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Terms and Conditions of Employment

Volume 672: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2020

I beg to move,

That the draft Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (General) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 23 January, be approved.

The statutory instruments implement a new entitlement to paid leave for employees who lose a child under the age of 18, or whose baby is stillborn. There is currently no specific statutory right to take time off work to grieve following the loss of a child, and although there are many excellent and supportive employers, some sadly do not extend the same compassion to their employees when these tragic circumstances occur. The SIs will ensure a statutory minimum provision on which all working parents can rely in the event of a child death or stillbirth. They will also establish a clear baseline of support for employers when managing bereavement in the workplace. Fortunately, the number of child deaths is relatively small—every year, there are around 7,500 child deaths in Great Britain, including stillbirths—but behind each individual death of a baby or child, there are parents, and a wider family, for whom the sadness and pain of that loss are unquantifiable.

It is right that the provisions address the death of a child who has been placed for adoption, meaning that the adult who intended to adopt that child will be covered by them. Why have adults in such a situation been excluded if an objection to the adoption has been raised? Surely the grief will be no less whether or not the adoption is unopposed, yet the regulations specifically exclude an adult from receiving the provision if there had been an objection to the proposed adoption.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. A lot of consideration went into how to define bereaved parents, and we have extended the provisions, after a discussion following the introduction of the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). Hopefully I will be able to develop that point as we continue our debate, and perhaps answer my right hon. Friend’s question.

I am conscious that many Members have personal experience of the issue, or stories of constituents who have been through this. I admire the bravery and honesty that they have displayed when speaking about the issue in the Chamber, and I hope that they will be proud of their contribution to effecting this change in the law. I extend special thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton for promoting the original Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill, and to my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) for his work to raise the profile of the issue in Parliament.

The draft Parental Bereavement Leave Regulations 2020 will give all employees a right to a minimum of two weeks off work in the event of their child’s death or stillbirth, regardless of how long they have worked for their employer. The draft Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (General) Regulations 2020 implement a new statutory payment for parents who are taking time away from work following their bereavement, subject to the same eligibility criteria as all other statutory family leave payments.

The impact assessment that was published alongside the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 set out that the impact on business is small, at approximately £1.2 million per year. That is unchanged by the content of the draft SIs. The policy has undergone thorough consultation with the public, and stakeholders representing bereaved parents and employers. The views expressed by Members during the passage of the 2018 Act have also been taken into account. I will now set out how the Government have decided to exercise the powers given to them through that Act.

Before the Minister continues, may I withdraw the awkward question that I put to him earlier, as I find that it is adequately answered in part 3 of the relevant regulations?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his diligent examination of the papers before him. I am glad he is informed.

The regulations define a “bereaved parent” in broad terms by reference to the employee’s relationship to the child. That reflects the diversity of existing family structures, taking account of biological and adoptive parents, as well as certain foster carers and kinship carers. As far as possible, we have sought to base the definition on facts that are easily identifiable to the employee and their employer.

Bereaved parents will be able to take two weeks’ leave from their job, and they will have the choice of whether to take those weeks consecutively or non-consecutively. The regulations provide a window of 56 weeks, beginning with the date of death, in which the entitlement can be exercised. Bereaved parents will therefore be able to take time off in the immediate aftermath of the death, at a later point—for example around the first anniversary of the death—or on both occasions, as they see fit.

Consistent with other rights to family-related leave, the employee will be required to give notice to their employer before taking parental bereavement leave, and such notice can be given orally. The notice required for leave will vary depending on when leave is taken in relation to the date of death or stillbirth. A very short notice period is required for leave taken soon after the death, whereas one week’s notice is required for leave taken later in the 56-week window. In both cases, the notice required for leave is designed to be minimal and to place as little burden on the employee as possible.

To claim statutory parental bereavement pay, the employee must provide notice to their employer in writing. Notice for pay can be given after the leave has been taken, meaning that that requirement will not create a barrier to a bereaved parent taking time off. In no circumstances will an employee be required to produce their child’s death or stillbirth certificate in order to access that entitlement. The regulations mean that no evidence is required for a parent to exercise their right to take leave, but to be eligible for pay, an employee will be required to provide minimal evidence. Such evidence will be a written self-declaration that they meet eligibility conditions regarding their relationship with the child, together with confirmation of their name, and the date of the child’s death or stillbirth.

Throughout my remarks I have referred to employees, and that is because parental bereavement leave and pay are employment rights, meaning that individuals who have a different employment status will not qualify. That is consistent with all other statutory parental leave and pay entitlements.

The provisions in the statutory instruments will provide bereaved parents with an important space to grieve following the death or stillbirth of their child. The change in the law will also send a signal to employers about the importance and value of recognising bereavement, and of providing adequate support for parents in such circumstances. I commend the regulations to the House.

We are here today to debate the establishment of statutory parental bereavement leave and pay arrangements following Royal Assent to the Bill known as Jack’s law, in memory of Jack Herd. I pay tribute to his mother, Lucy, who will today see her work reach its concluding stages.

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House welcome the introduction of these measures, and I thank those from all parties who have advanced the need to establish bereavement leave and pay. Over the past few years, Members have recalled their own personal grief at the loss of a child or a stillbirth. The pain, the heartache and the impact are personal, but those who have had to face such sadness need a state that provides universal support to parents. In particular, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who has powerfully shared her own circumstances following the loss of her son and has forced Parliament to take a fresh look at bereavement, and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), my North Yorkshire colleague, who took the private Member’s Bill through the House.

I know that trade unions and businesses also welcome these measures. The Opposition believe that this is a first step, and one that we hope to build on as better understanding of grief and bereavement is acknowledged. While the provisions make adjustments for a period of two weeks, for those who have experienced loss, bereavement can last a lifetime. We need employers to look at what more can be done to support workers at difficult times.

I want to raise a number of issues regarding the regulations. The statutory instrument on pay applies only to employees. Clearly the measure is welcome, but it means that not all workers, as the Minister said, can access the provisions. Regulation 11 of the draft Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (General) Regulations 2020 defines who would be entitled and who would be excluded, but will the Minister set out how he plans to address this inequality? Labour is clear: we would want to create a single status of “worker” to which all provisions would apply.

How will the Government ensure that bereaved parents in precarious work, including those on zero-hours contracts, can access two weeks’ statutory bereavement leave? While the provision for a statutory period of leave applies to all employees, the regulations that come into effect on 6 April 2020 make provision for statutory pay to apply only to those who have completed six months of service. However, bereavement and loss do not respect timelines. If someone loses their baby or child in their first six months of employment, the provisions should be extended to them. The loss is as great, and the need for leave and support as necessary.

The fact that the ability to take leave will, for some, be without pay means that those with the fewest means might not be able to afford to take it. Will the Minister set out why there is a limitation for those who have worked for less than six months and will he review it? While the regulations make provision for leave and pay for parents who lose a baby through stillbirth or who lose a child up to the age of 18, what provision has been made for parents who experience baby loss earlier in pregnancy? Further work should be done in this area.

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind comments earlier. She will acknowledge that, as the Minister said, this is a signal to employers. It is not simply a case of, “This is what you have to give.” She will agree that most employers are considerate in such circumstances and will go much further than the regulations require. This is the floor that we will work from, rather than the ceiling.

I thank the hon. Member for his comments. He is absolutely right that this should be the beginning of a much broader conversation with all employers, whatever the circumstances in which they employ their staff.

It is believed that 10,200 parents each year will be eligible for statutory parental bereavement leave, with 9,300 eligible for statutory parental bereavement pay, meaning that about 1,000 parents a year will not be entitled to the pay provision. Will the Minister look again to see if day one provision could be extended specifically in that area?

I further seek to clarify that under the provisions of regulation 8 of the draft Parental Bereavement Leave Regulations 2020, two weeks’ statutory parental bereavement leave could commence following a completed period of maternity or paternity leave, provided that the two weeks’ allowance is used within 56 weeks of the loss of a baby or child. Labour believes that ensuring that all workers have day one rights would recognise that loss is loss and bereavement is bereavement. Arbitrary timescales should not come into this. While we would extend day one rights to all areas of employment law, it is important that the position is revisited for bereavement pay.

I also trust that employers will recognise the strength of these arguments and seek to go further when implementing these provisions. Good employment focuses on taking care of the holistic needs of the workforce, most acutely at the time of greatest need. We need to provide more time, time spread over a longer period, full pay, and support at key times, for instance on anniversary days. I trust that employers will be compassionate in making the fullest offer to staff, should they experience the loss of a baby or child.

Of course, bereavement brings its own patterns of grief, and time is necessary to come to terms with such loss. I hope that the Government will revisit this shortly, perhaps in the forthcoming employment Bill. The loss of a parent can often involve people having to take many additional practical measures to manage the parent’s estate or belongings, such as clearing a property. Bereavement leave could therefore be extended.

Research shows that not all parents are aware of their rights. For instance, 58% of those in low-paid work are not aware of what they are entitled to, and 63% are not aware of the right to unpaid parental leave, according to the TUC. Some have been found to use sick leave to address a family caring responsibility. That highlights the fact that from 6 April, not all parents will be aware of the changed provisions. Will the Government put in place a systematic approach so that parents can learn about these new measures? While we would hope that employers will inform their staff, may I suggest that NHS and hospice staff, as well as registrars for deaths, are briefed on the new provisions?

From 6 April this year, bereaved parents will have some time and support to manage the difficult days and weeks following the loss of their baby or child. This is a first step, and the Opposition will support the regulations today.

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. While I very much appreciate what Government and Opposition Members have said, the credit and inspiration for the legislation certainly does not belong to me. They belong to many other people, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who tried to introduce such a measure in a previous Parliament. I was simply lucky enough to come top of the ballot for private Members’ Bills, after which he was one of the first people to ring me. I was aware of his campaign as a result of many debates in Parliament and I had heard many Members speak about their own personal tragedies, so it was an absolute pleasure to be able to take on the baton and do what I could to introduce the legislation. At the election, both political parties committed to implement it, and the Government and Opposition have both been hugely supportive in doing so quickly.

Some of my constituents drew my attention to their own tragedies. Annika and James Dowson very sadly lost their little daughter, Gypsy, who was stillborn. It is touching that many people who have experienced these tragedies have turned their energies to fighting for something that is positive and good. Annika and James raised money for a bereavement ward at Scarborough Hospital. Anyone who has been on a ward and thinks of the experience of someone who has lost a child yet sees children in their first days, with all the happiness around that, while they are facing tragedy, can understand the need for bereavement suites. Luke and Ruthie Heron lost their little child, Eli, who was born at 23 weeks and six days. Had he not lived for another two and a half days, his birth would have been categorised as a miscarriage, rather than a stillbirth. We all come across these terrible tragedies.

I pay tribute to Lucy Herd and her little son, Jack, who was nearly two when he passed away—a tragic occurrence—and it is right that we can refer to this legislation as Jack’s law. Initially, because of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, we were going to refer to “Will’s Bill”, but Jack’s law is a far more fitting tribute to the campaign that has been run. Many other people have supported this, and I am so appreciative of Opposition and Government Members’ support in getting the Bill through. It went through in record time—we had to squeeze it in before the end of a parliamentary Session.

When people are told about such legislation, they are hugely shocked that it was not on the statute book already. However, nine out of 10 employers would be hugely considerate in such circumstances and a great number of them would give people whatever time off they needed to grieve, quite rightly. In many cases, employers would offer full pay during that time so that people could hopefully get over some of the grief and move on. This is not just about the individual; it is also about the signal that employers can send to the rest of their workforce, because showing compassion at such times is simply good employment practice.

I thank Members on both sides of the House, Opposition and Government Front Benchers, and successive Business Secretaries, who have been so supportive in taking the legislation forward. I also mention the former Member for Stourbridge, Margot James, who was hugely supportive in making sure that we got the Bill on to the statute book quickly. I am grateful for the opportunity to be associated with this legislation and I wish it a speedy passage through the House.

It is no surprise that these parental bereavement pay and leave measures are warmly welcomed across the House and across the United Kingdom. Several of us in the House have had the tragic and life-changing experience of having to bury our own child. We talked much about this during the Committee stage of the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 in the previous Session of Parliament. We all understood not only the importance of the measures but that they were not for us—they were for all those men and women who in the future will have to undergo this agony. We in public life who have gone through this terrible experience have a duty—I believe it is a sacred and moral duty—to improve the situation for those who, in time to come, will suffer the same terrible fate of losing a child. I also pay tribute to the former Member for Eddisbury, Antoinette Sandbach; although she is no longer a Member of this House, she did much work on parental bereavement and baby loss, and it is important to remember that.

The legislation is non-partisan and that is exactly as it should be. It is no secret that, while I wholeheartedly support these measures, as far as they go—I hear what the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) said about this being an opening salvo in perhaps more comprehensive protection for bereaved parents—I do not think that they go far enough. But they are a start. The measures started life as that most fragile thing—a private Member’s Bill—and it is down in no small part to the hard work led by the hon. Member who sponsored the original Bill that they have come this far.

These measures right a wrong; they correct the injustice that bereaved parents who bury their son or daughter are, under the law, not entitled to any paid or unpaid time off work. That means that any leave taken in such circumstances was entirely at the discretion of employers. We know that most employers would be hugely sympathetic to a member of staff facing such a loss, not just as an employer but as a fellow human being. We also know that others may not be and we heard anecdotal evidence of such cases, particularly in the Bill Committee.

I was delighted that the amendment I tabled in the Bill Committee to cover parents who suffered a stillbirth was accepted—a clear sign of the careful and considered cross-party working that took the Bill as far as it got. To face the death of a son or daughter with no entitlement to paid leave under the law has been for too long a terrible, terrible injustice that generations of people before us have suffered. I am proud that that has now been addressed.

These measures set out a minimum leave period of two weeks. That is not very long, but given that up to this point there was no entitlement at all, it is a start. Importantly, it provides legal recognition that the response to a life-changing event can and should no longer be a matter of discretion for employers. This is one of those days when we can feel that we are making a real, practical difference to the lives of our constituents as they face perhaps the worst experience that they can ever face.

People cope with the devastation of losing their child in a variety of ways, as we know—there is no right or wrong way to grieve or cope with loss. That is why I had hoped, through the passage of the legislation, for more flexibility on when the paid leave could be taken, but I take on board and very much welcome the Minister’s comments a wee while back about flexibility, because it is very important. Parents need to grieve in their own way and in their own time as far as possible. The circumstances of the loss of a child will matter, and bereaved parents must have the full protection of the law. I hope that at some point the Government will revisit this to develop it into a more sensitive package than it currently is.

I also wanted these measures to cover offspring beyond the age limit of 18 years, as set out in the provisions. The measures are, after all, about bereaved parents and not the child who has been lost. This really ought not to be about the circumstances or the age at which the child is lost; it is about protecting the parents following the loss of a son or daughter—something that goes against the natural order of events.

These provisions are extremely welcome, but I look forward to the day—I hope the Minister is listening—when their scope is expanded in the ways I have set out. I will continue to work towards that end with anybody who is willing to work with me, for the sake of my own son who was stillborn at full term, baby Kenneth.

I thank all hon. Members for their consideration of these SIs and for their valuable contributions to the debate. I hope that Members on both sides of the House can agree that they are essential to ensure that no employed parent faces the prospect of returning to work too soon after the tragic loss of a child, should they need time away to grieve.

We are giving parents an important choice through the SIs, allowing them to decide what is best for their needs. They might otherwise have been reliant on the good will of their employer—as we have heard, it has not always been the case that employers have shown that goodwill. The provisions in the SIs strike the right balance between the needs of bereaved parents and those of their employers, who will administer the new entitlement.

My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), who is no longer in his seat, withdrew his question, but it is important that people listening understand what we are doing for adoptive parents. He asked why someone who had applied for an adoption order but had their application rejected would not qualify. The grief experienced by an individual in such circumstances would affect them greatly, and an adoptive parent would qualify from the point at which the child was placed with them for adoption, irrespective of whether the application was rejected, if the child had been living with them for four weeks or more and had been cared for by them during that time. The four weeks is important because it covers other definitions as well so as to be as inclusive as possible.

The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) asked about inequalities between different types of worker. The Government understand the challenges that the self-employed and other non-employees face following bereavement. These challenges are different from those faced by employed parents but clearly no less demanding. The parental leave and pay policy focuses on support for employed parents, as they have less autonomy and flexibility over the time they can take off work, but we continue to keep the differences in treatment between self-employed and employed people under review with respect to parental leave and pay. As she also mentioned, with the employment Bill coming up, we will soon be talking about wider issues relating to the different statuses of employment and working.

The hon. Lady asked about day one provisions for pay. The regulations seek to mirror the existing regime of parental statutory pay entitlements to ensure that the new entitlement is familiar to both employees and employers from day one. The provision is a statutory minimum, as we have heard; we would expect employers to go further whenever they can.

Does the Minister agree that the bereavement measures relate to circumstances very different from those relating to other measures and that the regulations do not reflect the true nature of grief and the support people need, particularly if they have been employed for less than six months? Will he go back and review this please?

We will keep all these matters under review and see how they are working. The hon. Member is right to say that bereavement is an incredibly difficult issue. We want to ensure a safety net, a bare minimum—employers should not see this as the benchmark; it is the bare minimum they should offer. Any reasonable employer should seek always to do what is best and to value their employees as human beings at every level in terms of pay and benefits.

The hon. Lady asked about extending these provisions in the upcoming employment Bill to cover the loss of a parent. As I say, the Government have been clear that this is a statutory minimum, but we hope it will trigger improvements in workplace support for all kinds of bereavement. I would encourage all employers to engage with the ACAS guidance that supports employers in these circumstances.

The hon. Lady asked about a systematic approach to ensuring parents are informed of their new rights, including by briefing NHS staff. I agree that it is important that any benefits are clearly signposted. The last thing parents will be thinking about at such a time will be their rights and responsibilities, so the easier it is to do the right thing the better. We have worked closely with stakeholders to make them aware of the new entitlement, including Sands, the charity, which already works closely with hospitals to provide support to parents following a stillbirth or neonatal death, and we will publish guidance on the new entitlement once the legislation is passed.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for bringing her personal experience to bear and for seeking changes. I congratulate her on getting her amendment through to extend the provisions to include stillbirth. I hope she can take comfort from knowing that her experience has brought about real change to the lives of grieving parents and to our ability to address these matters further in years to come. She asked about extending the provisions to children over the age of 18. Clearly, bereavement is the same no matter the age—losing a child at any age is devastating—and the question of where to draw the line for the purposes of the parental bereavement leave and pay policy has been a difficult consideration. We have consulted with stakeholders representing bereaved parents and employers, and they recognised that the measure needed to be deliverable and affordable. It was accepted that 18 was the most natural threshold for the new entitlement. Moreover, grief affects all family members, not just parents, and so with ACAS and Cruse we will continue to explore the best way to encourage employers to act sympathetically to requests for leave in relation to any bereavement.

The Government are committed to supporting working parents, and to making this country the best place in the world in which to work and grow a business. These statutory instruments will ensure that bereaved parents have a minimum statutory provision on which to rely if they ever have to go through the unimaginable tragedy of losing a child or baby, and I hope that the House will approve them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (General) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 23 January, be approved.

Resolved,

That the draft Parental Bereavement Leave Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 23 January, be approved.—(Paul Scully.)