My Lords, I thank Kevin Hollinrake MP for steering the Bill through its various stages in the other place. It is a good Bill, which addresses the significant hole in our legislation that means there is currently no specific legal entitlement to time off in the event that a person loses a child.
When I was no more than 12 years old, I was sat down on the sofa at home by my mum and dad. My mum held my hand and told me that Louise, a friend younger than me, had died. She and her brother Martin were away on a trip and the three girls had slept in a separate room at the end of the dorm. They had shared a room with a faulty boiler and all three died overnight of carbon monoxide poisoning. I spent part of the following summer with Martin and his mum and dad, Anne and Mike, on a caravan holiday. We had fun but I also witnessed first-hand the acute effects of the tragic loss of a child on parents. I also saw the burden they bore in supporting Martin through his grief. Through this Bill we have an opportunity to put a measure in place that will ease that suffering in the event a parent suffers the loss of a child in the future.
It is evident that most employers already go beyond what the Bill seeks to achieve—why would they not? How effective will a member of staff be when going through the turmoil of such a loss? Most friends and colleagues I have spoken to about today are shocked that a legal entitlement does not already exist to underpin what those good employers already do.
I have been campaigning on this issue for the past seven years. One Friday afternoon I was on set for the “as live” recording of the regional segment of the “Sunday Politics” programme. I was in the BBC Southampton studio and discussing the political stories of the week with a local MP. As always, there was a non-political guest; in this case her name was Lucy Herd. She sat on the sofa under the bright, hot lights and told her story. She was nervous and vulnerable but spoke clearly and strongly. She had just moved down south from living in the north-west. The previous August she had been at home in Cumbria, distracted and busy with her household chores; her two-year old, Jack, was playing around her feet, and the back door was open to let in some air. Moments later she looked up from the washing up through the kitchen window and saw Jack face down in the garden pond. She dropped everything and ran out but, despite all her efforts and those of the emergency services, Jack died. Lucy’s husband was away working in Australia and she had to cope for the first day or so without him and with the support of her parents. Her husband hurried back but his employer gave him only three days’ bereavement leave, including time for his son’s funeral. Lucy’s story demonstrated the lack of any entitlement to bereavement leave for parents in these unimaginable circumstances.
Like the majority of parents in such circumstances, by the time I met Lucy she was no longer with her husband. I kept in touch with her and her campaign, Jack’s Rainbow. She petitioned Parliament and worked with my friend Tom Harris, then the MP for Glasgow Cathcart, on a 10-minute rule Bill. She captured many stories of parents being even more harshly treated by employers. I was particularly shocked that many were NHS workers. I could assume only that some managers were under such pressure to hit targets that they had lost touch with their own humanity.
It was clear that something had to be done, so when the Children and Families Bill went through Parliament in 2014, Lucy and I spotted an opportunity. I was able to tell then of examples of company policies specifying only two days’ leave; of another with a similar policy that ended in the father committing suicide; and of the high number of marriages that end following a child bereavement. On that occasion we were not able to persuade the coalition Government to allow a legal entitlement. However, we did manage to persuade the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, to agree that ACAS would issue guidance to employers on the issue. I knew that this was progress, but I also knew that ultimately we would have to return to the issue. I was therefore delighted when Will Quince took up the issue in the last Session through a Private Member’s Bill. This raised its profile in the Commons and resulted in a Conservative Party manifesto commitment, with Kevin Hollinrake MP now taking the Bill through Parliament with government support.
The Bill will introduce a baseline minimum for all employees who are parents and lose a child below the age of 18. The provision will allow for two weeks’ leave for all employees who lose a child below the age of 18 or have a stillborn child. The latter provision is thanks to Will Quince’s amendment in the other place, which improved the Bill significantly. This leave will be a day one entitlement, available to all employees irrespective of their length of service with their current employer. Those exercising the right to leave will have a legal protection against being subjected to any detriment for doing so, consistent with other family-related leave entitlements, such as paternity, maternity and adoption leave. It is worth your Lordships noting that the Bill is constructed to be in harmony with these other related entitlements, which is why it may appear overly complex in its construction at times.
Time off, however, is not enough if lack of money forces you back to work. Under the Bill, bereaved parents will be entitled to two weeks’ parental bereavement pay provided that they meet the normal eligibility criteria, such as having 26 weeks of continuous service with the same employer the week before the date of the child’s death and meeting an average earnings test. The Bill allows the rate of pay to be set in regulations so that it can be uprated regularly in the normal way. I understand it is the Government’s intention that parental bereavement pay be paid at the statutory flat rate, which is currently £145.18 per week, or at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings where that is lower. Again, this is consistent with other family-related statutory pay entitlements, such as paternity pay, shared parental pay and adoption and maternity pay after the first six weeks. Consistency with similar entitlements is important from the perspective of familiarity and understanding for both parents and employers—which I know Kevin Hollinrake MP was keen to achieve—and lowers the risk of having to make a claim for these rights in a tribunal.
Obviously, this is just a high-level overview of the Bill, which is to some extent an enabling framework. Some of the details of how the provision will work will be set out in secondary legislation. Your Lordships will no doubt have noticed that there are a number of delegated powers in the Bill. Noble Lords are often rightly concerned that we should be clear about the need for delegated powers and how they will be used. I am therefore delighted that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report simply said:
“There is nothing in this Bill which we would wish to draw to the attention of the House”.
I take great comfort from this and hope that noble Lords do also.
As to how the powers will be used, I welcome the Government’s recent consultation on several of the key questions that the Bill leaves to be settled in regulations: the definition of “the bereaved parent”; how to take the leave; the window within which to take the leave; and any notice and evidence requirements. I hope the Government may be able to respond to the consultation before the next stage of the Bill, setting out the policy direction they intend to take on these key points.
I am taking the limited attendance here on a Friday as a sign of consent with this Bill and its drafting. Plenty of your Lordships have come to me to express support from across the House, and I am grateful to the Minister and his officials for their help as it has been put together. I do not believe in perfection as a normal possibility, but I believe that the Bill is in a good place thanks to the work of those in the other place. I want the Bill to succeed, not least because I am sponsoring it in this place, but more so because we have an opportunity here today to make a real difference to the lives of those who will seek to rely on this entitlement in the future. Ever since hearing Lucy’s story, I have been determined to show her that constructive engagement with politicians and the parliamentary process, although slow, can deliver. I hope that, with the support of your Lordships, we can deliver a piece of legislation that she, and other parents who have been through similar torment, can celebrate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, and particularly thank Lucy Herd and the many other campaigners who have spent years trying to bring this legislation to and through Parliament. I also pay tribute in particular to Kevin Hollinrake and Will Quince for their determined work in another place. I know that many other MPs spoke during the passage of the Bill in the Commons who also outlined how important it was, many of them citing their personal experience. I also thank the National Bereavement Alliance, Together for Short Lives and Bliss for their briefings, which have been extremely helpful.
As with most people who have chosen to speak on this Bill, both here and in another place, I have personal experience of some of the issues. I had a series of miscarriages when I was young; my eldest son would have been 40 this year. After one of my subsequent miscarriages, not at 24 weeks but quite late on, I can remember the doctor patting me on the leg and saying, “There, there, dear, the best thing for you is to get up and go back to work tomorrow. Get over it quickly”. I watched friends cross to the other side of the street because they knew that it was yet another miscarriage. I have talked to parents who have lost their children. They find the same thing.
Child bereavement is still something that most people find very difficult to talk about. When we look at how it affects employers, it can be even worse. There can be complete ignorance about the pain that parents go through in the last few days or even months of a child’s long-term illness, or with the shock of a sudden death. Employers do not know how to react, so I am delighted with the ACAS guidance and the fact that the National Bereavement Alliance worked with ACAS to make sure that guidance is there.
The problem is that not all the employers who need to know about the guidance will know about it. Nearly 20 years ago, when I was a senior manager, I was aware of another case where the two year-old child of the employee of a young manager died of leukaemia after a very short illness, by cancer standards, of two or three months. This manager’s boss came to see her the next day to say, “We have given this parent too much paid time off. She’s got to take unpaid time off for the funeral”. The young manager concerned said, “I’m not prepared for that”, ended up having a flaming row and stood their ground. The parent was allowed paid time off. It is interesting to note that neither of the two managers is still working for that employer, whereas the bereaved parent still is.
That is part of the problem: many parents cannot explain fully the experience that they have been through. I know that your Lordships’ House will know that I been working with Nascot Lawn, a centre for children with multiple difficulties, many of whose parents know that they will not achieve adulthood, that has just been closed by the NHS. I will quote briefly from the blog of Nikki, the mother of Lennon, who died last summer, writing in that immediate aftermath of the death. Although it was expected, it was a shock. She said:
“Lennon’s bedroom remains more or less untouched. His fishbowl bed still has pride of place in the middle of the room. The medical trolley is still brimming with dressings and medical equipment. His freshly washed clothes on the dresser waiting to be put away in the drawers. All his medical emergency plans and equipment lists still fixed to the backs of doors.
I know I need to sort through all of Lennon’s belongings and clothes.
But not yet, not just yet.
Keech Hospice have been amazing. Faye has been a godsend, my fairy godmother. I went to visit the hospice to collect all of Lennon’s belongings and the memory items that the nurses had made … She took me to the Job Centre for some advice on money. She felt my pain when we left. Not only are the 10 and half years I spent caring for Lennon and working tirelessly as an unqualified”,
high dependency nurse,
“to keep my child alive, was not recognised in the eyes of the Department of Work and Pensions, but … there is nothing anyone can do to help us financially until I feel able to return to work”.
That is why, while the period of 56 days mentioned in the Bill is great, there will be times when we should look at extending it or making that period of time more flexible. This is particularly true in cases such as those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, where there has been a sudden death, and there may be an inquest or meetings with lawyers leading up to that. I hope that it will be possible to meet the Minister, and perhaps the Minister in another place dealing with the consultation, to discuss why we need to be so rigid and whether some flexibility can be built in.
I have one more point from Nikki. She wrote:
“I applied for job seekers allowance, wanting to buy myself a little extra time to grieve before returning to some form of work. Only to be told that because I hadn’t ‘worked’ in 10 years I was ineligible. Despite the fact that in those 10 years, I had worked harder and for many more hours than the average person. The fact that I had saved the government and the NHS hundreds of thousands of pounds by providing my son with hourly complex medical care counts for nothing ... You are told to man up—move on. Get a job. Pay the bills. Provide for your remaining family”.
It is clear that the benefit and support structure is lacking, especially for parent carers. One thing I hope will come out of the Government’s consultation is guidance for jobcentres and the Department for Work and Pensions on the tribulations and difficulties that many parents with child bereavement face—both those who expect a death and those who face a sudden death—because it is an experience that very few people will go through.
The National Bereavement Alliance also talks about the chance to increase up to 25 the age at which parental pay and parental leave are available. I can understand why it makes that statement, but I wonder whether there is a simpler compromise. Where a child has an education and health care plan which takes them through to 25, usually because they have a long-term disability or medical condition, we know from the system that such people are more likely than others to become bereaved parents. Perhaps we might discuss whether we could extend it for those children who already have substantial care needs and support, many of whom, as we know, will not survive much beyond their 25th year.
There is also a request that the definition of a parent be looked at. I have some sympathy with this. I was a foster carer and then became a guardian to two children whose mother died. In various forms, as a guardian I had no legal status whatever. I had status with the family courts and with the school, but there were other situations where I did not. Definitions of parents are used in other legislation that could be used here. If you are a parent or a person with those caring responsibilities, as usually defined in the family court, it seems to me that you are the person who will be dealing with the death and its aftermath. Perhaps we could look at that further.
Finally, I applaud the work that has been done with employers, but we look for a national campaign to ensure that small employers, who obviously have concerns about extra leave, understand both the rarity of these cases and the concerns of bereaved parents as they face coming back to work. The ACAS guide is a good start, and I am delighted that many bereaved parents have been working with ACAS and larger employers to get the message across.
The most important thing is that this Bill succeeds through this House and becomes legislation. I look forward to the result of the consultation and hope that the Minister feels that it will be possible to have a meeting to discuss some of these matters during the passage of the Bill.
My Lords, we live in an age where we tend to assume, wrongly, that medicine has all the answers and that we will no longer be in situations where we will confront difficulties of bereavement and worse, yet, of course, every time that we think that, we are caught up by the sort of testimonies that we have heard today in this short debate and which bring it very much back into focus.
My own experience here is from my parents’ generation. I am one of a family who lost the eldest child at a relatively young age, before adolescence, and what would have been my youngest sibling—a long-wished-for and wanted daughter—was stillborn. So I am aware both of the issue and of the impact it had on our family life as my brothers and I grew up. I think that I can say with some confidence that my mother never got over the two tragedies that affected her children. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made clear, the death of a child is beyond everyday life; it goes on and on and is never forgotten, and we can never underestimate its impact on those affected by it. Therefore, I support the Bill as a step forward.
This is a difficult area; it is not easy for the law to legislate in a way that will pick up all the various elements—I shall come back to some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. However, we can recognise that the campaign that my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth and others over the last 10 or 15 years have tried to bring to Parliament is now gaining traction and has now got a way forward. Thanks to the work of Kevin Hollinrake MP, we have a real chance of getting a Bill that will give a basis and a framework by which bereavement can be dealt with in the very public space of employment in a way that will be sensitive and appropriate to the circumstances. Therefore, we support the Bill and hope very much that we can give it a fair wind and a speedy passage through your Lordships’ House.
The Bill has attracted very few people here today, but like my noble friend Lord Knight I think that there is a measure of support for it. The issues have been raised, in part, over a number of years, including in the Children and Families Act, and in a number of other Bills that came from BEIS, and BIS before it, in recent years. On each occasion we have seen the issue move forward a little bit. We should also recognise campaigners such as Lucy Herd, who I was privileged to accompany when she came to see the Minister at the time of the passage of the Children and Families Act. She so very bravely, as my noble friend Lord Knight said, went through the things that happened to her in a way that was incredibly impressive. One wonders how people can dig so deep and do what they have to do in order to keep going and survive, and yet turn that tragedy—the death of a deeply loved son—into a campaign that has been really effective, keeping it in the front of people’s minds and bringing it forward.
The Bill remedies a lacuna in our employment regulations. It is not a complete answer to all the problems involved, but it at least gives us a framework by which we can move forward. There is a lot of support for it; that has been demonstrated by the previous history but also by the way people have been addressing it in the other place. The important task here is to get it on to the statute book as quickly as possible and then perhaps, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has said, we can begin to think about the way forward on some of the other issues. Like her, I think there are issues about who constitutes a bereaved parent. We live in a time when there are non-standard family models that are not covered by all the legislation that we are talking about and I think there is a case for looking at that, particularly the point about guardians.
Some who submitted evidence to us in the run-up to the Bill suggested that it would be useful to have a more flexible approach over timing, both in taking the leave and in how the pay is taken. Again, this may be something we can return to. I think there is a case for having a minimum of 26 weeks available for leave to be taken, because as my noble friend Lord Knight has said, that fits into the broad approach that has been taken under the Bill. However perhaps a longer period of time would better reflect the unexpected issues that may arise, including attendance at inquests or anything else that might be required.
On the definition of a child, another point raised earlier, there are very good reasons for sticking to 18 and I do not think we should depart from that at any stage. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and others mentioned, there are other ways in which the statute book defines those who are still in the care of some form of parental engagement. For those, the argument here is not about the absolute age but the extent to which the parents are engaged in supporting and providing for their children. If they are, then the loss by sudden death, or even a known-about death, will be just as devastating whether it is at 18, at 21 or even at 25.
My final issue is a wider one but I think it is one the Minister will be aware of. We have had discussion very recently about the difference between an employee and a worker. The Bill has to be framed around “an employee”: all employees are workers but not all workers are employees. Are we going to think through the implications of the Bill, and others, in relation to the gig economy? It is not just the gig economy, but we will have to face up to this at some point. This is a good way into a number of issues raised by that and it will also have benefits for those who are not directly caught by that. As I have said, the key issue today is to get Bill as quickly as possible on to the statute book, but if the Minister is prepared to meet me, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lord Knight to pick up on these and other issues that might come up in some future programme of work, that would be helpful to us all.
My Lords, may I respond to that last point by picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson? He described the Bill as addressing just a lacuna and said that it was not the complete answer. If only the Bill could be a complete answer—if only any government Bill or Private Member’s Bill could ever be a complete answer to whatever issue it addressed, that would be a great thing. This, however, is a small step to respond to the campaign mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, which has been running for some time, led by Lucy Herd and other campaigners and taken up by colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Knight, in the Commons. After the election it was taken up by my honourable friend Kevin Hollinrake as a Private Member’s Bill and now, having proceeded through the Commons, it has been taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, to whom I am very grateful. For once, there is government support and I hope we can proceed to the statute book in due course to meet the manifesto commitment that we made on the Bill. I do not think it is necessary for me to repeat that.
Obviously, it is right that I and possibly other Ministers—I cannot give any guarantee on that but I offer myself—should offer ourselves up between now and Committee for meetings with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, if she is happy to come along, so that we can discuss it. I think that would be useful. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, might want to come as well. We want to make sure that we pass the Bill, which deals with what the noble Baroness described as, thankfully, a rarity. We have to go back only 150 years to remember a time when more than half of all funerals were those of small children. We are beyond that, dealing with a rarity, and we want to make sure that we get this right and get something on the statute book that will be useful.
There is always an element of fragility in the parliamentary process for any Private Member’s Bill. So far we have got through another place and I hope that, given the consensus we have, we will be able to get it right here and address the lacuna in existing pay and leave rights that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, addressed. We are dealing with something—the death of a child—that should not be treated in the same way as we manage to treat the birth of a child; instinctively, that does not seem right to me. Obviously, the loss of anyone can be very difficult to deal with. Indeed, any bereavement can affect a number of the workforce but the loss of a child before they reach adulthood can be a far greater tragedy because it is against the natural order of things.
It is right that we should all support the Bill. I do not think the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Stevenson, should worry about the relative emptiness of the Benches on all sides of the House. That is the nature of a hot Friday at the end of June. But we are dealing with an important point and we will get it right, I hope, in Committee. I hope we will not need to amend the Bill but at least that will be a moment when we can respond to the consultation referred to.
May I briefly set out the Government’s position on the Bill? The noble Lord, Lord Knight, set out what the Bill does: it gives employees who have lost a child below the age of 18 the right to at least two weeks away from work as a day-one right. It is the Government’s intention that parental bereavement pay will be paid at the statutory rate referred to, which is currently £145.18 per week, or at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings where that is lower, subject to the 26-week qualifying period.
I make it clear again that that is the bare minimum which an employee should expect from their employer once this provision is put in place. Appropriate advice should be offered to employers so that they can act with compassion and consideration for their staff to offer a provision over and above the statutory minimum. We want this to be a catalyst for a change in the mindset and approach to bereavement. We want people to be able to speak in the workplace about their bereavement, including in the event that they suffer the bereavement of a child, and certainly not to be fearful of suffering a detriment in respect of that bereavement.
On the detail of the provisions, we noted that the lack of detail on some key aspects of the entitlement has been pressed in another place, and rightly so. I do not think this should be a cause of concern and I hope that the following reassurances will suffice on the issue. As the noble Lord mentioned and as the House will be aware, we launched a consultation in March to consider how best to deliver the detail of the provisions through regulations. That consultation has now closed and I am pleased to be able to tell the House that it received over 1,400 responses, mainly from individuals. We also received responses from key business groups and relevant charities. Those responses have been helpful in shaping the detail of the policy and making sure that the final product works for both employers and employees. That has obviously been our ambition from the start.
The Long Title of the Bill focuses on parents only. However, since the question of who counts as a parent is a complex one to answer, the consultation welcomed views on the different groups of people who have a parental relationship with the child and thus may be included. There was a strong sense among the responses to the consultation that entitlement to parental bereavement leave and pay should not rely solely upon biological parentage but should depend on the presence of a parental relationship, whether that is biological, legal or informal. I am grateful for the nods that I see from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who asked for a degree of flexibility on that. The consultation also asked about flexibility on when the leave can be taken.
As drafted, the Bill provides for parents to take a minimum of two weeks’ parental bereavement leave within a period of at least 56 days. The Government sought views on the optimum length of this window in which to take the leave, as well as how the leave and pay can be taken: for example, in a single block of two weeks or in separate one-week blocks, or even more flexibly still. Responses overwhelmingly supported the extension of the window beyond 56 days to provide flexibility to bereaved parents. A majority of respondents also wanted to see flexibility in the way that leave and pay can be taken. Many favoured being able to split the leave into separate weeks. In respect of both these issues, the consultation responses have shown us that this provision must cater for the unpredictable and very personal nature of grief.
Lastly, the Government asked for views on notice and evidence requirements. We asked whether it is reasonable for there to be a requirement to give notice; if so, what form that notice might take; and whether evidence requirements for parental bereavement leave and pay should mirror those in existing provisions. The majority of responses said that the Government should seek to make these requirements as reasonable as possible and not place undue burdens on either the employee or the employer. The department is currently working on the Government’s response to the consultation and we will publish that in due course. I reassure the House that it is my hope and intention to have the response to this consultation published before Committee stage on the Bill. I think that the date we have for Committee—I am sure the noble Lord will be aware of this—is sometime before we rise for the summer. In that document, we will set out our policy in respect of the key issues raised and considered in the consultation. Expediting publication in this way will, I hope, convey our continued commitment to this Bill and our desire to see it pass into law and will assist with noble Lords’ consideration of the Bill’s delegated powers.
This House frequently adds much value and challenge through asking the right questions about the need for delegated powers and their intended use—I have certainly been asked about that on a number of occasions on a great many Bills—so I am pleased to echo the noble Lord, Lord Knight, in quoting the 29th report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I really like this:
“There is nothing in this Bill which we would wish to draw to the attention of the House”.
That is not something I always hear on Bills with which I am involved. I hope it is ample reassurance for the House.
In support of the Bill, once the regulations are in place we will once again work with ACAS—I think that addresses some of the points the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made—to update its guidance to reflect this new provision because it is important to get to as many employers as possible to get the message over. It is almost as if the Bill would be unnecessary if employers acted in an appropriate manner. The guidance will be key for employers and employees in understanding the new provision and setting the tone for the approach to bereavement going forward, which I think we can all agree needs to change on certain issues. The approach now needs to reflect a more modern and understanding approach to bereavement and all the various issues which surround it. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, and say that the Government fully support the Bill. I look forward to discussions and I hope that we can have them between now and Committee to make sure that we can have a productive and useful Committee stage that allows the Bill to go through in the manner that the noble Lord wishes.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken. I am grateful for everyone’s support. This has been a small but perfectly formed debate for Second Reading of the Bill. I particularly pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for sharing her story and those of other bereaved parents, such as Nikki. I have great sympathy with the points she made about the benefits system and carers, which are beyond this Bill, but the points were well made and I hope they are heard elsewhere. Like my noble friend Lord Stevenson, I think this Bill is, as I said in my opening speech, a framework to allow us to move forward. I was grateful for his comments about wanting to see it on the statute book as soon as possible. I have sympathy with the points both noble Lords made about the 58-day window, particularly in the context of inquests, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the concerns about the definition of parents. We look forward to the Government’s response to the consultation so that we know how they will be treated in regulations. I am very grateful for the direction of travel indicated in the Minister’s speech. I am grateful to him for his agreement to have a meeting with us to find a constructive and speedy way forward. I was particularly drawn to his sense of the imbalance in our treatment of the birth and the death of children. This measure can catalyse, to some extent, a much more healthy conversation at work about bereavement as part of moves as a society and a culture towards being more open about discussing bereavement issues.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 1.04 pm.