

    This is, indeed, a very exciting day, and the culmination of nearly three years’ work. I fully support the Bill, amending the Employment Rights Act 1996 and giving parents who sadly suffer the loss of a child the statutory right to two weeks’ paid leave. I first introduced a Bill on this matter in the previous Parliament. The issue was, and remains, one of the burning injustices that I wanted to address during my time in Parliament, which is why I am so supportive of this Bill and the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton.

    Why is this issue so important to me? It is important because it is personal. Having gone through the experience of losing a child in 2014, I saw the impact that it had on not just me but the wider family, and my wife in particular. We had all the protections that come with a stillbirth: the full rights of maternity and paternity, which do not exist for those who lose a child after six or seven months.

    When I joined Parliament I started researching this subject and looking at why there was this gap in provision and no statutory protection. I came across a similar Bill that was introduced back in 2013 by the former Member for Glasgow South, Tom Harris. He recognised that there was an issue here, based on a personal case in his constituency. I have been liaising with Tom, who has been hugely helpful and supportive of my Bill coming back before the House as a ten-minute rule Bill and its continuation in this Bill. I also met a lady called Lucy Herd who set up an organisation and charity called Jack’s Rainbow. She sadly lost her child who I believe was around two years old, and she has campaigned tirelessly on this issue for several years.

    Although Tom did not get as far as starting to draft his Bill, he presented a ten-minute rule Bill that kicked off the process of getting Parliament to think about the gap in provision. With the help of the Table Office, we then drafted a Bill that was an initial variant or incarnation of what we see in front of us today. Sadly, the Session timed out and we were not able to take it through to get it on the statute book.

    Along with a number of colleagues from across the House who care passionately about this issue, we campaigned as hard as we could on a cross-party basis, and as a result managed to get this policy in all the four main parties’ manifestos, which was no mean feat. I will be eternally grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton for picking up the baton and running with this Bill. When a Member comes high up in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, they are inundated with requests from charities, different organisations and local, constituency cases from people who want them to take on their cause and campaign. Within about 20 to 30 seconds of a phone call with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton when I knew that he had come up high up in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, he did not hesitate to say yes. That is a credit to him and shows how passionate he is too about addressing this issue.

    I also thank the Government for their support for the Bill, and in particular the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), who has been so supportive. From the point at which my Bill fell in the last Parliament, we had a number of meetings in the Department to work out ways in which we could thrash this issue out and bring it forward again.

    I also welcome the new Minister to his place. Knowing him as well as I do, and from the work that we have already done on this important issue, I know that he is as passionate as we all are about getting the Bill over the line and on to the statute book. I thank all Members from across the House who have supported this campaign and the Bill, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said, all the different charities and organisations that have been so supportive of the Bill and have fed into the process with their different ideas. We will not agree with all of them—some of them are not entirely practical—but we might agree with some of them, and the point is that they have been very forthcoming with their ideas and views.

    Why is the Bill needed? Why is it so important? To put it bluntly, it is because there can be few more distressing life events than the loss of a child. I know that a number of hon. Members across the Committee have experienced that loss. Personally, I can only speak having gone through a stillbirth. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child at one, three, five, 15 or 17. Up to 5,000 children die every year in the UK, which means that thousands of parents have to go through that personal tragedy.

  • Having gone through our experience of losing a baby through stillbirth, I must stress how important it is to have the time to come to terms with the huge loss. Often, by their very nature, an infant or child death is a sudden one. People need the time to come to terms with what has happened, and to make those necessary arrangements.

    We have spoken a bit, and I have seen correspondence with different charities, about the age limit. The age limit of 18 is partly because there has to be an arbitrary figure, and also because up to that point there is no person other than the parents, who have the sole responsibility for making arrangements such as registering a death, organising a funeral and letting the wider family know. That responsibility falls almost exclusively on the parents, which is why the Bill is entitled Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay). It is specifically aimed at dependants.

    The hon. Member for North West Durham pointed out that the vast majority of employers are already brilliant and act with compassion, kindness and huge amounts of sympathy. The vast majority bend over backwards to make it as easy as possible for their employees to come to terms with what is a most horrific life event. But sadly, some do not. That is why this statutory protection is so important. I mentioned that when a child is stillborn—after 24 weeks—parents are entitled to full maternity and paternity rights. That is the same if parents lose a child neonatally. However, if parents lose a child after that point, technically they are entitled to nothing. Why should parents who lose a child in the first few weeks and months of life not have the same type of statutory protection? It cannot be right, and that is why we have to address the matter in law.

    The position of the law as it stands, under the Employment Rights Act 1996, is that people are entitled to time off for dependants. There is a rather vague definition of a reasonable amount of time. To be frank, what is reasonable to one person is not necessarily reasonable to another—it is purely at the employer’s discretion. Although the vast majority of employers are brilliant, some have not even allowed their staff to have the time off to attend a funeral. That is simply unacceptable and it is why we need this statutory protection.

    There are countless cases of employees being pressurised into going back to work. At the moment, we have that theoretical right of a vaguely defined reasonable amount of time, but there is no statutory right at all for that time off to be paid. Many employers will keep their staff on full pay during that period, but some do not. I am aware of the pressures on business—we should take their needs and requirements into consideration. We do not want to put unnecessary burdens on business, but the Bill is good for business because it creates an element of certainty.

    The Bill was never intended to state what must be provided in every case, but rather the bare minimum that must be provided under statute. Most employers will go much further and we all encourage them to do so, because if they take care of their employees at the most difficult time in their lives, that buys a huge amount of loyalty. Those individuals will respect that hugely. The statutory provision on pay, which my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton outlined, means that businesses will be able to recoup some of that money, so there will be a financial incentive for businesses to do the right thing.

    Every bereaved parent is different. Some will want this Bill and some will not. Some will choose to take parental bereavement leave and some will choose not to. Some will want to take it immediately and some will want to take it later. There is a strong argument that fathers in particular want to go straight back to work as a coping mechanism. I will not say whether that is right or wrong—it is entirely up to them—but we want to ensure that the legislation is as flexible as possible and that it is a fair and reasonable compromise between the employee and the employer.

    The Bill is about statutory protection. There are some European and worldwide precedents for such measures, but it is important to say that if we pass this Bill, or a variant thereof with a few minor amendments and tweaks, we will have some of the best workers’ rights in this area in Europe, and indeed in the world, which is something that we can be hugely proud of.

    The hon. Member for North West Durham pointed out that the Bill is not perfect. We will no doubt, I suspect, have minor disagreements about what we want the Bill to include, in particular perhaps about the length of time when the leave can be taken and about the eligibility criteria. Indeed, I have tabled amendments of my own. However, I repeat what I said at the beginning: the Bill is the result of more than two years’ work, so please let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good. This Bill must pass. We have to get it on to the statute book. It is a hugely important first step that gives thousands of parents up and down the country the statutory protection that they rightly deserve and the time and peace to grieve.

  • I want to echo some of what has been said. I most sincerely and profoundly thank the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton for introducing this very important Bill and for all the work he has done to ensure that we reach this point, building on the work of the hon. Member for Colchester and the former Member for Glasgow South.

    The anomaly of bereaved parents and the injustice they face of not having any protection in employment law is finally being addressed. This is a good day for Parliament. The Bill is warmly welcomed by every one of my Scottish National party colleagues and has support across the House, as we would expect. As has been said, most employers are perfectly decent, but we all understand —perhaps this is where the Bill arises from—that such an important matter cannot be left to the good will of individual employers.

    Many of us have had the tragic and life-changing experience of having to bury our own child, but the Bill is not for us. It is for all those men and women who will have to undergo that agony in future. We in public life, especially those of us who have gone through that traumatic experience, have a duty—a desire by which we are often driven—to improve the situation for those who in the coming years will suffer the same terrible fate of losing a child.

    It is important that we all approach the Bill in a non-partisan manner, which is always a pleasure because it happens so infrequently in this House. Some things are just too important to be considered party political and go well beyond the realms of party affiliation, which is why I am hugely encouraged by the tone of hon. Members’ opening remarks. My regret is that in the run-up to the Bill, I was not insightful or prepared enough to work with other hon. Members to table cross-party amendments. That would have given the important signal that this is not a party political issue. I hold my hands up to that.

    Many people who have not undergone the experience of losing their child will not understand that there is no protection—they have never had any reason to make inquiries into that. It has taken us so long to get to this point because it is so difficult to even broach the subject of the death of a child. It has been taboo for too long, and thankfully, that is changing.

    For too long, parents have had no formal protection under employment law. Together, today, we can seek to put that right. By passing some of the amendments, I hope we can put it right in a way of which we can be truly proud.

  • Like the hon. Member for North West Durham, this is my first appearance in a Bill Committee. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.

  • You are doing well so far.

  • I know you have a reputation for being a hard taskmaster, and that you do not suffer fools gladly, but I hope you will be at least a little gentle with the Front-Bench Members as we proceed in this important debate.

    As a Minister with the vast experience of some two weeks in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, it is actually very humbling to be here and to take part in this important debate. We come into public life and into politics to help people and to make a difference. As a child of the ’80s, I am reminded of the M People song:

    “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

    My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton and everybody involved with the Bill can feel proud that we have reached this point. The Bill will change the lives of those affected by the death of a child. It really will make a massive contribution, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on making such significant progress with this important Bill. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester on the work that he has done.

    I have been in the House since 2010, and Bills and debates have come and gone. Sometimes they stick in our minds, sometimes they pass us by and the amount of time and energy given to them in our thoughts is fleeting. One thing that I remember incredibly vividly in this place was listening to the Adjournment debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, I think back in November 2015—and, of course, the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury. The raw emotion in the Chamber during those speeches was incredible. I do not think a single Member was not moved almost to the point of tears, and beyond that in some cases, by the devastating human story that we heard play out and the desire that no other parent should have to go through that. It is an old adage that no parent should ever bury their child.

    The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran spoke about this being almost a taboo subject—something that we do not wish to talk about. That reminded me of my own experience. I am delighted to say that Mrs Griffiths is with child. When I became a Business Minister, the first thing they told me on the day I walked through the door of the Department was that the next day I would be answering Women and Equalities questions, and that the first question would be on flexible paternity. I had to declare an interest, as I intend to take my full paternity leave.

    I therefore look at this through the lens of a dad-to-be. I am reminded of the other evening. We were sat at home in Burton, and my wife, who is now getting bigger by the day, was on the sofa. She was enthralled by “Dancing on Ice” and I was deep in my red box, doing my ministerial work. She shouted out because she had her mobile phone resting on her belly and the baby—we do not know yet whether it is a boy or a girl—had kicked the mobile phone off her belly. We are just going through those emotions of realising that there is a little person in there; there is a little Andrew or a little Kate growing inside my wife, and it is hugely exciting and emotional. To think that the unthinkable could happen, that all the potential of that little child inside my wife might come to nothing, that it might all be wasted, is something that none of us want to talk about.

    From my perspective, I am very proud of what I do as a Member of Parliament, but my wife is even prouder. Normally, whatever I am doing in the Chamber or in the House, I will text her, particularly if it is something that might be visible and that she can see on TV. She loves to sit at home in Burton and turn on the Parliament channel and watch my wonderful oration. It just dawned on me that I had not told her about this debate, and it was a deliberate thing. I deliberately chose not to tell her that I was taking part in this debate, because I did not want her to have to think about it. I did not want to plant that seed in her mind at a time when she is excited, nervous, apprehensive—all those things. I did not want to plant the seed that something could go wrong.

  • It is for all of us, particularly us in this place, to come to terms with these things and address them, and to plan. None of us wants to be in that situation; as I said, we have heard such moving speeches setting out the pain, devastation and anguish that come with the loss of a child. It is right that we are tackling it in this Bill. I am grateful that we have cross-party support to take it forward. I am mindful of what my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester says. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton on the dexterity he has shown so far in getting the Bill to this point.

    In a previous life, however, I was a Government Whip. I learned a great deal as a Government Whip, not just about our colleagues and how reliable or unreliable they can be but about the vagaries of this place and the way that the system works for private Member’s Bills. It is a precarious process. There are so many twists and turns and dead ends that a private Member’s Bill can find itself in, and it takes great skill, great perseverance and a great deal of luck to get such a Bill over the line and have it become legislation.

    We must all recognise the precarious nature of the Bill and how important it is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester says, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. That is a wonderful phrase. This Bill will do great good, but we must ensure that we get it on the statute books. As we have heard, with the skilful drafting of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, this is a framework Bill. It allows and enables the Government to come forward with legislation through secondary legislation, but it is important that we get it on the statute books. That is the one thing I would try to impress on all parties in this room today: we must make progress.

    I am the new face of the Government in relation to this Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James). Her brief—my new brief—is a massive one. I am the small business Minister, but I am also the Minister for the labour market, the postal service, competition, insolvency, unions and the retail sector. When she did her handover to me when she left the Department and I took over, she had to impart knowledge and bring me up to speed as regards what was happening in the portfolios on a whole host of issues. But the most important thing she talked about, the one thing she impressed on me more than anything else, was the necessity of getting this Bill through and delivering. She cares about it in the same way as hon. Members have demonstrated, and as I do.

    As the new face of the Government, I can confirm that the Government stand resolutely behind the Bill. We want to see it enacted and benefiting all those people who are so terribly affected by the loss of a child or by stillbirth. It is an important measure and we want to see it in place. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton that clauses 1 and 2 are the means to give effect to the schedule and the relevant procedural information. We should therefore progress towards consideration of the schedule, which is where the detail and the meat of the Bill is.

  • I thank all members of the Committee for their wonderful contributions. I am delighted to see cross-party support for this very important Bill, and I am keen to move on to the substance of the Bill at the earliest opportunity.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    New Clause 2

    Parental bereavement leave and pay: review of extension of entitlement

    ‘The Secretary of State must, within three months of this Act being passed, lay a report before Parliament reviewing the extension of entitlement to parental bereavement leave and pay to people who are self-employed or are employed on zero-hours contracts.’—(Patricia Gibson.)

    This new clause would require the Secretary of State to review the extension of parental bereavement leave and pay to self-employed people and those on zero-hours contracts.

    Brought up, and read the First time.

  • I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    Parental bereavement leave is a contributory benefit. As set out, those bereaved parents who are envisaged to be eligible for leave under the Bill will need to meet the minimum requirements relating to continuity of employment—they will need at least 26 weeks with their current employer. During that leave, earnings will be paid at the statutory flat rate, which is set at £140.98 a week or 90% of average earnings, whichever is lower. Later, under other amendments, we can have a debate about how far short those provisions fall of what we want, but I urge the Minister to consider how these entitlements for bereaved parents will be extended to those in precarious work, such as those on zero-hours contracts.

    That is important because, as we have all agreed, the Bill is about supporting parents who suffer the awful experience of having to bury their own child. This surely cannot and should not be reduced to a matter of work contracts. Our starting principle is the loss of a child, so I urge Minister to include as many bereaved parents as possible within the Bill’s remit. Remember, many people on precarious contracts are on them because it is so difficult for them to find the permanent, secure employment that we would all wish to have. Many of them are struggling because there are too few employment protection rights anyway. If they do go through the awful nightmare of losing their child, they will continue to lose out.

    I remind the Minister that the loss of a child can often lead to the complete breakdown of a marriage. Sadly, in the ordinary course of events, 50% of marriages end in divorce, but some studies show that the death of a child makes the bereaved parents eight times more likely to divorce than other couples. There is a social cost to divorce, and it is often borne by the state as well as the families. Bereaved parents are more likely to develop depression and other mental health issues. Some turn to drink or other forms of self-medication; some even drop out of the workplace altogether and become economically inactive. I say that to the Minister because apart from the compassion that the Bill should show to bereaved parents who might be excluded from it under its current terms, from a purely financial perspective—leaving the compassion behind—it makes sense to offer that monetary support during the critical early days following a bereavement.

    I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to including these provisions in the Bill, so that parents who are doing their best and working hard, but do not enjoy the security of a permanent contract and all the rights that it confers, do not miss out should they face this awful tragedy. We should extend the rights to them as well.

  • I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the hon. Lady’s arguments. The world of employment is changing rapidly. We are in a new world. Although I have been self-employed virtually all my life and I see self-employment as a wonderful opportunity for people to get on in life, there is no doubt that some companies are using another kind of opportunity to circumvent the employment laws that have been developed over centuries, so that it is easier and cheaper for them to employ people. The concern is that that is also being done to avoid the other obligations that employers have to employees, which is the point the hon. Lady was getting at.

    Truly self-employed people tend to have more flexibility in their work, so they have other means of taking the time off that is required in these tragic circumstances, but we do not want future employers to use that to circumvent legislation. We need to look at that, and the Government are looking at it in the form of the Taylor review, which considers modern working practices. In July, as the hon. Lady knows, it reported on the overall context of legislation, including its impact on self-employed people and whether the gig economy is being abused to get round employment rights. The provisions in the Bill generally mirror other parental entitlements. The Taylor review may well recommend that some other parental provisions apply in these circumstances, which may affect this legislation in future. We need to look at the difference in entitlement between employed and self-employed people.

    Throughout the process, we were keen to engage with charities and to listen to how we might improve the legislation based on their experiences. I mentioned some of them in my opening remarks. They include Elliot’s footprint, Together for Short Lives, the National Bereavement Alliance, the Rainbow Trust and Bliss. Other bodies such as Unison have submitted points to consider; people will be familiar with many of them. Charities suggested that we look at the issues around self-employment. We and the Government should consider that in the context of wider employment legislation.

    Another matter that I do not have much influence over in this Committee, and which would complicate things in a way that none of us wants, is the impact on the Exchequer. It is important to state that we are spending taxpayers’ money. The financial context is that under the new clause, the Exchequer would pay the statutory pay for people in these circumstances. We have to take that into account. That amount has not been calculated, so that could cause more delays.

  • I remind the hon. Gentleman that there may well be a social cost if people do not get the support that they need. The statistics around bereaved parents do not make for comfortable reading.

  • The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I would not argue against that for a minute. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester talked about the impact of the employer treating his workforce properly and how that can lift morale, or certainly does not damage morale, and how treating people with consideration can get people back to work more quickly. I am sure that that applies in a wider social context.

    My point was that for any legislation, we look at the impact assessment, including the obvious hard-cash impact. In this case, that would require a revisitation of the assessment, which could cause delays in the Bill process. At this point, it is probably fairer to let the Minister have his say, because he is best placed to respond to those points.

  • I agree strongly with the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. When we think of any of the provisions in the Bill, it is quite easy to think about who is entitled, but much harder to think about who is not. Morally, the disqualification of people who have been through such a horrendous experience does not sit well with any of us.

    There are 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK. As the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton rightly said, working practices in this nation are becoming less secure. I do not say that in a judgmental sense, but there is more fracture, there are more self-employed people and nearly 9,000 people in the UK are on zero-hours contracts. The Bill will be meaningless for them unless the extensions are included.

    Let us be honest: most people across the nation do not have the option of not working. People take whatever work is available in their area, whether it is secure or not. Many people cannot choose their hours or their income, but when bereaved, they face exactly the same pain and grief. We have discussed how the Bill mirrors other entitlements, but I think the whole Committee would agree that it deals with exceptionally painful circumstances, so it is right that exceptional provision should be made.

    I agree that a saving for the Treasury in one place could mean a cost in another. As has been mentioned, the TUC is gravely concerned about zero-hours contracts and self-employed people. Until greater rights and freedoms are established in law to allow precarious workers to organise, it is up to the Government to extend entitlements to them. Thankfully, we are not talking about a huge pool of people nationally, so including agency workers and people on zero-hours contracts would be a small extension to the Bill. Unfortunately, the number of childhood deaths per year has stayed the same on average.

    I do not think that it is beyond the Government to make this commitment. I support the new clause.

  • I thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran for tabling the new clause and for focusing on the social cost, which is very important. We can get caught up in the amount of money involved or the cost to the Exchequer, which I will come back to, but this is fundamentally about the cost to human lives, relationships and happiness. As she rightly says, the grief that ensues after the loss of a child can easily cause family breakdown or divorce.

    One issue that I have tried to tackle in my time as a Member of Parliament is drug and alcohol addiction. I do a great deal of work with a rehab organisation in my constituency, the Burton Addiction Centre. I regularly go there to talk to people in various stages of recovery. There is often a trigger in somebody’s life that can tip them into alcohol or drug abuse, domestic violence or any of a whole host of things that make their life spiral down. Putting those people back together again and dealing with the consequences of crime and antisocial behaviour brings about a cost to society that the Government are aware of and are working to address.

  • The Government have made some important progress with the national bereavement care pathway. The lack of support given to parents at the point of loss often means that they turn to legal or illegal medication that may not be good for them. The 11 pilots being rolled out will mean that every parent, whatever loss they suffer, will get some kind of bereavement support. I hope that that support, going hand in hand with the Bill, will make a real difference to parents’ lives and minimise the risk of that path being followed.

  • There have been and there continue to be many occasions in this House when I listen to a debate and think, “Crikey! There are so many people who know so much more about this thing than I do.” The biggest example of that is the experience of some hon. Members in this Committee room today. I am in awe of and humbled by it. My hon. Friend has been a beacon in trying to change the Government’s approach to this issue. She speaks so powerfully, and with such emotion and passion, and it is understandable why she does so. She has been hugely successful in making the Government sit up and notice these things, and do something about them.

    There has not been a lack of desire to tackle these issues on the part of the Government. It is just that within Government, in the daily work, pressures and all the other things come across Ministers’ desks, sometimes these things can get forgotten. What my hon. Friend has been brilliant in doing is making sure that we do not forget; she has been a voice for people affected in this way. She is absolutely right that the Government have done many things that we should be proud of and that will make a massive contribution, and I thank her for the role that she has played.

    Fundamentally, new clause 2 deals with those people who are in irregular work—those people who are either on zero-hour contracts or in some way working in what is often called the gig economy. The Government have to be aware of the changes in the way that people are working.

    I am sure, Mr Gray, that you are an avid user of Uber.

  • I would lose that illusion, if I were you. Black cabs for me, thanks.

  • And you are always ordering your takeaway on the app on your mobile phone.

  • Again, I think you should be cautious about what you predict.

  • But it is absolutely right that the way in which people work and are employed, and the way in which consumers engage with services and contractors, has changed dramatically because of technology and the way that our lives are developing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said, the Government have instigated the Taylor review. Matthew Taylor was commissioned to undertake an in-depth, detailed review last year of modern working practices. The question around the balance of rights and benefits between the employed and the self-employed has become much more relevant as we move away from conventional employment relationships, and there is a greater prevalence of new business models and employment practices.

    I met Matthew Taylor just last night to talk about his review and his aspirations. It became clear from that discussion that his review is a stepping stone, and that these kinds of employment practices will continue to change and develop.

  • Many of us, me included, are broadly sympathetic to the points that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran is making. The concern on the Government side—certainly it is my concern—is about overcomplicating the Bill, thereby putting it in jeopardy. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the Taylor review, which is particularly interesting. Could he give me comfort by confirming that this Bill, if it remained unamended in this regard, would fall under the scope of the Taylor review and its recommendations?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope that I can give him the comfort he seeks. The Taylor review made a number of recommendations, including some relating specifically to the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts, as has been said. It might be helpful for the Committee if I clarified the position on the employment status of people who are engaged on zero-hours contracts.

    There is a perception that individuals who have flexible work contracts—or who work on zero-hours contracts, as they are termed—automatically have fewer employment rights. That is not the case and an individual’s employment status is established by the reality of their working relationship. An employer cannot and must not remove statutory rights for an individual simply by getting them to sign up to a contract with flexible hours of work. That means that individuals who are on zero-hours contracts, part-time contracts or any other type of flexible arrangement can still be eligible for the same statutory employment rights as any full-time employee doing the same work. An individual on a zero-hours contract might already qualify for parental bereavement leave under the terms of the Bill. It is important to ensure that that point is not lost in these important discussions.

    The Government’s response to the Taylor review is long awaited. We hope we can publish that review very shortly. I cannot at this stage give a definitive time, but I think the term “imminent” is—

  • Yes. There is a great expectation that in the very near future, the response to the review will come from the Government, and I think it will address such issues. The review included comments about the approach to tax, parental leave and pay entitlements for self-employed people. I suggest that this is not the time to include the new clause in the Bill. I think it is presumptive for us to talk unilaterally about this issue when in a short period of time, wider employment rights—

  • I just want to be clear that I understand the Minister correctly. Is he assuring us that when the Taylor review reports, and the Government reflect on it, any concerns raised in new clause 2 will be addressed by the Government?

  • I can reassure the hon. Lady that the Government’s response to the Taylor review will, I am sure, specifically address the points made by Matthew Taylor in relation to flexible working, zero-hours contracts and parental benefits. I think I can give her some comfort that those are exactly the kind of things that Matthew Taylor is passionately promoting and that the Government are keen to respond to in the near future.

    It would be easy for us to get caught up in the wider discussion about employment rights and what will happen in response to the Taylor review. It is worth remembering the drivers behind the Bill, and the previous Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. I understand his nervousness about over-complicating what is in effect a framework Bill.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, whose Bill this is, makes the clear point that the Bill has to be properly costed. All Members of the Committee will understand. We have among us an eminent colleague with ministerial experience at the Treasury who is looking at me. I understand what is going through his mind. He wants to ensure that there are rigorous numbers attached to this. Accepting the new clause would make the process much more complex and should be avoided.

    The Bill and its predecessor have come about because, at a time of tragedy, time away from the workplace was either not allowed or extremely limited. That is the issue we are trying to address, and I do not want to lose sight of that as we debate these important issues.

  • I just want to be absolutely sure about the Taylor review. The Minister mentioned that matters such as self-employment will be discussed. Would the Bill, if enacted, retrospectively cover those people? Would it be stated in detail that the Bill would be covered by the Taylor review? The same goes for precarious work. I just want a guarantee.

  • I can absolutely reassure the hon. Lady that the response to the Taylor review will consider the issue of flexible working, those on zero-hours contracts and their access to benefits. It will be covered; I can reassure the hon. Lady of that.

    With those reassurances, I hope we can agree that it will be best to consider issues of rights and entitlements for the self-employed and those working on zero-hours contracts in the round, rather than in isolation as we would be doing with the new clause. Since those issues are being actively considered elsewhere, the Bill is not the right place to address them. On that basis and with those reassurances, I hope the hon. Lady will withdraw her new clause.

  • In the light of the Minister’s assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    Schedule

    Parental bereavement leave and pay

  • I beg to move amendment 16, in schedule, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

    “Such relationship with the child may include—

    (a) the mother as identified on the child’s birth certificate,

    (b) the father as identified on the child’s birth certificate,

    (c) the step-parent of the child, by virtue of marriage or civil partnership with the mother or father at the time of birth, and

    (d) the adoptive parent of the child.”

    This amendment would give specific examples in the definition of a ‘bereaved parent’ for the purposes of taking parental bereavement leave.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 21, in schedule, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

    “Such relationship with the child may include—

    (a) a person with parental responsibility, as defined by section 3 (Meaning of “parental responsibility”) of the Children Act 1989, for the child, and

    (b) a person who is the child’s foster parent.”

    This amendment would give examples in the definition of a ‘bereaved parent’ for the purposes of taking parental bereavement leave. This would include foster parents.

    Amendment 22, in schedule, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

    “(2A) For the purpose of this section “foster parent” means—

    (a) a local authority foster parent within the meaning of the Children Act 1989,

    (b) a person with whom a child has been placed by a voluntary organisation under section 59(1)(a) of that Act, or

    (c) a private foster parent within the meaning of section 53 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.”

    This amendment is consequential to Amendment 21 and provides a definition of foster parent.

    Amendment 17, in schedule, page 5, line 26, at end insert—

    “Such relationship with the child may include—

    (a) the mother as identified on the child’s birth certificate,

    (b) the father as identified on the child’s birth certificate,

    (c) the step-parent of the child, by virtue of marriage or civil partnership with the mother or father at the time of birth, and

    (d) the adoptive parent of the child.”

    This amendment would give specific examples in the definition of a ‘bereaved parent’ for the purposes of taking parental bereavement leave.

    Amendment 23, in schedule, page 5, line 26, at end insert—

    “Such relationship with the child may include—

    (a) a person with parental responsibility, as defined by section 3 (Meaning of “parental responsibility”) of the Children Act 1989, for the child, and

    (b) a person who is the child’s foster parent.”

    This amendment would give examples in the definition of a ‘bereaved parent’ for the purposes of taking parental bereavement leave. This would include foster parents.

    Amendment 24, in schedule, page 5, line 26, at end insert—

    “(3A) For the purpose of this section “foster parent” means—

    (a) a local authority foster parent within the meaning of the Children Act 1989,

    (b) a person with whom a child has been placed by a voluntary organisation under section 59(1)(a) of that Act, or

    (c) a private foster parent within the meaning of section 53 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.”

    This amendment is consequential to Amendment 23 and provides a definition of foster parent.

  • Given that this is the first opportunity I have had to speak, I pray your indulgence, Mr Gray, as, like other Members, I thank people for the enormous work that has gone into the Bill. I thank the Government for their support. I also thank the Treasury in the form of a former Minister who is sitting here. Some of my happiest moments during my time as an MP have been when I see “money resolution” attached to a Bill and think, “This is really going to happen.”

    The Bill is very exciting for those of us who started the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss in the middle of the night in the Tea Room during our first months in this place, along with the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who is not here. It was lovely to be joined later on in our journey by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. We were glad to have her on board. The Bill is an exhibition of what we have been trying to achieve. In some cases, that has gone on for many years outside this place. It is exciting to be here and to have got this far.

    The amendments are simple. They merely seek to identify a parent. One might have thought that was obvious, Mr Gray. I do not need to explain it further. I had a brief conversation with the hon. Members for Swansea East and for Gower earlier. It is nice to see Swansea so well represented on this Committee. My grandmother, like Mrs Griffiths, is an avid follower of parliamentary proceedings. She and the Gower will be very proud that we are all here. She feels very strongly about this issue, too.

    The hon. Ladies from Swansea make a powerful point that foster parents should possibly be included in the definition of a parent. I am happy to leave that to the Government. This is a framework Bill, and I am happy for the definitions in it to mirror those in other such Bills. I say that as the very proud Member for Banbury, who has Adoption UK in her constituency. I am particularly live to the issues faced by adoptive and foster parents, and it is important that we include those who should be properly included in the Bill. I, too, am sorry that we did not have the discussion far enough in advance to ensure that we had one amendment on the amendment paper. With that in mind, I ask that you consider the amendments together, Mr Gray.

  • The answer to the hon. Lady is that amendment 16 is being considered alongside amendments 21, 22, 17, 23 and 24. They are all grouped together, which is practical.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. First, may I say how passionate I am, as a bereaved parent and a campaigner to get as much support as possible for bereaved parents at the darkest and most painful time of their parental lives, to see the Bill come to successful fruition?

    The amendments would extend the definition of a bereaved parent to include foster parents for the purposes of taking parental leave. The latest figures from March 2016 show that there were 51,805 children and young people in foster placements, and that evidences the vast number of families that the amendments would account for. While local authorities may on paper be the legal parent of children in the care system, it is the foster parent or carer who delivers the parenting in their homes as a family. Although many foster placements are short-term interventions, a huge number of children are placed with families for much longer periods of time. Currently 47% of all independent fostering agencies households and 38% of local authority households are offering either long-term or permanent placements.

    Irrespective of whether children are being fostered in the short term or the long term, foster parents and carers form very strong bonds, often in the most difficult circumstances. The strength of that bond is highlighted by the growing numbers of young people choosing to stay with their foster families after their placement has ended.

    We are now seeing more and more foster carers reporting that they are having to take on paid employment to subsidise their allowances, if indeed they have any allowances to start with. They are just as much working parents as anyone else and therefore deserve the same recognition.

    To finish, I will use the words of Marie, a foster carer from Leeds and former member of GMB, the union for foster carers:

    “Foster carers feel too, we are not super humans and go through the same grieving process as everyone else. To provide our young people with the emotional support they deserve from us, we need to be afforded the time as every other worker is to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.”

  • This is a place of debate and discussion, but there are no words that could possibly describe or give comfort when people talk of their personal experiences of losing a child. We have all heard stories in the Chamber and are humbled by them. It is important that we hear the personal experiences and tragedies to make sure that we consider the points around the legislation and to connect us to the wider world of other people who have suffered terrible experiences.

    Defining a parent is without a doubt one of the toughest jobs we have here. In the world we live in, there are lots of different people who would consider themselves parents and lots of children who might define that in different ways than we might. Through the engagement we have had through Facebook and with charities on the issue, stories about all kinds of different elements that need to be properly considered have been relayed.

    On Facebook, Mandy Ruston told us about her partner, not a biological parent, who, after they lost their child in a hit-and-run accident, was told by his employer to return to work in the early days after that tragedy. That is a situation that I am sure we would want to cover. Nicky Clifford talks about the child’s grandparents, who felt they suffered a double loss when Mrs Clifford’s son died. Together for Short Lives, along with Holly Simon, who contacted us on Facebook, believe that leave should be extended to legal guardians, working grandparents, aunts and uncles. The Rainbow Trust, which does such fine work providing support for families where children are diagnosed with life-threatening or terminal illnesses, felt we should extend the leave and pay to legal guardians such as foster carers, a point covered by the amendment. Unison, which represents 1.3 million trade union members, proposes the definition of a parent be set as wide as possible, including legal guardians and those with formal parenting responsibility.

    I do not think we have time in this Committee to look at such matters in their totality. There is much debate and, although it is useful to consider the issues and it is very good to hear different perspectives from Committee members, I return to the point about the fragility of the Bill and the time we have to consider it in Committee and the Chamber. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury stated, this is a framework Bill that allows the powers to be debated and discussed properly and to go through consultation to ensure we get this right.

  • There are all sorts of amendments before us today and lots of us would like the Bill to go further than it does. There are many reasons why that is not practical or necessarily the right thing to do at the moment. Will my hon. Friend confirm that this is the beginning of the process? As we have seen with many other pieces of legislation, they get amended over time to increase the scope, bring more people in and provide further rights, but it has to start with a statute.

  • My hon. Friend makes a good point. We all want to see this legislation on the statute books. To borrow a phrase I heard the Minister use, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. We need to get this legislation through, so I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

    This is not only an enabling framework piece of legislation, but a signal to employers. It gives the minimum possible standard that employers should give to their employees. I am an employer outside this place—as well as inside it, as we all are. I am sure if one our team members suffered a tragedy such as this—whether they were a grandparent, a brother, an uncle, or, obviously, a parent—we would all be considerate and give time off. I imagine we would give time off at full pay, rather than statutory pay. That is what we expect.

    Today we are setting the signal and framework, not just in the legislation but for employers to recognise the terrible tragedies and the impact on their workforce. I do not want to agree to amendments at this stage because of issues around timing and proper consideration. We could end up in ping-pong with the other place, with redrafting and other ideas about the definition of a parent, which would take time.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury made some very good points about examples of parents—biological parents, step-parents by virtue of marriage or civil partnership, the mother or father at the time of birth, and adoptive parents. It is absolutely right to consider all of those. The concern would be about who we are missing, as that is probably not an exhaustive list. We need to consider this properly.

    I have often heard the hon. Member for Swansea East speak with passion about these issues. I accept many of her arguments, such as including a person with parental responsibility or a foster parent. It is absolutely right that we should consider those. I have those same concerns but I am also concerned to ensure that the legislation gets through in good shape and good time, and that we have a parallel process for consultation on the definition of a parent in order to get it absolutely right.

    I would be in favour of widening that as much as possible but we clearly need to have consideration for employers as well, to ensure that we get this right. I know that the Minister has officials from his Department looking at consultation on the definition of a qualifying parent. It is important to consider the outcome of that consultation. I am sure the Minister and his Department’s officials will do that. We will make sure that we properly consider these issues.

    I encourage all Members to continue to input into the process to ensure that we get this right, without making a firm decision at this point. I hope my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Swansea East agree it is sensible not to press the amendments. To ensure we get this right, we will give it proper further consideration to ensure we have a proper, systemic approach to define accurately a parent in this regard.

  • The anxiety with which hon. Members want the Bill to go through is almost palpable. There is twitching, nudging and a few sweat beads in case any of us might wreck it. Of course I understand that and would not want to be the person who—two weeks into a job—ruins the Bill. However, it is imperative that we question the Government and the Bill’s promoter, because all the time, we are saying, “That can come later; that can be considered later,” but that is not an assurance or a warm signal to people who are in precarious work, are foster carers or are not directly mentioned in the Bill. The Bill is to be celebrated, but it leaves lots of people out. I come back to the point that was very helpfully—

  • The hon. Lady says that the Bill leaves lots of people out. It does not leave people out at all. The question is whom we put in. That is what we need to get right—not whom we leave out, but whom we put in, to ensure that they are covered.

  • I understand that, but at the moment, for the purposes of this Bill, the argument is not for foster carers, self-employed people or people on zero-hours contracts. I understand the concerns, because it would be hard to convince the Treasury that what we propose could be financed at this time, but I would just like to ask, quite humbly, how hon. Members should proceed. If my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East wanted to push this issue on Report, would she be pushing at an open door? Would we be able to include all those people? It has taken two years to get to this point. This place can be quite frustrating. It would allay the fears and worries of people who might be bereaved in the future to know that they might be included in some provision. I would just like some assurances in that respect. Sometimes I am not that confident about guarantees, and I am very anxious to include as many people as possible and to hear that foster carers would be considered on Report.

  • My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury moved the amendment in her own inimitable style—the style that we would expect. She is, I think, a force of nature. Whatever she is doing in this place, whether she is campaigning on this issue or harrying us all to support Singing for Syrians, we either get with the programme or get out of the way, it appears to me. I am delighted that she has committed herself so totally to delivering this provision for bereaved parents. I understand exactly her intentions in tabling the amendment.

    The hon. Member for Swansea East spoke about her amendment with great dignity and perfect intentions. We talk about bravery, and we see many different types of bravery—in our military, in our public servants, in the police and so on—but it takes great bravery to suffer a personal tragedy, something that is so private and raw as it was with the hon. Lady and her son, Martin, and to lay all that pain bare for everyone to see. That takes real bravery, but because we all understand that, it makes it so much more valuable; it has so much more force behind it. I have the utmost respect for what the hon. Lady has done, and continues to do, for people in such miserable and desperate positions and I congratulate her on it.

    The hon. Member for North West Durham gets, I think, the level of sensitivity in this room today. There was laughter when she said what she did, but it was nervous laughter, because everyone wants to make sure that nothing goes wrong. Unintended consequences are something that a Government have to deal with all the time—if only we could plan for all unintended consequences. With the known unknowns, or the unknown unknowns, lots can go wrong. We need to ensure that nothing goes wrong with the Bill.

    Bereaved parents, at an already heartbreaking time, should not be put in the difficult position of needing time away to grieve while being required to be at work because their employers will not agree to their taking leave. On Second Reading and at the evidence sessions, we heard about all the brilliant employers that offer fantastic, compassionate support for their employees at the worst of times. That is to be commended, but some employers do not do that—there are some that put profit ahead of people. It is those that we wish to address.

    Supporting the Bill was therefore a natural decision to make. More needs to be done on such an important topic, and the Bill provides a minimum standard—this is not the benchmark or the gold standard, but the minimum standard, which will protect employees who do not have the security of the reasonable and compassionate employer we have discussed.

    Defining exactly who is eligible as a “parent” is not as easy as I first thought. When I heard that I was dealing with this Bill, I thought that defining a parent would be the easiest thing—a parent is a parent; we all know what a parent is—but then I read the responses and about the different perspectives and points of view, from people who have the right intentions, the best of intentions. The hon. Lady asked why people should be left out, and I understand why she talked about that, but I honestly assure her that we want not to leave people out but to ensure that we do not leave anyone behind. We want to get this right first time.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton stated on Second Reading:

    “As a society, we have clearly moved on from mum, dad and 2.4 children.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 1161.]

    Family units are now hugely varied, and extending this provision to the biological parents alone would be too simplistic. People’s lives are different and more complicated. Society has changed and we all need to get with that and to support those new family units as they develop.

  • Approximately 25% of all parents in the country are single parents, but the fact remains that they may have, or have had, a partner while still married to someone else, because they have not sorted out their divorce. Legally, the husband would automatically be assumed to be the parent, without actually being so. That is the kind of complication that the Minister is alluding to, and why there is a need for much greater investigation. We now live in a society of hugely extended families in which it is not uncommon for someone with one or two children to have a partner with another one or two children.

  • My hon. Friend is right. Facebook used to be a thing for young people—kids used to do Facebook—but now old people like me use it. Someone’s Facebook status may say “Married”, “Single” or even “It’s complicated”, and life is complicated. People’s personal arrangements are much more complicated than they have ever been before. If I tried to define some of my mates, my friends, and the complicated personal lives they lead, that would be a heck of a consultation. We have to be aware that there are a number of potential groups to extend this provision to beyond the biological parents. That is the point—more time and work is needed to identify which of those are the right groups to include.

    Officials from my Department recently met their counterparts from the Department for Education, which has responsibility for adoption policy, for example. During that meeting, they discussed the different situations in which a person can have some form of parental responsibility for a child, and which of those groups of people should be considered parents for the purpose of this policy. It was clear from that meeting that there is a bewildering range of arrangements in which a person can be seen to be acting, to some extent, as a parent to a child. Thankfully, the majority of those arrangements, such as adoption, are legally recognised, and so considering such groups when thinking about eligible parents is straightforward.

    However, there are arrangements in which a person is not legally responsible for the child but still has a connection with them and would benefit from time away from work if the unthinkable happened and the child died. It is important that such arrangements are properly considered when we define a bereaved parent. That is why officials from my Department are in the process of preparing a consultation—the hon. Member for Swansea East will be interested in this—to discuss how we will approach that definition. It will form part of a wider consultation on the other parts of the Bill covered by secondary legislation.

    Amendments 16 and 17 require examples of groups that should be included within the definition of bereaved parents to be specified. Furthermore, amendments 21 and 22 propose specific examples that should be included, yet the examples proposed in those amendments are different from those proposed in amendments 16 and 17. That contradiction illustrates how complex defining a bereaved parent for the purpose of this Bill is. Although I understand why some of those amendments were tabled, I do not think it is right to specify types of parent at this point. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton set out a sensible and cogent argument for taking time to consider the definition of parenting through a consultation.

    Amendments 22 and 24 follow from amendments 21 and 22, and provide a similar definition of a foster parent. I said that officials from my Department recently had discussions with the Department for Education about that subject. One type of parent they discussed was foster parents. Amendments 22 and 24 include private foster parents within the wider definition of foster parents. Concerns were raised in that meeting about private foster parents and about the fact that such arrangements are often not made known to local authorities. They are private arrangements, and it is therefore difficult to identify those foster parents. It is even possible that people acting as private foster parents do not realise that that is what they are. They are just looking after somebody, and they do not realise that they are defined as a foster parent.

    As I said, we need to identify qualifying parents in a straightforward way, based on clear facts, and we must provide clarity and certainty to them and to employers. Further thought is required to correctly define bereaved parents. We should make a decision only once we have given this matter the right consideration, based on evidence and representations. I do not want to rush the decision and risk making a mistake. As I think everybody recognises, there are clear time pressures in relation to the passage of this private Member’s Bill, which makes it impossible to produce the right answer at the moment. We must not allow the Bill to be derailed.

    With that in mind, I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and the hon. Member for Swansea East agree that now is not the right time to try to define a bereaved parent, and that it is sensible not to press their amendments. I give them both a guarantee that the consultation will take place during the passage of this Bill, so they will have plenty of opportunity to take part in it and see what it contains. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, and that she will withdraw the amendment.

  • In the interests of the Bill, I will not press my amendment to a vote.

  • I will withdraw my amendment, but I ask the Minister to consider carefully the complicated lives that people now lead, and to consult the relevant agencies, such as Adoption UK and fostering organisations, about the proper wording that should be included in the Bill.

  • I am very happy to make that commitment.

  • I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Kevin Hollinrake.)

  • Adjourned till Wednesday 7 February at Two o’clock.