Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about shared parental leave and pay in certain cases where one or both of a child’s parents has died; and for connected purposes.
I want to start by telling the House Aaron’s story. I was visited at a constituency surgery in February by my constituent Aaron Horsey, who is in the Gallery today with his family. Aaron had his three-week-old son Tim in his arms. His wife Bernadette had sadly passed away in childbirth. Bernadette would no doubt have been the most loving, dedicated mother, and had ambitious plans for continuing a long career in the NHS. She is missed tremendously by her loved ones.
While grieving the passing of his wife and looking after his new-born son Tim, Aaron discovered that he was not entitled to shared parental leave. That put the plan that Aaron had put in place with his wife Bernadette into jeopardy. Luckily, in Aaron’s case, he worked for an incredibly understanding employer, which gave him the leave he needed to look after Tim, but others are not so lucky. This Bill attempts to ensure that there is a right to leave and pay for individuals such as Aaron in the case of a spouse passing away. That right would be there regardless of the length of time that a person had been with their employer. This Bill would help not only employees in such circumstances but businesses that wish to give leave.
During the process of securing this ten-minute rule Bill, I have been contacted by other individuals around the UK with similar stories to Aaron. It is my belief that we must work to close the gap and ensure that leave and pay are made available for those in circumstances such as Aaron’s. It is important to state that this issue does not affect thousands of people across the country, but for those it does affect, the consequences are huge. Changing the law to ensure that leave and pay are available to those who find themselves in situations such as Aaron’s will ensure that no parent is faced with the devastating position of raising a child and grieving in the shadow of avoidable job insecurity.
Parental leave in the UK is something we should be proud of. Since the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999, entitlement and access to maternity leave and pay have been very straightforward. On a similar note, entitlement and access to paternity leave or shared parental leave, although more limited, are also fairly straightforward. When shared parental leave was introduced in 2015, the Government stated that they wished to
“move away from the current old-fashioned and inflexible arrangements and create a new, more equal system which allows both parents to keep a strong link to their workplace.”
Shared parental leave was established to allow parents access to their workplace and their family. That is precisely what is being prevented in cases such as Aaron’s. It seems that in such cases the people whom shared parental leave was created to help are often the ones missing out. When faced with this life-altering set of circumstances, Aaron was confronted with having to cope with the challenges of being a new parent and the prospect of new job insecurity, all while in the midst of extraordinary grief. That is more than many of us could handle.
This Bill is not contentious. It simply seeks to allow individuals the right, under circumstances beyond their control, to take leave and be with their child. As I have mentioned, it would affect not a vast amount of our population, but a small number in our society who need the help of the Government and their employers.
Aaron brought it to my attention that there are circumstances, in the event of the death of a child’s parent during childbirth, in which the surviving partner is not entitled to parental leave. To be eligible for shared parental leave and statutory shared parental pay, both parents must share responsibility for the child at birth and meet work and pay criteria. As the law stands, for the mother’s partner to take shared parental leave and shared parental pay, the mother must have been working for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before the baby is due, and must have earned at least £390 in total across any 30 of the 66 weeks. The mother’s partner must have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date. They must also stay with the same employer until they start their shared parental leave.
Practically speaking, a surviving partner could be entitled to take shared parental leave but they would not meet the criteria I have just mentioned. Aaron did not. That means that, under this requirement, many will not qualify for shared parental leave and pay. This Bill seeks to correct that. It seeks a day-one right for a parent to access both leave and pay. It seeks to ensure that employees who have to raise a child following the death of their partner will not be left without support. As a father, I know that being a parent to a newborn is a huge undertaking at the best of times. I cannot imagine being in that position while facing the fact your partner has died during birth. I want to ensure that people such as Aaron are never in the position of being without support.
I now come to why this Bill is needed. I truly hope that no one finds themself in the position that Aaron found himself in, unable to share the beginning of Tim’s life with his loving wife. The aim of this Bill is to ensure that people facing that situation do not find themselves without the law behind them.
I thank all hon. Members who have supported the Bill. I have received overwhelming cross-party support on the issue. The Bill is not party political; it seeks to make a real impact to those in our society who find themselves in tragic circumstances through no fault of their own. As well as receiving support from colleagues, I have received a statement of concern from the Prime Minister. I have also had meetings with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, including with the Under-Secretary of State—my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who is in his place on the Front Bench—to discuss these much-needed changes.
My last thanks go to Aaron. While he was dealing with all the hardship that I have set out, he was thinking not about himself, but about how to ensure that no one else finds themselves in his position. He is a truly selfless individual. I put on record my awe at the bravery and resilience that he has shown and continues to show.
There is a gap in our law that means that parents and guardians face impossible circumstances. That gap must be closed. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that the tragic circumstances of losing a loved one and raising a child alone are made that tiny bit easier, and that employment is one thing that need not cause further turmoil. I ask, with much hope, that due consideration be given to passing the Bill. The change it would make may seem small, but its impact on the life of an individual could be incalculable.
Question put and agreed to.
That Darren Henry, Jim Shannon, Tracey Crouch, Sally-Ann Hart, Brendan Clarke-Smith, Philip Dunne, Wera Hobhouse, Mrs Pauline Latham, Tom Randall, Stella Creasy, Dr Philippa Whitford and Sarah Champion present the Bill.
Darren Henry accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2023, and to be printed (Bill 221).