Proceedings resumed (Order, this day).
Considered in Committee (Order, this day).
[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]
I should explain that although the Chair of the Committee would normally sit in the Clerk’s chair during Committee, in these exceptional circumstances, in order to comply with social distancing requirements, I will remain in the Speaker’s Chair. However, I will be carrying out the role not of Deputy Speaker, but of Chairman of the Committee. We should be addressed as Chairs of the Committee, rather than Deputy Speakers.
Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 15, in page 1, line 5, leave out “a person as”.
Amendment 16, in page 1, line 14, leave out “person” and insert “minister”.
Amendment 18, in page 1, line 14, leave out “person” and insert “woman”.
Amendment 17, in page 1, line 16, leave out “person” and insert “minister”
Amendment 19, in page 1, line 16, leave out “person” and insert “woman”.
Amendment 4, in page 2, line 1, leave out “6” and insert “12”.
The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.
Clause 1 stand part.
Amendment 5, in clause 2, page 2, line 7, leave out “6” and insert “12”.
The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.
Amendment 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 10, leave out “6” and insert “12”.
The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity absence from 6 to 12 months.
Amendment 7, in clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out “6” and insert “12”.
Amendment 1, in clause 2, page 2, line 20, at end insert—
‘(4A) Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Paymaster General must lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft of regulations to make provision for continuity of any paid maternity leave in the event of a Minister on Leave ceasing to hold the designated ministerial office whilst on maternity leave.”
This amendment would require the Paymaster General to act to ensure a commitment to continuity of provision of maternity pay which a Minister on Leave would be entitled to in the event of ceasing to hold the designated ministerial office whilst on maternity leave, or in the event of being moved to a position which results in monies being recouped.
Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out “6-month period” and insert “12-month period”.
Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out “6 months” and insert “12 months”.
Clause 2 stand part.
Clause 3 stand part.
Amendment 10, in clause 4, page 3, line 20, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
The intention of this amendment is to make paid maternity absence mandatory for qualifying Opposition office-holders in the House of Commons.
Amendment 11, in clause 4, page 3, line 22, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
The intention of this amendment is to make paid maternity absence mandatory for qualifying Opposition office-holders in the House of Lords
Amendment 12, in clause 4, page 3, line 24, leave out
“may be made only at a time”
and insert “must be made”.
The intention of this amendment is to make paid maternity absence mandatory for qualifying Opposition office-holders.
Amendment 13, in clause 4, page 3, line 32, leave out “6” and insert “12”.
The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity cover from 6 to 12 months.
Amendment 14, in clause 4, page 3, line 38, leave out “6” and insert “12”.
The intention of this amendment is to extend the period of paid maternity cover from 6 to 12 months.
Clause 4 stand part.
Amendment 2, in clause 5, page 4, line 6, at end insert—
‘(2A) Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Paymaster General must lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft of regulations to make provision for continuity of any paid maternity allowance in the event of an Opposition office-holder ceasing to hold an opposition office whilst on maternity leave.”
This amendment would require the Paymaster General to act to ensure a commitment to continuity of provision of maternity cover which an Opposition office-holder would be entitled to in the event of ceasing to hold an opposition office whilst on maternity leave, or in the event of being moved to a position which results in monies being recouped.
Clause 5 stand part.
Clause 6 stand part.
Clause 7 stand part.
New clause 1—Equalities impact assessment—
‘(1) Within three months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Prime Minister must complete and lay before Parliament an equality impact assessment of the provisions of this Act.
(2) The equality impact assessment must include consideration of the implications of this Act for participation in public life.
(3) Within three months of the date on which the equality impact assessment is laid before Parliament, the Prime Minister must make an oral statement to the House of Commons on the action which the Government intends to take as a consequence of the assessment.
I am pleased to move the amendments that stand in my name, and also to confirm my support for new clause 1 in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and others.
In the time available to us—which, as I think has been acknowledged many times from those in all parts of the House, does not allow for full consideration of the Bill’s defects and omissions—it is important that the Committee sets out clearly what it believes the direction of travel should be on this issue. The general principle of the House addressing issues of maternity leave is important, although the devil will clearly be in the promised detail, and we will all be watching for the progress that has been discussed by so many Members.
As it stands, this halfway house of a Bill provides for maternity leave in specific circumstances, but as the Minister herself noted, only with the by-your-leave of the Prime Minister, and only for a maximum of six months. That is not really what we should be endorsing as a long-term solution to the present inadequate situation. Indeed, it should not even be a medium-term solution. That is why the SNP tabled these amendments, and why we are happy to support new clause 1 in addition.
It is inconceivable that if an equalities impact assessment had been done, the Bill would have seen the light of day in its current form. I look forward to such an assessment being completed before we return to this issue. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow said, we have barely scratched the surface of the issues that we need to address if policy is to deal with the proper engagement of those in public life with family life.
Amendment 2 was tabled because the approach adopted in the Bill is wrong. It is unhelpful to those of us who want to address the significant structural issues that exist. I know that there are many on the Government Benches who would like us to revise our approach, who see the international standards on human rights as inconvenient and who perhaps hanker after days when this House and the Government it supported decided who deserved which treatment or benefit and who did not. But we have moved beyond that, as is recognised in the European convention on human rights statement at the head of the Bill. As a matter of principle, we recognise that women should not be discriminated against in the workplace, including on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity.
The Bill, as drafted, envisages that the Prime Minister would—in theory—be entitled to withhold maternity leave from a woman even when she was within 12 weeks of the expected week of birth or within four weeks of having given birth. As a matter of principle, that is wrong. No appeal to how reasonable Prime Ministers would deal with this is satisfactory enough for us to accept such a defect in the Bill. The right to maternity leave is important because it shows the value that society places on our right to family life. That is more fundamental than the role we play in the workplace, no matter how important or exalted our role may be.
There is a macho view that seems to value the idea that we should all work right up until the days of giving birth, particularly if we are in high-powered jobs, and the understanding is that we should return just as quickly. That is to misunderstand the importance for most families—for parents and children—of that vital transitional period from pregnancy through to early parenthood. As one Member said earlier, it also misunderstands the colossal impact of pregnancy and parenthood on life more broadly. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) said about the importance of supporting new parents in the early years, and this House has a role to play in setting an example.
While there may be mothers and families for whom a speedy period of maternity leave works, and they are entitled to choose that route if they wish, it is absolutely not our job here to put into place or to perpetuate policies that make that seem the norm. That can only be detrimental to families across the country. We really need to look forward. We need to accept that things are simply not good enough here for Ministers, MPs or, as we have heard, members of staff.
More broadly—this cannot be emphasised enough—we cannot leave this debate thinking that maternity leave is all working well away from this place. I mentioned earlier the terrifying statistic that over 60% of women who took part in the Pregnant Then Screwed survey last year believe that their redundancy is because of their maternity leave. That is a shocking statistic, and it should cause us to reflect seriously on the situation affecting these women.
The poor state of statutory pay must not be left behind in this discussion either. We cannot just deal with one person, however sensible it is to put this provision in place, and leave everyone else hanging on by their fingertips because of the impossible financial provisions that they have to deal with. The effect of that kind of financial pressure and the lack of support can be seen in how many women do not take up their full entitlement to maternity leave. In its recent report, “The impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave”, the Petitions Committee noted:
“It appears then that current entitlements are only generous to those who can afford to use them.”
We should reflect on that point. Covid and the precarious nature of so many employment relationships at present bring into sharp focus the need for proper provisions for maternity leave, parental leave and the support that families need at this particularly difficult time, which will also be so vital as we move forward out of the pandemic.
The Petitions Committee also highlighted research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions in 2008, which suggested that less than a quarter—23%—of mothers taking maternity leave took the full 52 weeks. Only 45% took 40 weeks or more, and I suspect it is unlikely that the situation has improved significantly since then.
The reason for tabling amendment 3 is that an organisation of the scale of the UK Government should not add to that pressure by adopting a standard that says to women, “Your maternity leave is a benefit that may or may not be conferred by your boss,” who in this case is the Prime Minister. Through legislation, we should aim to reflect the standard that we expect Government to meet, which is that women are entitled to their maternity leave and organisations need to put in place proper mechanisms for supporting that.
On the wider front, this House needs to act on the continued abuse of pregnancy as an opportunity to disadvantage in the workplace, whether financially or even by removing people from their posts. That issue also affects those taking parental leave and those with family and caring responsibilities, particularly for young children, which Members on all sides have called on the Minister to look at.
That brings me to the second issue raised in the amendments tabled by the SNP, which is the duration of leave. A simple click on the gov.uk website would have told the drafters of the Bill that statutory maternity leave in the UK is 52 weeks, split into two chunks of 26 weeks. It is not clear to me why the starting point for the arrangements for designating a Minister on leave was taken to be six months instead of 12 months, and it does not speak well of what we are saying to the outside world.
Perhaps the only way to solve that mystery is to notice that there might be a pattern to the Government’s behaviour. In order to win support, they talk about the new freedoms that the UK apparently now enjoys, casting them as an opportunity to set our own standards, free from outside interference, and to set them standards higher. However, when a choice needs to be made as to whether to go for higher or lower standards, the instinct of the UK Government is to go low—to reduce standards, or to fail to act as they should.
That has been clearly shown by the dither and delay following the Government’s defeat in the High Court on the subject of personal protective equipment and health and safety protection for limb (b) workers. That growing part of our workforce, who find themselves with significantly fewer rights than their directly employed colleagues, now find that the Government are failing to act. Many of these precarious workers may find it even more challenging to deal with issues of maternity.
Those of us who are committed to maintaining high standards, whether in the field of employment, the environment or consumer rights, need to be on our guard here, or slowly but surely, hard-won protections we have enjoyed for many years will be reduced or swept away in pursuit of the so-called flexibility that we are now being told is what the UK needs as it pursues life beyond Brexit.
The amendments are about setting a marker. We can see, working from the most vulnerable members of our workforce right up to the Cabinet table, that change can be seen as an opportunity to roll back the clock and reduce and reset established rights. The Scottish National party does not consent to that process.
I will comment briefly on the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow. Her amendment 2 seems to offer appropriate clarification of an aspect of support for Opposition Members. It addresses the issue of someone being disadvantaged as a result of change in circumstance while on maternity leave, which strikes me as an important principle. While on maternity leave, we should not be concerned about the impact of changes at work, so I am happy to support that amendment. I ask the Minister to look at embedding the principle of no detriment in future action in this area.
There is no doubt that an equalities impact assessment is a vital way of dealing with some of the issues with the Bill. The recent Petitions Committee report that we have spoken about highlights some of the issues that need to be addressed when introducing reforms in this area. Recognising that the eyes of the country will be on the changes, we need to avoid creating a two-tier system. We cannot have a good system for Ministers and holders of other high-powered posts and a second-rate system for everyone else.
An equality impact assessment might have thrown up the need to address some of the wider issues in order to avoid that two-tier perception. It would also have highlighted that parental leave more broadly is vital to shattering the glass ceiling, and that too many barriers are still in place relating to caring responsibilities. When this Bill comes back, as the Minister has promised it will, it needs to address those issues.
If we had the equality impact assessment, we might also have noted that wider action is needed to increase the uptake of maternity leave to closer to the one-year statutory limit, because so many parents cannot afford to take the leave to which they are entitled. To address that gap between entitlement and uptake in the wider workforce, it is clear that maternity pay needs to increase, with the SNP proposing 100% of average weekly earnings for the first 12 weeks, then 90% or £150 for 40 weeks, whichever is lower.
The impact assessment would have surely also addressed the need to reform shared parental leave to increase uptake by fathers, only a very small proportion of whom currently take up their entitlement. It would have also highlighted that perhaps the best way to increase the uptake of those rights is by increasing the statutory weeks allowed and increasing the weekly rate of paternity pay.
Overall, the Bill has served two functions thus far. First, it has brought provision for maternity arrangements for Ministers and others up to date and to where it needs to be in some ways, but it seems to be widely appreciated that that can be only a stopgap measure because of the restrictions that still exist. I am pleased that the Minister seems to be committing to bringing back something further before the summer; I would like to hear that commitment loudly and clearly. Secondly, we must acknowledge that the Bill has shone a light on how many issues need to be addressed broadly in this subject area in this House and across the workforce in all our communities. That is perhaps the most useful thing that it has done.
I shall not detain the Committee unduly, given that I made many of my points on Second Reading. However, I would like to highlight how the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) illustrated beautifully how all our maternity rights legislation refers to “women” or “she” and reflects the female sex, which again makes the Bill something of a vagary.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for her references to my amendments and for engaging constructively to try to work through to a solution, notwithstanding the constraints of the legislation with which she is working. My amendments would replace the word “person”, which is causing so much anxiety to women outside this place, with a word that reflects the position in employment law—in this case, “minister”. That would be consistent with the rest of the Bill, because for the Opposition positions the Bill refers to office holders. I am really grateful to my right hon. Friend for seeing whether that might be a solution. It is not ideal—I would much prefer to see “woman” placed in the Bill—but needs must, and we must pass the legislation so that we can send the Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), Godspeed on her way to enjoy her pregnancy and her childbirth.
I am not minded to press the amendment if it is not a suitable way to deal with this issue. It was tabled in a constructive spirit, to try to take the heat out of something causing distress to women. However, we must ensure that this is not repeated in future legislation regarding maternity rights. If there were an opportunity to vote on replacing the word “person” with “woman”, I would be in full support of it.
I rise to speak to a number of amendments. Before I do so, I will acknowledge some Members across the House who have done such amazing work in raising issues of equality when it comes to pregnancy and maternity in this place. I believe there is a high degree of cross-party consensus that we need to act.
I also put on the record my support for the many men who have spoken today about the importance of fathers. Let me be clear: there will be no equality for pregnant women and new mums until fathers are able to step up and equally do their bit. It is not a zero-sum game; it is about parents being able to support each other, and the importance to women’s equality of not being left literally holding the baby.
Let me put on the record my thanks for the work of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman); my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who was a trailblazer in her time and continues to fight for women’s rights; my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper); and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark), who spoke bravely and set out her own fears for what would happen. That is one of the tests we must face in this place.
I take the point that the Paymaster General is making when she says that this is not a perk, but I think it is quite difficult to make that argument when faced with another Member of the House who is in exactly the same position as the Attorney General but will be unable to access the maternity leave that we have all agreed it is important that new mums should be able to access.
I want to put on the record my support for the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). If Members have not read her books, trying to correct the record of the absence of our understanding of what women parliamentarians have done, they really should.
I also want to mention the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). I said in my earlier contribution that one of the things I thought was missing from the debate was a recognition of the legislation that she has proposed to try to help women facing redundancy in pregnancy, and to make real the promise, which I think we all expect for our constituents, that we will not make someone who is pregnant redundant. As we know, even before the pandemic, 50,000 women a year were facing that situation. I think about the narrow scope of this Bill and contrast it with what her Bill could do for thousands of women in this country. If she is able to bring it forward, she will have my support.
I also want to thank the current Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who is doing an amazing job. She spoke today about the importance of equalities impact assessments. New clause 1 is about exactly why that matters. Obviously, we usually expect those assessments to be done for any form of Government legislation, because we recognise that we cannot be blind to the consequences of legislation for different sections of our society.
We have an Equality Act in this country and we protect certain characteristics for a reason, because we know that not everyone in our society faces a level playing field. Pregnancy is a protected characteristic for just that reason—to enable us to say, “Actually, in our society in 2021, women who are pregnant in our communities face discrimination.” We recognise that if we address the challenges that they face and remove those barriers, we shall all benefit. This legislation seeks to do that, and I recognise that. That is why I will support it, and why I think it is the right thing to do.
However, as the Paymaster General herself said, this legislation does that for a maximum of 115 women. In a society of 70 million people, that cannot be enough. That cannot be the message that we send from Parliament. That is why it is important that we have an equalities impact assessment of this legislation, and that we recognise that it does not take place in a vacuum, but in an unequal society where women who are pregnant face discrimination. We see that in our public life. We have already talked about this place briefly, and I do want to return to that, because I think it is important.
I acknowledge that the Paymaster General has recognised the timetable that I am setting her. I want to put that on the record, because I think that should be part of an equalities impact assessment where I believe the discrimination is against those of us who are pregnant, and there are human rights elements of this. But we cannot be blind, either, to the message that this legislation, in the way it is crafted, will send to our sisters in local government and regional Assemblies, or indeed to our sisters who are employees of this House.
I thank the hon. Lady for what she is saying, because I wholeheartedly agree. An example of that is a young girl who works for me. She is my PPS but also a councillor. She was able to get maternity leave because she works for me in this place, but not for her role as a councillor. I want to quote quickly from her. She cried, for she felt pressurised to return to the council after a couple of weeks, not by any person in her group but because she knew that no one else could take over from her, vote for her or speak for her. Today we have an opportunity to get this right for Ministers and for MPs, but I believe we must do the same for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and every council. This is about equality, and we need that for everyone.
I always knew that the hon. Gentleman and I would eventually find common cause, even if we have disagreed on other human rights issues. He is right; we have a leadership role to play. Indeed, I would argue that this is leading legislation, because we know that in other Administrations there are not formal maternity provisions. That is why it is so frustrating that we are missing this opportunity to go further and help our colleagues.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate her on her happy news. I have had the interesting experience of having three children: as a councillor, where I took six months’ leave; as a member of the London Assembly, where I was the first then to take six months’ leave; and as a Minister and a Member of this House, where I took six months’ leave. It can be done, but there is an important element to consider.
Proxy voting, for example, which has an important role to play, can be seen to tether a woman to her job during her six months’ maternity leave and make sure that she has to follow every twist and turn of her job. We need to be careful in this debate that, while, of course, this Bill is a good move and while there are still many other measures that need to be put in place, we reflect and recognise that maternity leave is there for a reason. It is there so that we can bond with and nurture our child and come back to work at the point that we are ready to do so, with our child and our situation in a good place. It is important to make sure that, with some of the mechanisms that could be proposed, we are not unnecessarily tethering a woman to her job.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The challenge that she is speaking to is the same as the one that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke to with regard to his member of staff. The Bill is not just about pay, but actual cover. As I said earlier, it is the commitment that the current Attorney General will not get an immediate phone call saying, “We know you are on leave, but we need you because of X.” Somebody else will be formally overseeing that role.
It is not by accident that when I was pregnant, I thought about what I wanted to do for my community. It was not about money, but about being conscious that if I had been awake for two or three hours at a time, I probably would not be as useful to my constituents as someone who could focus fully on the job. As I discovered with my first child, those pockets of sleep for two-and-a-half to three hours—the point at which I saw coffee as a medicinal substance to keep going—were in the first few weeks and months after childbirth.
It is absolutely right that we work to protect the family life of any woman giving birth, so that she has that time to bond with her child and to properly take time out, but we cannot do that in this job if there is nobody fulfilling the role that we are doing. It is the same for a local councillor and the same in our Assemblies. That is the challenge that we are facing here, and why it is so important that we assess the impact of this legislation.
I am listening intently to the hon. Lady’s speech. She is making some excellent points. Does she agree that today, what she is asking for is even more crucial? Given social media and emails, Members of Parliament are arguably never off.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. At this point I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), who found herself being abused because she was on maternity leave. She was also abused by members of my own party. I remonstrated with them, pointing out that that was not the progressive approach to take.
My concern about the hon. Member for Stroud, and why the legislation is a missed opportunity, is that she sought to get cover. She was an MP who, like me, tried to get a locum. I had a fantastic locum. In fact, my locum, Kizzy Gardiner, was too good. People in Walthamstow were desperate to keep her, because she was an absolutely fantastic example of why maternity cover matters. Nobody in my constituency batted an eyelid about having someone else not just doing casework, but out there representing our community, working with groups, going into local schools before lockdown happened, and then when the lockdown happened, leading on that role. Watching the hon. Lady being abused and attacked, and watching her also trying to cope with those first few weeks of having a new baby alone, fired my enthusiasm on this. We cannot sit around in this place, watching as other people get those issues right, but failing to take action ourselves.
It is not by accident that the number of times pregnant women end up in this place, or in local government or in the Assemblies, are few and far between. That is one issue that an equalities impact assessment can take a look at. We all talk about wanting to get more diverse people into our politics. Sometimes the barriers to that are blindingly obvious. I know from talking to colleagues in local government just how frustrated they are. I know from talking to colleagues in other devolved Administrations just how frustrated they are.
When we pass legislation in this House, such as this Bill, we cannot be blind to the message that we are sending about how we have determined who is important enough to have that leave. If we think that is not something that should be bestowed as a discretionary pleasure, or as a benefit like a company car, then we also have to recognise the consequences of behaving like that, not just here but in other places as well. If we want to ensure that there is no trade-off between family life and public life for either men or women, we must look at the message we are sending. The honest truth is that this legislation, as it stands, sends a message that a two-tier system is acceptable.
Consider for a moment what would happen were we to look at local government and say, “Well, it’s okay for just cabinet members in local government to have maternity leave”. We would be horrified for young female councillors, or indeed for young men who want to be good fathers and spend time with their children, and want to be supportive partners, yet that is exactly what we are doing here. Frankly, in no other workplace would this be acceptable. If someone came to us in our constituency offices and said, “This is the experience in my workplace”, we would say, “Well, that’s clearly breaching various regulations. We must support you. We must get you trade union representation.” I am very proud of the trade unions, which I know have made representations on this issue already.
An equalities impact assessment would allow us to look at what the consequences of only acting for 115 women are, and what that means for the broader conversation about public life in this country, because we know the pace of change is agonisingly slow. We celebrate a third of women in this place—a third. In my time—I have been here for 10 years; I am heading towards grandee status—at that rate, we will never get parity, and we will certainly never get women to come in at younger age if we do not tackle these issues.
We also cannot be blind—an impact assessment would allow us to look at these issues—about what message we are sending to workplaces across this country. There is a tsunami of mum unemployment taking place in this country because of the pandemic. The reason we protect certain characteristics and the reason we say that pregnancy, separate from sex or gender, is something that we protect is that we know that, if employers—bad employers—are given the opportunity, the first ones out of the door are the employees they think are more complicated. What an economic fallacy. We know that countries that make sure that it is easy to have combined family life and work life are more prosperous. They are more resilient and they are better able to cope with the modern world. So a failure to recognise the message we are sending to employers has ramifications far beyond this place.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry said that maternity and pregnancy discrimination was one of the
“most urgent, immediate threats to equality”
of the pandemic, yet in this place, if this is the only piece of legislation we have discussed in the last year that even touches on maternity, what message are we sending to those thousands of women who are facing these issues right now? They are in every one of our constituencies. Every one of them would say, “Hang on a minute. I just want what you have” to a Minister and “I just want to be able to take paid maternity leave and be confident I can still go back to a job at the end of it.” That should be a simple ask, but this legislation would allow an employer to say, “Hang on a minute. Actually, are you senior enough in your position for us really to provide that?”
We know there is a piece of work to do with employers: 40% of employers say they would avoid hiring a woman of childbearing age—that is not an ancient statistic; that is a recent one—and 40% of employers claim they have seen at least one pregnant woman “take advantage” of their pregnancy. What environment are we asking women to go into when we are saying that that is unacceptable for Ministers, and I completely agree, and why are we not saying that for every woman in this country? Why are we not saying that the use of non-disclosure agreements, something the right hon. Member for Basingstoke has so powerfully revealed, to hide pregnancy discrimination is unacceptable? Yet this legislation does not touch on any of those issues, but it sends messages about what is acceptable. That is why we need to have an equalities impact assessment.
I pay tribute to Joeli Brearley and Pregnant Then Screwed because, as a small operation, they have had a mighty impact on our understanding of just how much women who are pregnant and new mothers are suffering during this pandemic. The work they have done to uncover the inequalities and the impact of legislation, or lack of impact, has been absolutely staggering. Frankly, it is a source of shame to me that our Government are being taken to court by them because of our failure as a legislature to introduce a system on self-employment support that recognises the very simple principle that, during the three years that they calculate that self-employment support, some women might have taken maternity leave so their income will have varied.
The failure to be able to deal with that and the fact that it has ended up in court, where we all know the Government will be banged to rights on it—we will end up paying court costs for it, and 80,000 women are affected: self-employed people who are terrified about what income they might have in the current pandemic at the best of times—speaks to the challenges that we have and speaks to the absence of any alternative legislation from this Government, as opposed to this piece of legislation. [Interruption.] I can see the Paymaster General nodding. I hope that she will go back to the Treasury and pointedly highlight just how embarrassing it is that we cannot even recognise that maternity leave should be part of a calculation, and ensure that we do not discriminate against women accordingly.
The UK has some of the poorest maternity and paternity leave policies in Europe. UNICEF says that we are one of the least family-friendly countries in Europe. To all those in this House who wax lyrical—this might come up today—about the importance of family and the importance of motherhood, I say what I have said before: it is deeds, not words, that matter. They cannot sit here and tell me that they are obsessed with the word “motherhood”, and then fail to act to support us being better at providing paid maternity and paternity leave. Our economic competitors beat us time and again. We treat fathers as an afterthought—something that this legislation takes no account of. An equality impact assessment would allow us to explore these issues.
The hon. Lady knows that she has the support of the Scottish National party for her amendments. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) wanted to make sure that her support in particular was recorded.
Until the pandemic, the only times that I acted as a proxy were actually for new fathers in our group; we have not had a new mother, at least in the time that I have been here. I have heard the case made on many occasions that the best stride that could be made for gender equality would be equality of parental leave. If that parental leave could be shared between both parents of a child, it would be an incredible way of helping to break through the glass ceiling—if the entitlement was there for everyone. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that this Bill and the clauses that we are debating just now do not make that distinction.
I completely agree with my colleague from north of the border. People’s ability to take shared parental leave is so important. Again, parental leave is not covered in this Bill, but an equality impact assessment could look at the consequences of failing to include it. That matters because the Bill talks about ensuring the income of a Minister, and, to put it bluntly, the biggest barrier to people taking up parental leave is that it is only open to those who can really afford to do so.
The gender pay gap is at the heart of some of these challenges. That is because for most women and their families, it is actually better for them to take time off with the baby than for their partner to do so. That means that they take the hit on their career and on their incomes, and we do not get the fathers’ involvement in children that we all want to support. Why are we sending the message that we are not even talking about ministerial paternal paid leave and therefore ensuring that fathers can be part of it? The Paymaster General said that it is already covered in existing provisions. That is because it is only two weeks. In the first two weeks post birth, parents are lucky if they see daylight and are able to go outside—or, indeed, to wear clean clothes, if I remember correctly—so having more time with their child is crucial.
I want to look particularly at what this legislation means for Parliament. The Paymaster General has pointed out that she gets this and she understands that we have to go much further, and I believe her. She talked about a timetable. Let me be clear why that timetable matters. I said earlier that I have a direct discrimination case, and I think that an equality impact assessment could look at this issue. She will have seen that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has come out today and said, “Yes, we’re going to consult”, and it is having a meeting again today. That is all very welcome. I recognise that the new chair of IPSA takes a very different approach from the previous administration. I have worked on these issues for the last two years and I wrote to IPSA before the last election, begging it to come out and say that it was at least looking at these concerns so that nobody of childbearing age would be deterred from standing in the election, but it refused to do so, so it is welcome that there is movement.
But, as ever, the pace of change is glacially slow—for me, literally, because yet again I find myself in a position where I cannot be confident of what I can say to my community to answer the question posed by the member of staff of the hon. Member for Strangford: “What cover will there be?” I cannot even look my own staff in the eye because of the lack of cover that we offer staff in this place. If nothing else, that makes us terrible employees.
This legislation gives the lie that this is an independent matter. I have been told for the last two years that MPs’ employment status meant that it was impossible. Indeed, it says on the IPSA website:
“MPs as independent office holders are not employees and are therefore not eligible for statutory maternity, paternity or adoption leave.”
My hon. Friend will know that a Minister is on the payroll of their Department, so in that sense they are more of an employee. There is a really interesting issue here that we will need to consider carefully, and it is that MPs are not employees. We have a payroll, but we are not employees; we are obviously answerable to our constituents. That is one of the fundamental differences. For my part, when I was on maternity leave, I had a clear plan and support. Like my hon. Friend, I asked for some cover—some extra money for my staff—but it was not possible. There are certain things that an MP does that cannot be replicated by anybody else, as we know. This has obviously been well rehearsed. This is a complex area, and she is making some interesting points.
I just want to make it clear that I was not unhappy about the system that I put in place for myself. It was very clearly worked out: I had colleagues who were able to step up if my staff needed any extra support, and they had the right to be signatories. However, this was during the expenses scandal, and because my name was above the door, there were some things that it would have been very difficult to pass on to somebody else. So despite the great support I had, it was difficult, and I would have liked to be able to pay some of those staff a little bit more for the extra responsibility they were taking. That was the bit that I had the most issue with at the time.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing her experience. I think that speaks to the challenge of this legislation, in terms of the impact it will have in this place by setting up a two-tier system. For a member of the Cabinet or a Minister, it will now be clear what will happen and what their rights are. They can be confident and relaxed. I return to the honesty of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North in talking about how scared and worried she was and about the lack of clarity in the lack of parity on these issues, so that she felt she would be put at risk of people saying she was not pulling her weight or would not be able to support her constituents, or that she would be dragged back into work. We have a duty of responsibility and care to her, because she is in the same position as me, but a bit further on.
I want to be clear that this legislation recognises the Minister’s absolute right to a family life. That is an article 8 human right, and we need to protect that. We need to act to ensure that no one is discriminated against in that regard. The lawyers I have consulted tell me that it is arguable that this legislation breaches the human rights of those of us who are not covered by it but who are in the same position in seeking to do a job in this place, because article 14 says that we should not be discriminated against in terms of the rights that are accrued in the workplace. So for me, there is an arguable case here.
I do not want to be in the position of taking the Government to court. Frankly, I want to be in the position, especially now in the early stages of pregnancy, of being able to sit down and sleep for hours on end, and in later pregnancy probably just to sit down in general, but I know that it is vital for my constituents to have clarity about who will be covering the role that I do. The previous locum I had was fantastic, but we had to write the job description. We had to sort it out. In comparison to what the Attorney General and any other Minister will have, that is not parity. It is a form of direct discrimination because it affects the ability to have family life. I have been very clear with the Minister—
I wonder if my hon. Friend could clarify that last point, because I think we all approach our jobs slightly differently. Certainly, it was not at all an issue for me when I was laying out everything I did that would need cover. The description was really what I did already, so it was not a very difficult challenge. I would be very reluctant to have IPSA or somebody else write the job description for somebody who was providing support, whether it was my existing staff or anyone else. I would be interested if she could clarify that point.
I do not want to test the patience of the Chair of the Committee by going into what the different schemes might be.
The point we are making here is about parity, and the lack of parity as a result of bringing in this system. If we have clarity on the cover for the Attorney General and clarity about the amount of money that will be paid, it would be right to look at whether we should offer the same thing for Back-Bench MPs, and indeed set the standard for local government and the regional Assemblies, perhaps offering to work with them in terms of our experience.
My simple point is that this legislation blows a hole in the argument that has been given for the past two years that we could not look at these issues because it was all too complicated. As the Paymaster General set out earlier, the complications around ministerial employment have been overcome in a day because of the guillotine of having a clear deadline set by one Member of Parliament. One of the challenges that has created for some of the drafting is that this maternity right is following not the person who might be pregnant but the position that they hold.
My argument is that there is direct discrimination in this place because this says to my constituents that they are not as important. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch was able to get cover, and I know that Kizzy, my locum, was invaluable for my community in ensuring that they got 100% of the service 100% of the time. I believe the residents of Walthamstow are owed that. That is why I will continue to fight for this, but I also recognise that it is for every MP to make that decision for themselves. The point is that we are now making sure that that decision can be made, but only by a select few. That has an equalities impact, and we should know that and recognise its impact on public life.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I hope she will forgive my ignorance in some of my questions to her, but my understanding is that Members of Parliament are able to take maternity leave and their salary is paid for by the state, and that continues to be the case. My understanding is also that IPSA will provide contingency funding to support the offices of Members of Parliament, to allow them to have that leave and make provision for them to do so. Am I incorrect in my assumption?
The honest truth is that we do not know, because the only other MP who sought to take advantage of that system was discouraged and deterred, and was not able to do so. What I would say is that right now, it is not clear to me as a pregnant woman what support I would get. There is a conversation about pre-approved support; right now, I am one of the most expensive MPs in London because of the contingency application for maternity cover. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is not appropriate to see maternity cover as an expense that might be reported to the public in that way. There is not parity, in the way that there is parity and clarity about what the scheme is for—
I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me, but I am afraid I do not concur with what she has said. I think we are in one of the most fortunate situations in the entire nation. This Parliament has the ability to call on the taxpayer to support those who need to take maternity leave, to take care of their children and to physically recover from pregnancy, so if the hon. Lady will forgive me, I think she is wrong. We as a Parliament, as a state and as a nation are in the fortunate position that we do support our MPs, and we must be careful to not put out there that we do not, when there are many people who are struggling. I agree with the hon. Lady’s earlier point that across the nation, there are employers who do not necessarily fulfil their obligations, but I think we have to be careful about giving the impression to the nation that we in this place are hard done by, because I am afraid I do not agree.
Order. Just before the hon. Lady responds, I think it is quite important to note that this Bill is about Ministers, and we must not stray too far into the position of Members of Parliament as well.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. If he will forgive me, as somebody who has actually been through this process and actually understands what is available and what is not clear at present, I would gently encourage him to talk to his colleague the hon. Member for Stroud about her experiences.
It is really important that we are honest about the lack of clarity. As I have said, there is not a formal maternity leave scheme or formal maternity cover. Unless the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that if an MP disappears for six months, nobody would notice because they do not do anything, then there is work to be covered. The point about this legislation is that it recognises that. It is not about the pay—that is a red herring in this environment. It is about having somebody to cover the work we do outside of this room: the campaigns we run, the constituency events we attend, and the casework we do. For me, it was not acceptable to ask my staff to fill in everything that I did for six months, and expect my constituents to have a reduced service as a result, rather than to have somebody cover those roles.
I am very conscious of time and I do want to press on, but I would gently encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at what is actually being provided at the moment. It is not the same as what we are providing in this legislation, and that is my point: we want parity, because every woman should have six months’ paid cover so that they can actually take time off. Perhaps he might want to speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), who was back doing casework three days after a caesarean section because, although people thought she could take maternity leave, the reality was that she could not. I know that it is not a situation in which the hon. Gentleman has found himself, but I hope that he can understand, through listening to those of us who have, why we need change. Certainly, I hope that he will join me in supporting paid parental leave for our male colleagues because that is really important. I have talked to many colleagues who find that this place takes them away from their families when we want to bring them together.
I want to highlight the other amendments that I have tabled. I recognise the cross-party support for new clause 1—I think the Paymaster General does, too—and the call for change and for us not to be blind about the messages we send from this place about the importance of paid maternity cover and ensuring that everybody can access it.
Amendments 1 and 2 are probing amendments to recognise some of the questions the Bill raises about the practical technicalities and what would happen. The Bill seems to take account of the idea that somebody might be demoted while they are on maternity leave and I am sure that the Paymaster General will want to clarify that. Although the Bill provides that no Minister would be in a financially difficult position if they were removed from their ministerial post while they were on maternity leave, it does not make the same provision for the small number of Opposition office holders. Will the Paymaster General clarify what would happen in that case? We all want to ensure that when any woman takes maternity leave, she can do so with confidence and certainty about her financial and logistical position.
There are still battles to be won, but I want every pregnant woman in this country who is facing problems right now to know that there are voices in this place that are prepared to stand up to those who tell them not to worry and to be grateful for the fact that somebody might employ them at all; not to worry about going home and being stuck with their children, and that equality does not matter to our economy. I know that there are voices and champions for the importance of not discriminating against pregnant women and new mums across the House, but it is time that we saw ourselves as we are now, and we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope if we do not understand the impact of the Bill on the messages that we send.
I know that the Paymaster General realises that we need to do the research. She is honest about how small the number of women affected by the Bill is. If she will not accept the amendment, I am keen to hear from her—because I do not want to have to take the Government to court—a clear timetable for action, a clear commitment by the Government to make parliamentary time so that we can resolve the issues in this place and support women of child-bearing age and their partners in local government and across the Assemblies as appropriate, for public life if nothing else. Deeds not words.
In George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, protagonist Syme explains the objective of Newspeak:
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
Although there are those who do not understand or will not recognise this truth, language matters. It is through language that we understand, express, consider, challenge, think and articulate. Through language, we breathe life into sentiment. So we must ask ourselves a question. How did we get to a place where a Conservative Government bring a Bill before us that seeks in effect to abolish two beautiful words that have been used for centuries and embody goodness and truth: “mother” and “woman”? The Bill as drafted does just that. It rules those words out of law.
Is it now considered embarrassing to be described as a woman and to admit to being a mother? That seems to contradict the whole purpose of the Bill. After all, the Bill is about recognising the significance of motherhood and extending that recognition to those in the service of the Crown. Are we now acknowledging as a Parliament that the concepts of motherhood and womanhood are so radical that they must be censored?
You know as well as anyone, Dame Eleanor, that when tabling amendments, one is often seeking to make small, sometimes complicated technical changes to legislation. Today, with my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), my motivation is much more straightforward: to affirm the existence, worth and eternal value of womanhood and motherhood. By the way, if the need arose, I would do the same for men and fatherhood. By saying the words and including them in the Bill, we will cement the virtues that the Bill embodies in law.
As drafted, the Bill, in effect, extinguishes the ordained particular characteristics of human types. I do not know whether that is as a result of artlessness or heartlessness, but whichever it is, it anonymises and dehumanises. That is why I have introduced the two amendments that stand in my name, and I am grateful to Members from across the House for supporting them.
My speech will be uncharacteristically short but characteristically straightforward, because this is a matter of common sense—the common sense that prevails beyond this place and, clearly, beyond the wit or will of the people who drafted this legislation. Never underestimate the power of language, for there are those—those who are extreme and immoderate—who understand its power very well and those, as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said, who seek to obscure the biological differences, which are, frankly, the very reason all of us are able to contribute to this debate, because we would not be here without them.
It is sad to see the attempts that have been made to blur the picture, muddy the waters and cloak this matter in denial. It is sad to see the descriptions of “drafting difficulties” and “legislative complications”, which were described to me today by one parliamentary lawyer, a distinguished one too, as entirely “clueless” and “baseless”. This is a matter not of drafting procedure, but of principle. Electors of all political persuasions and none, across our kingdom, from Caithness to Caerphilly to Cornwall, from Antrim to Arundel, from Kent to Kendal, expect us to do what they would anticipate is that common sense—to affirm womanhood and motherhood in this legislation, which is, after all, about maternity.
As Orwell understood, semantics matter, because through them, via meaning, we find truth. In the pursuit of truth, and in solidarity with every woman and mother in South Holland and The Deepings and beyond, I am proud to put forward the amendments that stand in my name, and I shall be seeking to divide the House on them at the end of this Committee stage, with your indulgence, Dame Eleanor.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General for bringing this Bill before us today. It is highly unlikely to affect me personally, as my daughter is six and I have a very supportive family, but even with a six-year-old being a full-time working mum is a huge juggling act. I have massive admiration for mums in general, for all working mums and absolutely for any colleague who has a baby while doing this job. But why do I feel like that? Why do I not have the same feeling for my male colleagues who welcome a newborn? There have been a few of those this year.
I am sorry to say that despite how far we have come and despite how much more hands-on dads and partners are these days, the majority of the domestic load around babies and small children is still being carried by women. I will quickly caveat that by saying that all families are different and there are many families where that is not the case, but by and large women are still in charge of this mental load. We must explore in this House, and in debate more widely, the evolving role of fathers and partners, and how we can possibly improve the equality of pregnant women without looking at families as a whole. Looking into the debate on maternity leave as a whole means looking at the impact on our work and family life. Do we value family life at the expense of work? Do we look at work at the expense of family life? At the moment, I do not think we have that balance right, and covid has emphasised that. Society is starting to look at this a lot more, and Government will be well placed to encourage a society that promotes family life. Stable families, whatever shape they take, are good for society and improve life chances. We should promote best practice by companies, and ensure by doing it in this place that we lead by example. It starts with maternity leave, but goes on to much more.
As I said on Second Reading, as co-chair of the all-party group for baby loss I have a special interest in the health of mother and baby. The Bill is a step forward in improving the condition of both, and the Government are setting an example in that the health of mum and baby come first. Unfortunately, one in four pregnancies end in tragic loss. According to the Office for National Statistics, the stillbirth rate in England in 2018 was the lowest on record, but was still four stillbirths per 100,000 births. If my maths is correct, that equates to 2,500 stillborn babies. I am pleased to see that stillbirth is considered in clauses 1(4) and 4(7). In the event of a stillbirth, or if the baby is born alive and later dies, even after a few seconds, or if this happens after the 24th week of pregnancy, you are entitled to all maternity rights. If you are already on maternity leave, you do not have to take any action, but if the birth happens before you intended to start maternity leave or before you gave notice of maternity leave to your employer, the maternity leave will start the day of the birth—and so on and so forth. However, what happens if the baby dies before the 24th week?
My baby died at 21 weeks. Without going into the painful details again, little chance of quality of life was given for my daughter, so we were given very little choice but to terminate and then to deliver. In the fog of that weekend, I remember asking what would happen if I chose not to terminate. I was told that my baby would probably die within minutes of being born and that it would be more traumatic for me and for my baby; the midwives would have to stay with her and no one knew how long it would take. The point I am trying to make is that it was within my rights to refuse a termination but to deliver early. Had I taken that option, in theory I would have been eligible for full maternity leave, but because I terminated I was not. My baby, if I had not terminated, would have had a birth certificate and a death certificate. She has neither.
I am not asking for a change in the law, but I do expect the Government and employers to recognise that a loss, even before 24 weeks, as the result of a termination that we did not want to happen, is just as painful as a full-term stillbirth. I genuinely cannot say whether I would have wanted to take full maternity leave. What on earth would I have done for months on end, with no new baby to take home? But it might have taken the pressure off. Luckily, I had an understanding employer, but I still had to keep producing doctor’s notes and sick notes every few weeks until I had recovered physically from the birth and while I was still grieving. Every time the deadline approached, I felt the pressure of wondering whether I should ask for another sick note, or go back to work.
Moving on from that, I want to discuss the amendments standing in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). It is important to me that hard-fought rights achieved by women who have gone before me are not removed from the statute book. Otherwise, some women may feel that with this Bill we are taking one step forward and one step back simultaneously, on the same day. I am pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General will address this—she mentioned the explanatory notes, and I look forward to hearing more—but it is important that compassion dictates how we draft legislation. I do not believe that we should allow one group of people to be pitted against another.
I am privileged to be assisting my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) in her work preparing the forthcoming early years review. In the review, we have referred to “parent” or “carer”, as that reflects the nature of families today. However, as it stands, it is a biological woman who is pregnant and gives birth, so it is probably best that that is represented in a Bill that is devoted wholly to provision for maternity—the act of becoming a mother. It is not necessarily a debate we want to have today, and many right hon. and hon. Members who are not present would want to participate in such a debate on all sides, but it will come. I am sure that the mother of all Parliaments will debate the subject robustly and that a compassionate way forward will be found. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is correct to say that we will not have total equality for pregnant women without the support of the men in this House, the support of all employers and the support of society as a whole. Pregnancy should not be seen as a nuisance or an annoyance but a normal part of life. When it goes well, it should be celebrated as a precious time of life.
Mothers in the UK are currently only entitled to the equivalent of 12 weeks’ fully paid statutory maternity leave, and I am afraid to say that our statutory offering falls behind many comparable economies. Thus, a third of our children are in childcare between the ages of nought and three, and that rises to about three quarters between the ages of three and six. Meanwhile, in countries such as Sweden and Norway, women are allowed 35 to 45 weeks’ fully paid maternity leave, and men are allowed around 10 weeks’ paternity leave. In Estonia, women get 85 weeks’ fully paid maternity leave.
Many UK companies do much better, and some women can take up to a year fully paid or anywhere in between. Despite that, many women are being laid open to discrimination. While the law does recognise that pregnant women and women on maternity leave are at risk of experiencing discrimination, the concern raised by many is that it does not go anywhere near far enough. I know savvy women who have fantastic maternity provision written into their contracts, but women should not have to do this. The onus should not necessarily be on the woman, confident or otherwise, to negotiate such a contract.
Unfortunately, the level of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK is still astonishing, with an estimated 54,000 mothers every year being forced to leave their jobs because of how they were treated during their pregnancy or maternity leave or after they returned to work. Over three quarters of women and new mothers each year experience some form of pregnancy or maternity discrimination at work, and I return to how this affects stress levels in pregnancy. We must not underestimate the fact that sustained stress levels within a pregnancy are hugely risky for the mum and the unborn baby. It can lead to pregnancy loss, low birth weight and post-natal depression.
As I said earlier, this is not helped by the particular nature of what we do in this place. I was upset to hear from Members on both sides of the House about the abuse that female colleagues have received when they have taken time off to spend with their newborn. I fully believe that MPs come into this House to do their best for their constituents, and I would like to remind the House and wider society that MPs are human beings. MPs are pregnant, as we have learned today, and I congratulate all involved. MPs are new mums. They are wives. They are daughters. They are sisters. They are grandmothers. They are friends. They are mums.
It is unacceptable for any new mother to feel the extra pressure of being told that they are skiving, they are not working hard enough and they should not be having a baby while serving in office. Female MPs in particular are at the receiving end of awful abuse these days, and it has stepped up even more for those who are pregnant and new mums. We should not accept this—there should be zero tolerance—and I hope that in this House, we are united in feeling that way.
Post-natal depression, left unchecked, can and does lead to tragic suicide. Do we really need to wait for a female MP who has post-natal depression to be pushed too far before society takes notice? Will that be the next horrible headline we read—that one of our colleagues in this place has not been able to cope with all the pressure put her way and feels like she is not being a good enough mother or a good enough MP, because she is trying her best to do both? MPs are not alone in suffering from post-natal depression, and I am sure none would wish for special treatment. When post-natal depression hits you, you do not even realise you are in it until somebody points it out to you. MPs are a special target for anger from some, and it is completely unacceptable.
As I said in my speech last October, birth and pregnancy have always been perilous for women. That remains the case, yet we no longer talk about it, and that needs to change. At every opportunity that I get in this place—whether it is a maternity Bill or legislation on employment rights or other women’s rights—I will stand up for women who have lost their children and not talked about it or who feel so much pressure that they end up suffering from post-natal depression, which pushes them to the edge. We can only do this as a society when we back each other up. The Bill sends an important signal to society and women that the contributions we make to this Parliament as female MPs are valued at every stage of our lives. The Bill will give hope to young women who want to go into politics that their contribution, whatever stage in their life it is at, is valuable. It is important that we make a move, and I look forward to working with colleagues to improve conditions for all mums and mums-to-be.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in Committee, having been unable to do so on Second Reading. I start by wishing the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) and the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) all the best in their pregnancies. Indeed, it is particularly poignant for me to speak in this debate today because I am currently receiving updates on my stepson’s partner, who is in the early stages of labour; they are on the way to the hospital as we speak. Step-grannyhood awaits. I am not quite prepared for that.
The Bill corrects what is fundamentally a clear unfairness in relation to ministerial appointment legislation. Clearly, as we heard on Second Reading, there is support from all sides of the House for ensuring that Cabinet Ministers can take maternity leave, and rightly so. However, like many Members across the House, I find it worrying that this huge hole in legislation has been spotted only now. Sadly, I think that speaks volumes about this place, the current Government and—dare I say it?—previous Governments, in which my party took a part.
While today we may be updating antiquated rules, the Bill takes us not so much up to the present day as into the 1990s. Of course, a particular element of maternity leave is ensuring that a new mother can physically recover from the birth. I was a police officer for 12 years, and it was critical that we took time off work. That is why all mothers should take at least two weeks off work in the first instance. It was therefore incredibly saddening to hear of the experience of MPs who have been forced to attend this place either immediately prior to giving birth or shortly thereafter.
In 2021, there is wide acceptance of the fact that, no matter how a person is becoming a parent, they should be entitled to leave, whether it is maternity leave, paternity leave or adoption leave, to give the child that is coming into their family—the child should be at the centre of this—the very best start in life that they can. We should therefore expand the scope of the Bill beyond maternity leave, because that is clearly the direction of travel that we see in society. This must be a legislative first step, and I welcome the Paymaster General’s comments on Second Reading that it is. I look forward to hearing the timetable accordingly.
I worked for a number of different organisations throughout my career before I came into this place. I have seen a variety of policies on parental leave, and I have seen them change over time. In fact, when I was a police officer, they changed between the births of my children; when I had my daughter, I had six months’ leave, and when I had my son, I was able to take longer. However, I would have really struggled financially if it had not been for my mother, who was able to help us cover childcare. There was just no way that, as a family, we could afford the multiple days.
The hon. Lady is making an incredibly powerful speech. May I be the first person to congratulate her on her forthcoming step-grannyhood? I am sure she will be super-gran. One statistic that is very important in this debate is that a third of women get into debt when they take maternity leave. She talks about the financial penalties that she faced. Does she think that one of the things that we would need to look at if we were to have an equalities impact assessment is the different access to maternity leave and the time that people can have, due to the financial consequences for them of taking it because we have such poor maternity leave in this country?
Absolutely; I agree. Continuing on my experience of maternity leave, I had to get my mother to help so that we could afford the childcare, but my husband was a police superintendent at the time of the birth of our son, and his two weeks’ paternity leave operationally did not really happen because there were a number of things going on. It just did not work for us as a family, and he certainly did not get the quality time he deserved.
I empathise with the comments made by the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) about the role of fathers. I simply would not be able to serve in this House if it were not for my husband taking the lead at home, although I have warned the children that I am checking Satchel One for progress on online learning on a regular basis.
The global drinks manufacturer that I worked for prior to my election introduced a parental leave policy in early 2019, which means that, regardless of whether it is maternity, paternity or adoption leave, employees are entitled to parental leave equating to six months’ full pay. I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) that this has been transformative, not just for mothers but for fathers too. The biggest impact, I would argue, has been on men. For instance, the director of the global learning unit that I was part of, a man, took his full parental leave allowance, and that sent a very important message. It meant that many men on the supply and manufacturing side of the business in more operational roles felt empowered to be able to take that same leave. That is incredibly important.
Many other organisations and businesses have been moving in the same direction, so it is disappointing that the Bill excludes any parent who has not given birth. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself became a parent again in the past year. Much has already been said about the fact that Members of Parliament cannot take parental leave because we are appointed. Although we as mothers could take leave by employing a locum—the hon. Member for Walthamstow spoke at length about this—that option is not available to male MPs. I listened intently to the contribution by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on the importance of fathers. By correcting the unfairness in terms of maternity leave for Cabinet Ministers, we are not only leaving other holes in legislation but potentially creating a perceived advantage for those in ministerial positions over the general public. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on councillors, the Welsh Parliament—the Senedd—and the Scottish Parliament. A number of MSPs, despite the fact that they are travelling to Edinburgh and Holyrood as opposed to Westminster, are deciding, come the Scottish elections in May, not to stand again, and have publicly said that the pressures of having children and being a parent have played a part in their decision.
As I said, one of those deciding not to stand is Aileen Campbell, whom I consider a close friend. She was the first Scottish Government Minister to take maternity leave, and Fiona McLeod, an outstanding Minister, was appointed to cover for her. The hon. Lady is talking about the difficulties that Members have in this place. Her former leader, Jo Swinson, was very negatively impacted, because not only was there no proxy voting at that point, but her pairing was shamefully broken, either accidentally or on purpose. That shows the amount of work that still needs to be done in this place despite the points that are being made about the wider consequences for society.
I agree. It is interesting that the Government are now much more supporting of proxies than they have been. The challenge around the pairing arrangements is not only the risk that they might be broken—that was certainly a very bad experience for Jo Swinson—but that the role that we play in this place is potentially much more visible than it has been in the past through apps such as CommonsVotes. People in our constituencies judge us, and rightly so, on our voting records, and pairing does not give people the opportunity to have their views recorded.
I have constituents who say, “I turned on the television and I couldn’t see you in the Chamber”, and I say, “Yes, that’s because I was working.” It is important to remember that only a third of what we do as Members of Parliament takes place in this room—there is also all the build-up to legislation, all the casework we do in our communities, and the role we play as an advocate for our localities. When we are considering the cover required, thinking only about what happens in this place and the end point of voting is a missed opportunity. We have to recognise what would happen in our communities if our role there was not played. Does the hon. Lady agree that we should not sell ourselves short with the idea that if we disappeared for six months people would not notice?
I do agree. That would not only sell ourselves short but sell short the work done by our staff in our constituencies. Owing to the pandemic, it has been difficult for parliamentarians who came into this House in December 2019 to know what case workloads might normally look like, but I have experienced a very high level over the past year, and my staff have played a key role in relation to that. We need to be there to support our constituents. Constituents have said that they have had a better understanding of the role of MPs and what they can do as a result.
I do not want it to be thought that I do not agree with Cabinet Ministers being entitled to full pay and maternity leave. I absolutely support that; it is entirely right and in keeping with best practice, but it also potentially speaks to huge unfairness, on which other Members have touched. Secretaries of State will receive about £1,300 a week if they receive full maternity pay for six months, but millions of people around the country are eligible only for statutory pay, which after the first six weeks is just £151 a week—close to a 1,000% difference.
On Second Reading, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) spoke eloquently about the deficiencies in maternity pay and allowances. It does seem odd to me for the Government to say, “This is the standard we are going to give to a Cabinet Minister,” and on the other hand say, “The statutory minimum is the standard by which you should treat your employees.” That seems a case of “Do as I say and not as I do.” The organisation that I worked for previously is now giving six months of parental leave, regardless of whether that is maternity, paternity or adoption leave. That is a big organisation.
So many others have spoken about the real difficulty for so many women out there who do not get a good package of maternity cover. Does the hon. Member acknowledge that as MPs we get a good financial package and that we are paid all the way through? As the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) highlighted, we get a good deal in that respect and we must ensure that we recognise that.
Again, I agree. We are not only paid on maternity or paternity—if Members choose to take time off—but we do not receive sick pay because we continue to be paid at that time as well. I acknowledge that during this period a number of people in my constituency and across the UK are really struggling because statutory sick pay provisions are nowhere near adequate.
I worked for a global organisation, but I am conscious of the impact of parental leave on small businesses. That is why the statutory support needs to be so much better. We would view it as unacceptable if the Bill said that the Attorney General would receive only basic statutory maternity rights, and yet fundamentally that will be the case for millions of people.
Hon. Members have touched on MPs’ staff and IPSA contracts, where I also have concerns. Many MPs employ staff who have worked for other MPs, especially after the churn of an election—indeed, I did that in January 2020—but to qualify for full maternity pay on an IPSA contract, a staff member needs to have worked for over a year. If staff members change MP, even if they have worked for a long time in Parliament, they effectively start a new employment and are penalised as a result. Although, like the hon. Member for Walthamstow, I was pleased to see in my mailbox this morning correspondence from IPSA on this issue, it was specifically related to MPs. I urge IPSA to consider MPs’ staff as part of the review. My first 15 months have certainly taught me that having excellent staff and supporting them is critical to success in this place.
I want to reflect on the work I have done with 50:50 Parliament since my election. I have spoken at a number of its events—obviously enabled by being online during the pandemic—and the common theme in the questions that come from women interested in or considering standing either in this place, at local authority level or, indeed, at the Senedd or at Holyrood are around how to manage family time and find a work-life balance, and having children as part of that. I continue to urge the Paymaster General to regard this Bill as a first legislative step. We have a real opportunity to send out a strong, positive message about diversity in this place, but someone who has served as a Cabinet Minister for less than a year is to receive full maternity pay. As I say, that is right, but we have an issue to address when a staff member who might have worked in Parliament for years would receive only statutory pay.
It is now a month before the Attorney General’s maternity leave, and it is worrying that the Government have only now realised that this is an issue. Obviously, the business changed last week to allow us to debate the Bill today. That tells me that equalities are not at the heart of the Government’s thinking. I always think about an inclusion lens: everything that we consider in this place should be looked at in the light of inclusion and therefore we will see the issues before they are pointed out to us latterly.
I agree with what the hon. Member is saying. Does she agree that it is concerning that normally an equalities impact assessment would be produced as standard and yet we do not see that because this legislation is being pushed through Parliament at short notice? We are all aware that the Government have had a deadline to work to, but they will have known of that deadline for some months, so there could have been time to do some of the work we are asking for in the amendment, with our better understanding the consequences of the legislation as a result.
I entirely agree. Indeed, earlier I joked that this legislation brings us not into the 21st century, but into the 1990s. When I was a police officer, doing equality impact assessments, whether for operations we were carrying out or for anything else that was planned, was very much part of that. So it is disappointing that we are not seeing that in this place.
That lack of focus on equalities has become apparent over the past year, during the pandemic, and it is really disappointing. The hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned my Liberal Democrat colleague Jo Swinson, who worked not only on parental leave but on gender pay gap reporting, which was one of the first business requirements to be jettisoned during the pandemic, and as yet there are no plans for its return.
When we watch the frequent Downing Street press conferences, it is usually a man we see at the lectern. These are potentially disappointing messages that the Government are sending out. In contrast, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, and I note the recent findings of the Women and Equalities Committee in that regard. Again, the hon. Member for Walthamstow spoke powerfully about this earlier. I, too, commend the work of Pregnant Then Screwed and wish them success in their case, but obviously I am saddened that it has got to that stage.
The Government talk a lot about levelling up, but clearly there is work to be done to get their own house in order when it comes to gender equality, both internally and in relation to the impact of their policies across the country. That is why I was very happy to co-sign new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, which calls for that equalities impact assessment for this legislation, as she described so eloquently.
There has been progress over the past 10 years. Thanks to the efforts of Jo Swinson, we now have shared parental leave, which has been an incredible success, and I know that many people across the country have taken up that opportunity. I know that more businesses and organisations have been improving the amount of fully paid maternity leave on offer, going beyond the statutory levels. That was the case with my previous employer, and indeed in the police service. However, it is very important that, as we consider the Bill, we think about how we can move forward, particularly in relation to covid. Given covid’s impact on businesses, with business margins tight, there is a concern that one of the first things to go will be provision that is above statutory levels. I am very concerned about that. Having had 10 years of progress, we cannot afford to have a lost decade when things go backwards as a result of covid. I therefore urge the Government to carry out an impact assessment on this issue. I hope the Paymaster General will address that point later.
To conclude, the aims of this legislation are very welcome but there is much more to be done. I hope that today’s debate will be the beginning of a conversation on how we modernise parental leave laws, how we encourage business to engage with that, how we recognise family life in 21st-century UK, and how we ensure that the legacy of covid is one of more flexible leave entitlements, rather than a reversion to statutory limits. Ultimately, however, the sadness of today is the Government’s failure to address the issue sooner. Perhaps they could have done that by carrying out an equalities impact assessment sooner. Sadly, that means we are talking today about one woman and the specifics of her case, and that should never have happened.
It is a pleasure to follow North East Fife’s super gran, and to reflect on the views of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) that there will be no equality until fathers are able to step up. I will move on to speak about that a little later. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) has dealt with her amendment sensibly and I have a huge amount of sympathy with the points she has made, so I hope that it will be properly addressed by the Minister.
I want to say a little about the equalities impact assessment proposed in new clause 1, because it has raised broader issues about paternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave. It is clear from today’s debate that fathers have been a bit of an afterthought. A report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in December 2020 found that 73% of men feel stigmatised over taking just the two weeks of paternity leave, never mind any longer, and 95% of men said that their workplace culture prevents them from taking extended paternity leave and that really needs to change. In fact, a report by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has found that the proportion of fathers taking paternity leave actually fell between 2018 and 2019, from 32% to 31%, and that just 1% of parents take shared parental leave, according to the most recent figures available.
We have a huge leadership role to play here. The Minister indicated on Second Reading that this issue will be rectified later, and I look forward to her re-emphasising that commitment shortly, because at this important stage, messages from the Dispatch Box are necessary to show all of us that fathers are important, and that equality for mothers and fathers will not be achieved until we allow them to step up.
The haste with which the Bill has been brought forward is perhaps reflected in some of the amendments that we see on the amendment paper. I would like to address the amendments tabled by the SNP. I think they have been tabled with the best of intentions, but if, instead of giving women the option of taking maternity leave, we make it a requirement, we would remove the element of choice, which is incredibly important for women when it comes to if and when we have children, how many we have, and how we balance work and motherhood. Similarly, the amendments that would increase the requirement from six months to 12 months would make us lose some of that flexibility, which is incredibly important.
The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) have been addressed by the Minister already. Indeed, the language is already in the legislation, in the sense that it talks about the offices held, rather than the women who are pregnant. That is why the legislation is written as it is, and in that regard I am very much satisfied.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has tabled a couple of amendments. She made a point about the equality impact assessment. Perhaps less haste would have led to better legislation that included fathers, adoption, paternity leave and flexibility around premature babies. That would lead to an improvement in representation in public life.
I will keep my remarks short. In conclusion, the Opposition support the Bill unamended. The Bill is the right thing to do for pregnant women, and it is imperative that it makes progress with haste, for fairly obvious reasons. It is not perfect, but we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and it is, of course, the next baby step in progress towards true equality.
Before I turn to the nitty-gritty of the amendments, I will address wider points that Members have made. I thank all Members for their contributions and their thoughtful remarks in this important Committee stage.
In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) for coming to the Chamber today, and for her interventions. Her experience is incredibly valuable. One of the key points that she reminds us about is the different status that a single person may have for different aspects of the jobs that they do here. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) spoke about the peculiar employment status of a Member of Parliament, which is distinct and different from that of a Member of Parliament who is also a Minister. A Minister is also an employee, and there are slight differences there. That is one of several reasons why this is a highly complex issue, but that does not mean it cannot be tackled.
In addition to the issues that have been raised regarding Members of Parliament and the challenges they face, there are still outstanding issues for Ministers in relation to shared parental leave, an examination of paternity leave—although, as I have outlined, there is provision there at the moment—and adoption leave. Sickness and bereavement is a grey area. We also have an additional issue for our colleagues in the other place who may be unpaid Ministers. That needs to be resolved, but it obviously plays back into the issue of maternity leave. These are very complex matters, and I reiterate again my gratitude to Her Majesty’s Opposition for their engagement on this.
Let me turn to IPSA. Clearly, it is an independent body, and in the work that follows today we will have to respect that independence, but the Government are none the less absolutely determined to bring forward proposals collectively.
Over the past two years of seeking progress on this matter, and trying to ensure that Members have the options and the support that we are giving to Ministers, one of the things that I have been told is that IPSA has asked Parliament to offer a view. Indeed, this rather anarchic approach to what our employment status is has had an effect. Will the Paymaster General therefore commit to our having parliamentary time for a debate on this? It does not need to be a Government-led debate, but we do need parliamentary time for it, and that is in the gift of Parliament. That way, if IPSA, on a very short timetable, asks the House to take a view, we will get that view, so that we can resolve the matter.
Although time on the Floor of this House is not in my personal gift, I hope that what I am about to set out will demonstrate to the hon. Lady that we are not just doing this as an exercise. These issues must be resolved. Yes, this is a matter that immediately affects Members in this place, but resolving this is also vital if we are to meet our ambition of ensuring that everyone who wants to sit on these Benches and is elected to do so has the working practices that they need to thrive, live their life and raise a family. That is very well understood.
We respect the independence of IPSA, and while we have to work with it—the Government have committed to supporting it—and the House authorities, all Members of the House will want to contribute to this important analysis. We want to look at custom and procedure. We also want to examine what legislative change may be required, particularly with regard to Ministers, which is the most complex issue. Recommendations by and to IPSA will be made through the usual channels. There has been quite a large amount of discussion about this already, with the help of the Opposition. As I have said, the Government will support IPSA on any of that work, and on any of the issues that we are all seeking to address. Its independence will be respected in line with its statutory footing.
Many colleagues who spoke on Second Reading are concerned about the impact assessment. We have undertaken to carry one out, but I add this caution: if Members want an impact assessment of this piece of legislation, that is very easily done, and will be really great for a very small number of people, but of no use whatsoever in advancing anyone else’s rights or opportunities. We want—we have set this out in a note that we have shared, I think with the office of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, and certainly with the Opposition; I would be happy to share it with other colleagues around the House—to undertake an impact assessment that looks at current legislation on the issues we have discussed this afternoon in relation to Members of Parliament. We will also take into account work already done, or in progress, by the relevant Select Committees, particularly the Procedure Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee. As I have said, I would be very happy to share that note with hon. Members. Perhaps the best place for it is in the Library.
There are a couple of other issues that I want to address before turning to amendments.
It is incredibly welcome that the Minister is talking about doing a much wider impact assessment. For clarity—this issue has been raised today—looking at the wording of it, can she confirm that it will look at the impact on not just Members of Parliament, but their staff? We are drawing this distinction between parliamentary staff and people who work in Parliament. We need to look at everyone, so that we can be confident that every single woman and potential partner of a woman in this place will get the support they need.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point, and I think Members would feel very uncomfortable looking at their terms and conditions but not those of their staff. Again, that is a matter for this House and for IPSA, but the Government’s view is that we need to look at this in the round. If we are to make changes, let’s do it properly and ensure that all Members of this House and the Committees can contribute.
I thank the hon. Lady for what she said about how we can help mitigate the abuse that Members of this House have faced, and I hope will not face in future, when going on maternity leave. It is appalling what hon. Members on both sides of the House have been through, and I commend her for calling out that abuse when it is taking place in her own party; when others call out abuse from within their own parties, that is quite right, too. We need to support colleagues as they take maternity leave.
I turn to the amendments, and I apologise for the dry nature of what follows. It is the necessary part of putting a Bill through Parliament, and those tuning in at home might wish to put the kettle on at this point.
Clause 1 provides the basis on which a Minister can take paid maternity leave by setting out how and under what conditions a person can be appointed to the position of a Minister on leave. The concept of a Minister on leave is a very important one. As the Bill makes clear, the role of a Minister on leave is outside the restrictions in place at any one time, as set out in the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, and outside the upper limit on the number of Members of the House of Commons who can serve as a Government Minister at any one time, as set out in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. It is through this mechanism that the Government can ensure that the twin aims of this part of the Bill are met—namely, that Ministers are able to take paid maternity leave, and can remain part of the Government, without needing to resign from office.
Clause 1 makes it clear that it is within the Prime Minister’s discretion to designate a person a Minister on leave, subject to a number of conditions. Those conditions are set out in detail in subsections (2) and (3), which make it clear that a person can be designated a Minister on leave only if they are pregnant or have recently given birth, if they are already a Minister holding ministerial office, and if they cease to hold that ministerial office at the point of designation as a Minister on leave. Subsection (5) provides clarity about the ministerial offices that fall within the scope of this Act by reference to the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975.
I agree with the right hon. Lady that the clause uses a dry way of saying something that I think is actually really important, which is that in all of this discussion we need to remember that prime ministerial patronage is limited by that Act for good reason. While that should not be the enemy of improvements for women who are going on maternity leave, I do think that it needs to be considered. If we think of recent Parliaments, in which majorities have been very small, it is quite an increase, percentage-wise, to the payroll if more people are added to it. I am grateful to the drafters of the Bill for having thought this through, and I hope that in any future work she does, that is seriously considered as part of the mix, so that the House at least debates any decision to change that.
It is not part of the scope of this Bill, but the Prime Minister has said in his written ministerial statement that it is one of the issues he wants this future piece of work to look at. I think it is fantastic that we have more women in the House of Lords, and we want those women to be able to hold ministerial office. If they need to take maternity leave, they should be able to do so.
Subsection (3) of clause 1 deals specifically with the condition relating to pregnancy or maternity that must be satisfied for a person to be appointed as the Minister on leave, namely that they are at the time of designation either pregnant and within 12 weeks of the expected due date of the child, or have given birth to a child in the preceding four weeks. These conditions are designed to take account of the wide range of possible scenarios that can occur in relation to childbirth, including where the child is born prematurely or after their expected due date. These conditions are there to ensure that no Minister can lose out on benefiting from the arrangements set out in the Bill on account of the particular facts of their pregnancy and childbirth, and are partly based on the existing statutory framework relating to maternity leave.
Subsection (4) also makes it clear that a person can be designated as a Minister on leave, and benefit from the provisions in the Bill, even in the terrible situation where the child is stillborn. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) for raising this issue, and the work that she has done on it. In common with maternity legislation as it applies elsewhere, such a tragic event cannot be viewed as a reason to remove the financial security provided by provisions relating to maternity leave.
Subsection (6) sets out how the designation of a Minister as a Minister on leave can be brought to an end. The Bill envisages two scenarios under which the designation can be terminated—the designation terminates automatically six months after the appointment, or earlier, at the point at which the Minister on leave ceases to hold that office. In the latter situation, the designation can be brought to an end by the person in question being appointed to a different ministerial office before the end of the six-month period. That includes situations in which the person is reappointed to their previous role in Government, or to a different role altogether.
Clause 1 outlines the role of a Minister on leave. These arrangements are vital in ensuring that Ministers can take paid maternity leave by providing the mechanism for designations, which the Prime Minister can exercise in respect of Ministers that he has appointed under the royal prerogative. Without these mechanisms, the primary purpose of the Bill would be frustrated, and I therefore strongly and wholeheartedly recommend to the House that clause 1 stand part of the Bill.
I now turn to the amendments tabled to the clause. Amendment 3 stands in the name of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald). I thank her for her commitment and strong advocacy on this issue, and for engaging with me and officials over the past few days. The hon. Member has suggested through her proposed amendments that maternity leave should be mandatory for any new mothers in the Government’s ranks, and I certainly agree that we must do all we can to ensure that new mothers feel able to access this new provision. However, to make it mandatory would cut across the prerogative of making ministerial appointments, as we have discussed, and further would serve to remove the mother’s choice about taking leave. The Bill as it stands has been mindful of the constitutional position of Ministers: they are office holders, appointed by the sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day, under the powers of the royal prerogative. The Bill cannot, and does not, give a right on the part of the Minister wishing to take maternity leave to be appointed as a Minister on leave. Any appointment to such a role must remain a prerogative power on advice of the Prime Minister. Civil servants have taken great glee in telling me over the last few days that Ministers have no rights. The amendment would serve not to only undermine the role of the prerogative power but to constrain a ministerial mother’s ability to choose what leave she takes following the birth of a child. The current provisions have been drafted to preserve both. The Government respectfully ask that it is withdrawn.
I turn to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), beginning with amendment 15. I fully understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the terminology in the Bill, and I am grateful for the practical and constructive suggestion that she has made in the amendment. One of the primary concerns of those drafting legislation is to achieve clarity, so that there is absolutely no ambiguity about what the law does or does not require or how it operates in any particular situation.
As I did not have time to do so on Second Reading, I would like to address the points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi). The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock described very clearly how women and others are feeling about the word “woman” and other words being deleted from our documents and our public life, with descriptions of what it is to be a woman. I am very sensitive to that.
I note that exactly the same Members who asked questions and raised concerns about those issues have also raised concerns about the provision in the Bill for a trans man to make use of the provisions. It is not the case that this is a trade-off between one or the other, and it is a mistake to frame the concerns that have been raised around language in that way. It is about respecting women and women’s rights, and that is completely compatible with respecting trans rights too. I always think that if you want to protect your own rights, you should protect someone else’s, and that will help.
On the specific point that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West raised with regard to the Equality Act 2010, I have tested that with officials and it will not work for this legislation, but I have taken into consideration the suggestions that she and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock made.
The hon. Member for Gower listed some Acts that she says have used the word “woman”. They predate the convention that we are now operating under, which was introduced by Jack Straw in 2007. The intention of the guidance on using gender-neutral language was to avoid demeaning women by implying that only men could undertake certain roles, and that drafting convention has remained. It is not the case that we could legally and correctly use the word “woman” in this piece of legislation, nor could we do so with the term “Minister”, because the designation of a person happens after they have ceased to hold their existing ministerial office.
Although we have been able to put in the legislation the words for the Opposition postholder, we have not been able to use the term “Minister” in the legislation. However, we can put the word “Minister” into the explanatory notes accompanying the Bill. Although that is still gender-neutral language, it is a much less jarring term than “person”, and I hope that in doing so, we can address the very legitimate concerns that have been raised about this, while ensuring that the Bill is legally sound and not subject to legal challenge and is in line with the drafting conventions that we subscribe to.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock for the constructive suggestion that she has made in amendments 16 and 17, but I do not think that the clarity of the Bill would be aided by their inclusion. The amendments in question offer only a partial alteration of the Bill’s terminology, rather than a wholesale one. I do not believe that her amendments would have achieved their aim. They would instead have introduced unnecessary uncertainty and inconsistency into the Bill. The use of the terminology in the Bill is now common practice. The current drafting of the legislation is legally accurate, and it covers all women who are pregnant or who give birth. I respectfully ask my hon. Friend not to press her amendments.
On amendments 18 and 19, which stand in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), let me say that it is not new practice to use gender-neutral language when drafting legislation. I have with me today several Bills relating to women and women’s issues that have used gender-neutral language. In general terms, that is to correct the tendency to use particular pronouns that appear to assume that someone of a particular gender would be doing a particular job or performing a particular role.
Legislation is now typically drafted without reference to gender, and I fully recognise that certain phrases can jar in the public consciousness and leave us open to legal challenge. As I have said, this is not a new convention and it has the specific example of the clauses before this House today. It is not a new approach and there are plenty of examples of other Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments since that change in 2007 that use the word “person”, including in the context of maternity. Section 3 of the Pensions Act 2014 and section 30 of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 are just two examples. I do not think that the clarity of the Bill would be aided by the amendments, which, taken together with the others standing in my right hon. Friend’s name, would offer only partial alteration of the Bill’s terminology. The current drafting is legally accurate and clearly covers all women who are pregnant or give birth. I appreciate the strength of feeling he has on this.
Finally, in respect of clause 1, amendment 4, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire, would have the effect of enabling Ministers to take up to a year of maternity leave on full pay. As I have discussed, we are pegged to the civil service scheme, so I ask her not to press her amendment, and to bear in mind the context of the Bill.
Let me quickly address clause 2, which sets out the rate of ministerial maternity allowance and how that should be calculated, and what should happen with respect to the allowance in the event of the period of maternity leave coming to an end before the six-month period has elapsed. Subsection (2) merely confirms that if a Minister was unpaid in their role before going on maternity leave, no maternity allowance is payable. Obviously, it would not make sense that someone who did not receive a salary should then receive a payment. In such circumstances an unpaid Minister may nevertheless be designated a “Minister on leave” so as to remain a member of this Government while on leave, while not counting towards the headcount limit of 95 Ministers from the House of Commons, as prescribed by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. While the Bill provides for a full six-month period of leave should the new or expectant mother wish to take it, the Bill also provides for flexibility for a shorter period of time.
I turn to amendments 5 to 9, which stand in the name of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire. As I mentioned in respect of clause 1, I commend her advocacy. Her amendments would have the effect of enabling Ministers to take up to a year of maternity leave on full pay. She knows that that is significantly more generous than the maternity entitlements enjoyed by the vast majority of women in the UK.
Let me turn to amendment 1 in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow. If a Minister on leave were to cease to hold the office before the six months had lapsed, clause 2(3) already provides that she would receive the remainder of her allowance as a lump sum. The only circumstances in which that would not happen is if the Minister on leave were appointed to a new ministerial office, in which case she would once again receive a ministerial salary; or, in the tragic event that she died, it would be the case that financial assistance for her dependants would be provided through the ministerial pension scheme.
Let me turn to clause 3. Bear with me; I am trying to respond to all the amendments. Amendment 10—
Debate interrupted (Order, this day).
The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Order, this day), That the amendment be made.
Lest there be a lack of clarity, let me explain that although the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), who moved amendment 3, is not here in the Chamber—and, therefore, if her voice were to call “Aye” obviously it could not be heard here in the Chamber—I am satisfied that she is well represented by her party’s Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who audibly did not call “Aye”. The hon. Lady had also previously informed me that, had there been time, it had been her intentionf to withdraw amendment 3, as she was satisfied that the matter had been fully discussed and that was her intention in tabling the amendment.
The Chair then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, this day).
Clauses 1 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment (Standing Order No. 83D(6)).
Bill read the Third time and passed.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My apologies for not giving you specific notice of this point of order. We were of the view that the Prime Minister would be coming to the House on 22 February to make a statement on the roadmap out of lockdown. Various Secretaries of State have intimated that that is now the week commencing 22 February. With the two-week notice period required to allow schools to open, that would be pushing it towards Easter. I wonder whether you had had notice from the Prime Minister as to when he will make that statement.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As he and the House know, it is not a matter for the Chair and it is not a matter for me when the Prime Minister comes to the House to make any particular announcement. The Leader of the House indicated that there would be a debate on Monday 22 February about covid matters. At present, that is the timetable set out for proceedings of the House, but of course it is up to the Government either to stick to that timetable or to change it as they will. I am sure that if any change is made, proper notice will be given.