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New Mothers (Redundancy Protection)

Volume 626: debated on Thursday 6 July 2017

3. What steps she is taking to strengthen redundancy protection for new mothers returning from maternity leave. (900272)

The Government proudly supported the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful to discriminate on a number of grounds, including pregnancy and maternity. We know from talking to employers that four out of five say that they want to do the right thing and support pregnant women and women returning to work after pregnancy. There are still far too many cases of discrimination and unlawful treatment and both Minister Margot James and I are absolutely determined to come down like a ton of bricks on employers who break the law and to make sure that women are completely aware of the rights that they enjoy. I am aware of the consultation to extend the time by which somebody can report to a tribunal—

I see little evidence of the ton of bricks. As a former employer, I know first hand the value of protecting maternity rights, not just for the expectant mum or returning mother but for the employer as well. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that we encourage employers to meet their legal responsibilities to prevent the discrimination happening in the first place and that those who do not should be held to account?

I forgot to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place. He is absolutely right. We are working with ACAS and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, because not only employers but women returning to work need to be aware of their rights. Having had three children, two in America, I can assure Members that the rights and responsibilities enjoyed here are far better than in other parts of the world, but they are still not good enough. Minister Margot James and I are absolutely determined to sort things out.

Order. That Minister does not require her name to be advertised in the Chamber; we all know who the hon. Lady is. The Minister is experienced enough to know that one should not name names in the Chamber. I am sure she will do better next time.

The fact that some women are still discriminated against during pregnancy or maternity leave is both unacceptable and unlawful. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government not only take the problem extremely seriously but are looking at how laws can be better enforced to give the protection she promises?

I am delighted to give those assurances.

My apologies, Mr Speaker—I shall continue to serve my apprenticeship.

With considerable skill and charm, I am quite certain about that. I thank the Minister for what she has said.

Given the Minister’s view about this, will she take up the issue of tribunal fees, which a previous Government, of which she was a one-time member, increased significantly? Does she not accept that charging a huge fee to take a case to tribunal is one of the biggest reasons why women who have been discriminated against cannot enforce their rights?

The hon. Lady will know that there has been an employment tribunal fees review and we have found no evidence that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is falling foul of the current fees system. She also knows that we are carefully considering responses to the consultation and will be responding.