I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Losing a child is the most harrowing experience that could ever happen to any parent. As a father of four myself, I know personally that it is every mother and father’s worst fear, and one that never goes away. I am conscious that many Members present have personal experience of this subject. I am grateful for their incredible courage in highlighting the issue, for all their work in Parliament to help others in similar circumstances, and for their participation in today’s debate. We had a general debate on baby loss during Baby Loss Awareness Week last week, and I am pleased that we have time to debate this important and sensitive issue again today, so soon after such an important week in the calendar.
I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince)—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—for so successfully bringing this issue to the fore with his private Member’s Bill in the previous Session, which served as the catalyst for the progress we have made in reaching this point. I thank the all-party groups that have been involved, particularly the one on baby loss. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) for all their work.
I also thank the all-party group for children who need palliative care, and charities such as Child Bereavement UK, Bliss, Together for Short Lives and Jack’s Rainbow, and all the other charitable organisations that do important work on this issue, not only to champion bereaved parents but to raise awareness. Of course, I thank the parents themselves, including from my constituency Annika and James Dowson, who first drew my attention to how baby loss is managed in many hospitals and how so much more could be done to help with the initial stages of grief and loss.
I am delighted that this is one of those issues for which there is cross-party support. Such consensus is right and important, and I hope it enables us to make positive progress with the Bill. I have been working closely with the excellent Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), with her Department and officials, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, to create a Bill that is fair and beneficial to those who will need to rely on it. I am grateful for the Government’s support.
The successful passage of the Bill will ensure that we are able to put in place a new provision and level of protection so that those who find themselves in this awful situation in future know that, at a minimum, they will be entitled to time off work to grieve, without their suffering any detriment. We know that there are some brilliant, supportive and flexible employers out there, and I commend them for the support that they provide to their employees when these circumstances occur. But we also know that some employers operate at the other end of the spectrum, and it is those employers we need to consider when putting this legislation in place.
I thank my hon. Friend for taking forward the excellent work begun by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) in the previous Session. He rightly says that most employers would grant leave under such terrible circumstances, were it asked for. Is not the point of the Bill that no parent should, in almost unimaginably horrible and difficult circumstances, have to make such a request and fear what the answer might be?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, most employers do the right thing, working with the people affected so that they get whatever support and time off they need, and maintaining their levels of pay through that period of time.
During our consultations on the Bill, our excellent parliamentary digital engagement team facilitated a Facebook debate, in which I took part. Some charities and the campaign organisation, 38 Degrees, also provided us with a number of examples of employers and line managers who offered inappropriate levels of support. For instance, a parent told us that their employer— an NHS body—offered them only five days’ leave following the sudden passing of their youngest daughter, with any additional time having to be taken as annual leave. Brendan from Newcastle told us that he did not get any paid leave and was sacked nine months later. Gillian from Milton Keynes did not receive the appropriate support when she lost her daughter 13 years ago. She told us that the measures proposed in the Bill would have meant that she and her partner could have grieved together, and provided help and support for their other children.
No employee should even have to think about being at work when they desperately need some time away to grieve for a lost child. Yet according to a Rainbow Trust survey, around 9% of parents said that their employer was not at all supportive. I ask those employers to consider their position. What is the point of having a parent in the workplace who has had no time off to grieve? What effect do those employers think it has on the bereaved parents’ attitude to their workplace and, indeed, on other people in the workplace? I strongly recommend that all employers and managers read the excellent ACAS guidelines on bereavement, which clearly detail best practice for financial and emotional support.
I will now set out the detail of the Bill. The Bill will provide two weeks’ leave for all employees who lose a child below the age of 18. This will be a day-one right. Those key points are established on the face of the Bill, which deliberately leaves some other details to regulations. This leave will be protected and a person should suffer no form of detriment in the event that they find themselves having to take the leave. Crucially, the Bill will give parents an important choice, allowing them to make a decision on what is best for their needs, when they might otherwise be reliant on the good will of their employer.
I am very, very happy to say that it has never happened to me, and I grieve for all those to whom it has happened. I have heard of other cases where young men and women have been killed, and sometimes the parents do not want to stop working. They do not have to stop working if they feel that continuing may be better in helping them to get over the loss.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The key to the Bill is that it retains that flexibility. There should be a discussion and negotiation, and the employer should provide the employee with support in order to help that person to decide what is best for them. It may be that the leave is taken later, rather than straightaway. People have different needs when dealing with their loss, as they do so in different ways and at different times.
The Bill also deals with paid leave. Leave will be paid, as a minimum, at the statutory rate—currently £140.98 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings where that is lower—for those who have fulfilled the qualifying period of 26 weeks’ service with the same employer the week before the date of their child’s passing away.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for Colchester (Will Quince) on all their work on the Bill. I wish it well. I have just one question. Will these rights also cover adoptive parents?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have left some details out of the Bill to allow more time for consultation on topics just like that one. Clearly the legislation cannot just be about biological parents. Adoptive parents should get the same benefits that the Bill provides. There are other such circumstances to discuss, so we want the maximum possible opportunity for consultation and submission of evidence, and for debate on these matters so that we ensure that we get the Bill right.
Leave will be paid at the statutory rate for those who fulfil the qualifying period of 26 weeks’ service the week before the child’s passing away. The Bill allows the rate to be set in regulations so that it can be uprated regularly in the normal way, but that is the level at which I envisage the rate will be set. That mirrors existing family leave and pay provisions, such as paternity leave, shared parental leave, adoption leave, and maternity leave after the first six weeks. That strikes a fair balance between the rights of the employee and a workable framework for the employer, but it is clearly the minimum we would expect the employer to provide.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) talked about flexibility, and that is my next point. It is widely recognised that grief affects people in different ways and at different times, and that there are no set rules for how and when to grieve. A level of flexibility over when to take this leave will allow an employee to take it at a time that best suits them, within a fixed period following the bereavement.
Hon. Members will have different opinions about how long that period should be, and there is clearly a balance to be struck between the individual needs of a bereaved employee and the employer’s need for a level of certainty around absences from work so that they can manage those effectively. With that in mind, the Bill provides for the window to be set in regulations, with a minimum of eight weeks within which these two weeks of leave must be taken.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind and generous words. I know we had a conversation about this in drafting the Bill, and I welcome the 56 days, but we know that fathers, in particular, often bottle up grief and can have issues further down the line, so I would ask that we consider extending the period to six months. I appreciate the concerns about employers, but that would give parents flexibility.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and there are so many different circumstances—in certain circumstances, a funeral may be delayed. We need to consider that issue, and I am keen to hear views on it.
Eligibility is another area we need to have a debate on. In terms of my current thinking on who is considered to be a parent, the Government and I did quite a lot of consultation over the summer. It was apparent early on that the issue of who is a parent is key to ensuring the right people are reached and to the success of the Bill.
Along with answering the question of who is a parent, will my hon. Friend please tell me whether the Bill will address the issue of who is an employee, in view of the Taylor report? Those who work on zero-hours contracts, those who are self-employed and others will need that same space for grieving, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) pointed out in his very powerful article in The Times. Not everybody is in the same situation. Was that considered as well?
My hon. Friend makes two good points in one—that self-employed people are treated differently in relation to various aspects of maternity and paternity leave, and that the Taylor review is considering some of these issues. We should consider this issue in the framework of the Taylor review. We should see what recommendations come from that review and then perhaps look to change these provisions if there is consensus on that.
An obvious starting point on eligibility is for the provision to apply to the biological parents of the child who has passed away. However, it is unrealistic to suggest that all family units look exactly the same; that is too simplistic an approach. As a society, we have clearly moved on from mum, dad and 2.4 children. Children now live in many different situations, with caring responsibilities divided up in different ways, depending on different life circumstances. A child could have a number of parental figures in their life, all of whom are equally attached to them and, therefore, potentially equally devastated if they pass away.
I will not be so bold as to say that pinning down a wider definition of “parent” is easy. I do not expect we will do that today or even during the passage of the Bill. We need to take considered opinion on the issue and to allow further debate on it. Therefore, in the Bill’s later stages, I propose that we take time for consideration and the submission of evidence, that we debate this point widely, and that we bring forward the necessary regulations, as provided for in the Bill, once that consideration has been undertaken.
First, we need to ensure that we put in place a clear framework so that everyone clearly understands whether the entitlement to leave applies under these circumstances. That will take a little more time. I am very conscious that many different issues can and will form part of the overall debate during the Bill’s passage. We are likely to hear about the desire for parity between the self-employed and the employed, and questions about what other measures can be put in place to support parents at such a devastating time. These issues, and no doubt many more, will form the basis for a wider debate about what can and should be done in this area.
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House share my desire to ensure that the Bill succeeds and makes quick progress. As we all know, a certain fragility accompanies the private Member’s Bill process. I would like to navigate that as best and as quickly as I can, with the help and support of Members across the House. Collectively, we have the opportunity to effect real change. It is our duty to ensure that those who will need to rely on this provision are able to do so at the earliest opportunity.
I lost my daughter a few years ago; she was an adult. You never get over it—you just get used to it and live with it. I was employed by United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust and I had a phased return to work. They were just marvellous—I can never thank them enough. It makes such a difference, having that chance to grieve.
I completely support this Bill, and I am really grateful that everybody else seems to be supporting it, but I have a few things I want to ask. First, there is a worry that people on zero-hours contracts might not meet the number of hours required to get the statutory benefits. I wonder if we might give some thought to having an average of the past 12 months’ earnings, particularly if the person has had time off to care for a sick child. Secondly, perhaps the age criteria with regard to the loss of a disabled child ought to be raised to recognise the lifelong responsibility of somebody who cares for a disabled child.
Thirdly, I met somebody from Bliss yesterday, who said that people on universal credit ought to be able to have some sort of entitlement, because if they lose a child, they need time to grieve as well. I am told that the way things are at the moment, they can be sanctioned. They can go to appeal and probably win, but the problem is losing the money in the first place. We have had the whole universal credit debate, so perhaps we could give some thought to that aspect.
Finally, on the time off that people take, my union, Unison, is suggesting that they have a week as a block and are then allowed to take odd days. You never know when you are going to have something come up like a funeral or a day when the grief just hits you, and you need a day off then.
What an honour it is to follow the hon. Member for Lincoln (Ms Lee).
We are an example of employees, as it were. You are not our employer, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you are somebody with authority over us making adjustments to cope with grieving parents. We have very kindly been called at the beginning of this debate, because that really does help.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). I am very pleased to have worked with my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Colchester (Will Quince), and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), over the past couple of years on coping with the loss of a child and on how we can change the law, as well as change the conversation in society as a whole. It is therefore an enormous pleasure to speak as a co-sponsor of this Bill. I will not detain the House any more than I absolutely have to because we want to get on with it and get it passed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester did a lot of the spadework last year with his ten-minute rule Bill. I am sorry that that did not progress, but very pleased that the Government have had the opportunity to make a manifesto commitment to bring about this area of change. To me, as a former Government lawyer, the most exciting word in the Bill is “pay”. It is great that the Government is going to put its money where its mouth is and really support bereaved parents and their employers to cope when something very tragic happens. This Bill is long overdue. Historically, it has been down to the employer to decide how bereaved parents are treated. Although I have had excellent and supportive care from my employer, I know that that is not the case for everyone. I was sorry to hear of the examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton raised.
Grief can, to a certain extent, be managed. That is something that I was told by my consultant soon after I gave birth, and at the time I thought it was a ridiculous idea that anyone could ever put grief into a box and raise the lid only when it suited them. However, the similarity of experience among those who are bereaved is quite astounding. Grief is something that can be managed, and life can go on after something dreadful. It is so important that politicians and the Government put in place the legal mechanisms to enable that to happen as easily as possible.
In the early days, bereaved parents may well, depending on the circumstances, be suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder—they will certainly be suffering from shock—and they might need to tell and retell their story. They will have to deal with funerals and administration. They might have to deal with the police, inquests and all sorts of ghastly and unpleasant registration that no one thinks about before it happens to them.
It is particularly good that the grief of fathers is recognised in the Bill, because they have traditionally been overlooked. We know the very sad statistics about the high incidence of marital breakdown following a tragedy. Anything we can do to assist families to stay together must be done.
In the all-party group on baby loss we have worked very hard on the bereavement care pathway, and I am thrilled that we have brought the Government along with us. I think that counselling is a very valuable part of the recovery from a tragedy such as this, and anything we can do to build that into employment practice is worth doing. I was very lucky; I had a very supportive employer in the civil service. I had a job I loved, and I had sympathetic and imaginative colleagues. My own experience of grief certainly made me a better manager when the time came for me to help the people I worked with to manage their own tragic situations.
I do think that there is a role for good bereavement practice at work. I found it very helpful to know who knew what had happened, so one thing I introduced as a manager was to get everybody to sign a card that was given to the bereaved person as they returned to work, so that it was obvious that everybody knew what had happened and everybody acknowledged the extent of the tragedy. That enabled us all to move on and to have conversations, if appropriate—or not, if appropriate.
There are many things that employers can do to ease the burden, and I think the ACAS policies are a great place to start. It is important to recognise that members of staff will need extra support, possibly for many years. Anniversaries are difficult, although I think we often build them up in advance to be worse than they are on the day; they do not turn out to be quite as bad as we think they will be. We can all imagine scenarios that may be particularly difficult for those who have lost a child, including future pregnancies and the illness of other children in the family. A hospital visit of any kind can be very stressful for somebody who has been traumatised in hospital. I call on employers to do everything they can to try to imagine what it is like.
This is, however, a happy day for us. I offer many congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, and to all of us who are supporting this Bill, I say, “Thank you.”
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), and I agree with her that this is a happy day. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is a great day. I think I speak for everyone in this House when I say that we went into politics because we wanted to make a difference, whether it is to one person, one family, hundreds of people or thousands of people up and down the country. That is exactly why we do this job, and why we love it so much. Today is one of those days when I know we are making a difference. This will make a difference to the thousands of parents every year in this country who go through the personal tragedy of losing a child. As Members of Parliament, we have a duty and to some extent an obligation, where we can, to use our own personal experiences—good and bad—to improve the lot of others: to make sure that as few as possible people go through the sad experience, but also to make sure that those who do will have the best possible bereavement care and support available.
Thankfully, child loss in this country is as rare as it is tragic, but even so about 5,000 children die every year, and the parents need help and support. We would like to think that they got such support from their employers. Both my wife and I were very lucky to have employers who were excellent. They could not have done more, and we did take two weeks’ leave. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) rightly said, the vast majority of employers are brilliant. They act with compassion, care, kindness and sympathy. Sadly, however, some do not.
Since starting to research this issue nearly two years ago, shortly after entering this place, my inbox has, sadly, been full of cases of people who have been treated horrendously. In fact, only this morning, after I appeared on “Good Morning Britain”, somebody sent me an email saying they were told they had to take a day’s holiday to attend their child’s funeral. That is totally unacceptable. We should not be debating this issue or having to debate it; it should be a matter of course that employers act with compassion, kindness and respect for the tragedy that has occurred to the parents, but, sadly, it is not. That is why the Bill is so important.
Two years ago, I started the research that led to my ten-minute rule Bill, and I must admit I was gutted when we did not manage to get it through during the last Parliament. I remember that when I wrote to the Minister, who is in her place on the Front Bench, I did not expect the response I received, which was, “Come and speak to me, because I think we should have a conversation.” We had a conversation, and she and the Secretary of State could not have been more supportive or helpful. Hon. Members can imagine my pride and delight when I saw that this was a key policy in the Conservative party manifesto. That was the case not just for our party, but for the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, so we have cross-party consensus on the issue.
I must now turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, because without him we would not be here today. Yes, he came top among Conservative Members in the private Members’ Bill ballot, but I know that he will have received hundreds of emails from individuals, charities and organisations all across the country, almost begging him to take on their cause or campaign and their Bill. When I picked up the phone to him, however, he did not hesitate in saying yes, and I cannot thank him enough. Anybody who has gone through the experience of child loss will want to make sure that their child’s life, however short, meant something—that a difference was made because of it—and you have enabled that, so I am forever indebted to you. Thank you, Kevin.
This Bill is going to make a difference. For the families concerned, it will give them certainty. They will not have to ask that awkward question about time off when they go into work having suffered such a tragedy. It will make a difference to so many people. Before I get too emotional, I would just like to say, “Please support this Bill”.
I have been in the position of losing my son, and I must thank my employer at the time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones). I have to say that his support was exemplary, which was very lucky for me, because I know the absolutely devastating effect this has on the family.
The Bill has cross-party support. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who no doubt ensured that this was in her party’s manifesto, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) ensured that it was in our party’s manifesto. This is one of those issues on which we cannot quite believe that such protection has not previously been put in place.
I am really proud that it is this Conservative Government who have not only introduced a world-class bereavement care pathway, which was launched just two weeks ago and will help deliver support for parents who suffer the loss of a child—that is an amazing development and the 11 pilots were launched last Monday—but who are now putting in place additional protection for parents, which is also amazing. When my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West and I all sat down to set up the all-party group, that was our vision—to put in place good bereavement support for families across this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester has said, this is a great day that will change the lives of many parents.
The medical research is clear that, unfortunately, parents do suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. That is being looked into and it is very clear that it can be a consequence of losing a child. A statutory right to protection is therefore incredibly important. I was horrified by the examples given by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) of the lack of compassion and, indeed, common sense shown by some employers.
I thank the Minister for being willing to take the issue forward, and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton for picking it for his Bill. We know that if we deal with grief appropriately early on and allow that support to be in place, it will have long-term benefits for society and minimise the knock-on cost. My doctor—I have spoken about this before—wanted to prescribe me antidepressants, but, as I said to him, “I’m not depressed; I’ve lost a child”, which is something completely different in terms of the grief.
The action taken by this Bill, working hand in hand with the bereavement care pathway, will set a standard that I hope, as I said in the baby loss awareness debate, will be rolled out so that employers will have to take note of all bereavement and consider how they can support staff through different types of bereavement. I tell the Minister that this is an absolutely critical step. I am very proud that this Government are delivering on bereavement care for families, effectively from the moment that they suffer their loss, and putting in place the support that parents need at a time that is so incredibly and utterly devastating. It will make a huge difference to many parents.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), who made a passionate speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on promoting the Bill, and my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis). I also acknowledge the passionate speech given by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Ms Lee). I thank everyone for their contributions. It is amazing how much work can be done by Back-Bench MPs.
The Bill follows on from the debate last week—I cannot always remember when debates took place, because they all merge into one—on the bereavement care pathway. A huge amount of work has been done by a group of newish or young MPs who have been in Parliament for only a few years. It is amazing how much work can be done in a short period.
I support the Bill and am proud that it was among our party’s manifesto commitments. The manifesto stated:
“We will ensure all families who lose a baby are given the bereavement support they need, including a new entitlement for child bereavement leave.”
I am not the only Member of Parliament who will have attended a surgery quite early on in their career and had to try to support and manage a bereaved parent who might have been dealing not only with the loss of their child, but with other issues such as housing and healthcare, and who was nervous about talking to their employer. It was difficult for me to give the best possible advice in my first few cases, so I am really pleased that the Bill will help those people.
I concur with my hon. Friend about the understanding that Members gain from people visiting their surgeries. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for promoting the Bill.
I am lucky enough to represent a constituency with two amazing charities, Abigail’s Footsteps and Making Miracles, and our area will be part of the bereavement care pathway trial. It is a credit to my constituents and others around the country who, despite having experienced such desperate suffering, have provided the drive, working with Members here, to bring us to where we are today. I congratulate them and I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) agrees.
I completely agree. My hon. Friend has been a strong advocate for her constituency and a champion of her local charities. I have a great birthing centre in my constituency, the Crowborough birthing unit. The midwives do fantastic work, which I would also like to acknowledge.
I am keen to support the Bill because members of my family are involved in employment that is a little unstable and it can be tricky to take time off. One member of my family is involved in shift work: it is not easy to take time off, because it changes the pattern within the factory. I hope the Bill would provide them with support if they ever found themselves in that situation again. Another member of my family who lost a child was in the teaching profession. Taking time off was seen as not the right thing to do. I hope the Bill will bring common sense and compassion to employers, as well as support to such families.
Parents in my constituency must feel properly supported by their employer when they go through the deeply distressing ordeal of losing a child. Losing a child must cause grief beyond words. It is right that employees are able to feel comfortable taking time off to grieve without being nervous of having that conversation or nervous about losing pay. It is only right that parents with a child over six months old have the same protection in law as those who lose a child under six months old. There is no set limit on how many days may be taken off as leave and the definition of a reasonable time remains vague. The Bill will provide certainty and a little bit of a buffer—a bit of space of time, with a bit of pay—to parents who are grieving.
Most employers are excellent and act with compassion and kindness, but we should not leave it to chance or to the most articulate parents who have lost a child to have that conversation. I am therefore pleased to support the Bill, and that the UK Government are leading the way in supporting parents who need time away from their work to grieve for their lost child. I am proud of my colleagues who have been able to do so much work in such a short time. The Bill will provide some support to my constituents who lose a child.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) and I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on introducing the Bill.
The death of a child is something that no parent should have to face. The intense grief they experience is something I can only imagine and I hope I never have to go through it. Sixty families across Bedfordshire lost a child in 2015-16. One would have hoped that all those families were given the space to grieve, but in some cases employers were strict and time to grieve was not granted to families. This important Bill would put on a statutory footing the right to a clear space to grieve without the worry of lost earnings. I am therefore pleased to lend my support to it, and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for letting me speak at short notice.
I, too, rise to support the Bill. I pay tribute to all Members who have spoken so powerfully about their individual loss. I realise that they do so with great bravery—nothing could be more persuasive. The presence of the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) on the Opposition Front Bench also shows the importance of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) will be well aware from conversations we have had that my family do not tend to support Bills that originate from those on the Conservative Benches, but they will be proud that I am able to co-sponsor this Bill because my sister lost her son just a few years ago. She was fortunate in the sense that she was already on maternity leave because of the birth of my niece, but when I discussed with her whether she would have benefited from the Bill, her take was, interestingly, “I assume that I would have had that right in any event.” She worked for the NHS, but, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, that may well not be the case in organisations including the NHS.
The most powerful aspect of the Bill is that no parent would have to go through the stressful rigmarole of almost trying to negotiate, or trying to find out whether those terms apply, because the terms will be there from the start. When I managed people in a department, and had to deal with circumstances such as these, it was not entirely clear what the department’s policy was. As anyone who has been a manager in a big company with a human resources department will know, HR departments must have policies that are absolutely clear. Discretion is not often afforded, because otherwise, where would it end up? I therefore consider it essential for this right to be baked in, so that it sets a benchmark for even better standards.
I am thinking particularly about pay. We have discussed the statutory elements of pay, but, as we know, most companies will probably not go through the rigmarole of amending the pay, and I imagine that many employees in this position will end up on full pay as a result.
I do not wish to take up any further time. I am hugely supportive of the Bill and am hugely grateful to the Members who have shared their experiences and to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton. I hope very much that the Bill represents an advance in legislation that everyone out there, regardless of party political persuasion, will support today.
I support the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on it. It is worth our remembering how successful he has been with private Members’ Bills. Last year, I believe, he succeeded in introducing “Claudia’s law”. I should like to think that this very special Bill is in extremely safe hands, and I note the support that it has been given so far today by Members on both sides of the House. I sincerely wish it well, and hope that it proceeds through both Houses as quickly as possible.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who is not in the Chamber at the moment. I know how hard he—and other Members—has worked to raise awareness of this sensitive issue. When I think back to my first days as a Member of Parliament, I recall an Adjournment debate about baby loss that took place late one summer’s evening. I was not in the Chamber, but I read the report of the debate in Hansard, and I know that it was very emotive and very well received. Perhaps some of the work that has led to today’s debate stems from it. As has already been mentioned, there was also a ten-minute rule Bill on the subject last year.
I am pleased to note that the Government were listening, as was evident from our manifesto—and I must acknowledge that the issue was included in the Labour manifesto as well. This is also an indication that it is possible to sit on the Back Benches and, if I may borrow a phrase from my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, make a difference. Perhaps I am being presumptuous, because the Bill has not yet made it to Royal Assent, but I am sure we are all pretty certain that it stands a very good chance of doing so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) spoke of visits to her surgeries. I recall a visit to one of my first surgeries by a father who had tragically lost twins. That was a difficult case for me to deal with, as I had never come across such a situation before. There is sometimes a harsh reality check when Members of Parliament start to understand the breadth of the topics that people raise in the privacy of surgeries as they relate their personal experiences.
I followed the work of the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss because of that constituent in particular. I have been pleased to hear about Baby Loss Awareness Week, debates in this place and the work of the APPG. I also welcome news of the bereavement care pathway, which I hope and sincerely believe will soon start to make a difference to some of those parents.
The other thing that today has shown is that, although we so often have heated debates in this place and are clearly divided in our opinions, there are occasions when Parliament comes together. Today’s debate must surely be an example of Parliament at its best, following on, as it does, from the earlier debate on emergency workers.
I want to close with a couple of words about the Bill. I raised the point about adoptive parents because I was genuinely uncertain whether they would be covered, so I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton could give some clarity about that.
Clearly, a lot of work has gone into getting the Bill to this stage. There will be a lot more consultation and work to ensure we get it right, so that it helps those whom we want it to help. It will go a long way to addressing a lot of the vagaries and uncertainties that exist. It is now time that we provided some clarity on those vagaries and uncertainties, which exist for the parents, but also sometimes for employers. I speak from a small business background. Often, people are so focused on running their business that when these situations arise that they have never come across—it never happened in our business—some guidelines and, now, this legislation would be a tremendous boost.
I welcome today’s debate, I welcome the Bill and I wish it every success.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for introducing this Bill. He is a man of great integrity and when he takes on a cause, he follows it through. Those who support the Bill—all of us in this place—are grateful for that.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who, although she is not in the House today, has spoken very movingly on this issue. All those colleagues spoke movingly and with great dignity and courage in this place. In so doing, they have helped to move forward an issue of great importance.
It would be remiss of me not to highlight the hugely important work of my hon. Friend—indeed, my friend—the Member for Colchester (Will Quince). He has been hugely successful, and not only in securing the commitment in my party’s manifesto. The Opposition are united with us in their commitment on this issue, as are other parties. He has highlighted the issue tirelessly in the House and he has taken the campaign to the country and persuaded the country of its importance, and he has done so with great personal courage and dignity. We in this House and his electors in Colchester are lucky to have him.
As many hon. Members have said, the circumstances that this Bill addresses must be every person’s worst nightmare. We have heard, rightly, that many employers do a fantastic and compassionate job in such circumstances—we should pay tribute to them—but we have also heard, sadly, that there are some who do not. We heard an example this morning, I think from my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, that to my mind was inexcusable. There will be others who, probably unintentionally and through no ill intent, place a burden on people in this situation. This Bill seeks to help to build the sort of society and the sort of compassionate approach that we all wish to see. It provides time and space for bereaved parents not only to make the tragic and necessary arrangements but to grieve and to try to begin coming to terms with what has happened.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said, the Bill provides a degree of flexibility and choice for parents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) suggested, parents can choose not to take the two weeks’ leave immediately but to split it into parts if necessary, depending on the circumstances and whether it works for them.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) said, the Bill provides one less thing for parents to worry about. They will not have to go to their employer to ask for leave, they will not have to worry about whether they might be pressed into coming back and they will not have to worry about making the case for leave. Although leave might be only a tiny thing in the circumstances, anything that reduces the stress and pressure is hugely welcome.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton will correct me if I am wrong, but I welcome the fact that the schedule introduces proposed new section 80EE to the Employment Rights Act 1996, which will allow the Government to make regulations to extend the provision to include stillbirths, which is hugely important.
In response to questions raised by hon. Members in this debate, my hon. Friend rightly said that elements of the Bill could be clarified or considered further, but I hope it is not only a hugely important step in its own right but part of broader progress on the issue and on what we do to support people in such circumstances. My hon. Friends the Members for Colchester and for Eddisbury have made the case for building on the work to introduce bereavement rooms, dedicated space and facilities in hospitals and elsewhere. The Government have already invested £35 million, and there is more to do. I hope the Bill will help to stimulate those further improvements.
The Bill strikes the right balance between employers and employees. It reflects the compassion and the sort of society that all of us in this Chamber and in this country, regardless of the political disagreements we may have, would wish to see. The Bill’s time has come, and I am proud to support it wholeheartedly, as I am sure are all other hon. Members.
I did not plan to speak in this debate. I planned to come along and show my support for the Bill by sitting on the Front Bench, but the powerful debate has compelled me to add my voice and to pay tribute to everyone who has worked so hard to get the Bill to this stage. I will not detain the House too long other than to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for choosing this subject for his private Member’s Bill.
I have had a couple of opportunities to introduce a private Member’s Bill. One I was successful in enacting, and the other was sadly talked out by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who thankfully is not here today. That is probably why we are having so much consensus and success today.
It is great that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton chose this subject. There are always thousands of possible choices, but there could have been no better one. I offer him huge congratulations and thanks from all of us who have campaigned on this issue, not least the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who I am sure is off doing something important—he is probably doing some media. He should rightly get the plaudits for first introducing this subject in a ten-minute rule Bill.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) raised the issues of bereavement and baby loss in an Adjournment debate, and when she approached Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for Colchester, for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and me, about setting up an all-party parliamentary group, I did not hesitate. Indeed, I had some guilt because I had been here for 10 years and had felt the importance of all these issues but had never felt brave enough to do what she and other colleagues, who were brand new to the House, were able to do with such vigour and immediacy. So, I continually take my hat off to her and those other Members for everything they have done to show leadership on this and take it forward. The great success in the short two years that that all-party group has been going is astonishing, with the bereavement care pathways, the bereavement suites and now this Bill on bereavement leave and pay. I am so thrilled and proud to be a small part of that group and to support it as much as I can.
I just want to give a small example from my journey when this happened to me, as sitting here has brought it all back and brought tears to my eyes. It was a very different time then, 19 years ago, and I was working part-time. I was not on a zero-hours contract, but I did not get pay for being off sick. My employer was good and gave me time off, but it was without pay. Of course I got time off for the funeral, but without pay. I was off for about two weeks but it was never paid. I did not have to take holiday to grieve and have the funeral, but, equally, I was not paid. My husband had a good employer and could have taken time off with pay but, like the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was saying about people dealing with grief in different ways, he could not wait to get back to work. That caused problems and I still have not quite forgiven him for that, because I really needed him then. However, he chose to go back to work, needing to do so as his way of coping. So it is right that this is not forced upon people, but he would have chosen to have taken that time later if the option had been available.
I want to end my comments by commending the Bill to the House. I hope it has a swift passage through; it would be amazing if we could get it on the statute book by Easter—that would be fantastic. Again, I thank all the hon. Members who have brought it this far, especially the hon. Members for Colchester and for Thirsk and Malton.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). I am delighted she was able to come off the Front Bench and give the speech she just made. It is a pleasure and privilege to have listened to everything she had to say.
I am delighted to give my strong support to the Bill today. I pay huge tribute to the Members who have brought it here. Of course it stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who chose to bring it here and introduced it with such eloquence and passion, but, as many others have said, other Members have worked very hard on this issue for a number of years. My hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) have shown enormous courage and compassion in bringing difficult personal experiences here to Parliament to ensure that the law will operate for other people in a way that will help them. Their conduct on this issue shows Parliament at its best; it shows Parliament demonstrating compassion, and people coming here with real experience and using it to improve the lives of our fellow citizens. I congratulate and pay huge tribute to all of those Members who have brought us to where we stand today.
Other Members have spoken eloquently about the Bill’s merits. In a way, it is sad that it is even necessary, because if all employers behaved with compassion and sensitivity, it would not be. But we have heard examples where employers, either deliberately or just through carelessness, have not behaved as they should towards bereaved parents. Making sure that it is compulsory that they do behave decently is exactly the right thing to do.
Some Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West, have drawn attention to the pay component. It is not enough simply to give people time off work and to make that automatic; it is important that people get some pay for that, too. That is particularly the case in order to help people on lower incomes, for whom a loss of pay even for a couple of weeks is a really serious matter. I am therefore delighted that the Bill encompasses not only time off, but pay.
I should like to raise an issue, and I hope that the Minister will respond to it. It is closely linked to the issues in the Bill, and it might be something that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton and the Government could consider in Committee if it were in order to do so. If not, perhaps the Government could consider it more generally. It relates to children who are born incredibly prematurely. My twins were born at 25 weeks and one day. For many parents whose children are born so prematurely, there is not a happy ending. I saw many parents in the University College hospital neonatal unit who had been bereaved following the birth of their children at that level of prematurity. Thanks to the miracles of modern science, however, some children do survive, and thankfully my twins were among them.
A Croydon resident, Catriona Ogilvy, has articulated a good case for giving the parents of extremely premature babies extended maternity leave. The case that Catriona makes is that when the baby comes out of the neonatal intensive care unit, they will often be like any other baby, but while they are in the unit, the parents often have to be present almost 24 hours a day. There is a case for offering parents extended statutory maternity leave with pay when the baby is born before 30 or perhaps 34 weeks’ gestation. I realise that this might be outside the scope of the Bill, given its short and long titles. If it is within the scope of the Bill, I would certainly urge my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton to consider tabling amendments that speak to this point. If it is not, I would be interested to hear what the Minister thinks about Catriona Ogilvy’s suggestion. I believe it would be an improvement to our legislation if we could consider moves in that area.
I put on record once again my congratulations to the Members involved in bringing in the Bill. I strongly commend it to the House and hope that it will progress rapidly through the various stages of parliamentary approval and get on to the nation’s statute book as expeditiously as possible.
On 13 March 1942, in New End hospital, the older brother that I never knew, James John Dromey, died at three days old. I do not know whether my mother had difficulty, as a trainee nurse, in getting support from her employer. What I do know is that the trauma of losing that three-day-old baby stayed with her for the rest of her life. For years she was reluctant to talk about it, and the scars and the pain never went away. That is why, for me, the Bill is so important.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) is to be congratulated on championing a noble cause. I would also like to pay tribute to the parliamentary pioneer of the legislation that I am confident we will pass through this House: the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince). I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and the hon. Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) on the work they have done, born out of bitter experience, to ensure that, in future, grieving parents get the support that they deserve.
Like the hon. Member for Banbury, I am a patron of the Bliss charity, which does wonderful work in neonatal intensive care units. I will never forget going to see the one-to-one nursing of babies hanging on to their lives and fighting desperate battles to recover. I remember an instance when Mandy McKeon, a constituent of mine, told a meeting of parents what it had been like for her. She told them that her son Liam had died seven times but that he had eventually recovered. She described the joy when that happened. I pay tribute to the courage of the hon. Member for Banbury for telling her story at a Bliss reception—she was in tears, and so was I.
The Bill is a very welcome initiative. It offers two weeks’ paid leave to any employed parent who loses a child under 18. That is right. It is right that every employee will be eligible for this right, irrespective of their length of service. It is right that in addition employed parents with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service will be eligible for statutory parental bereavement leave, and it is right that we move beyond the ACAS code of practice to enact legal rights. The code of practice is admirable and most employers follow it—most employers are good employers—but too many are oblivious to the pain being suffered by grieving parents. I remember, many years ago when I was a district officer with the Transport and General Workers Union, sitting down with a young woman in the EMI factory in Hayes, west London, as she poured out her heart about how difficult it had been losing her baby and how bitter she was that her employer had not shown one ounce of sympathy or solidarity. So, yes, most employers are good employers and do the right thing, but many do not, which is why we need a change in the law.
The CBI, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the TUC and all the major organisations in the world of work support the Bill. I am proud that the Bill, in creating a legal entitlement for parents, will go significantly further than equivalent legislation in many countries, including in western Europe, and so the Labour party strongly supports it. It is a positive step forward in supporting parents who lose a child. I stress again, as hon. Members here know, that losing a child is the most traumatic and tragic experience.
There will, of course, be issues to tease out in Committee. Points have already been made about employees with irregular contracts—agency workers, zero-hours contracts —and about whether parents in receipt of benefits should be entitled to no claim conditionality for the same period as bereavement leave to ensure that they continue to receive their full income during this time. Crucially, of course, all workers should have the same rights to pay and leave in the case of a child’s death, irrespective of the nature of their contract of employment.
There is much good will on these issues across the House. We have an opportunity to construct a Bill that will send an unambiguous message to the country that we are on the side of grieving parents. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) is right that this is a good example of Parliament coming together in a noble cause. We will work to ensure that the Bill passes through all its parliamentary stages as quickly as possible and to put in place legislation that recognises that to lose a child is an appalling tragedy, but that then to suffer from a lack of sympathy and support adds trauma to tragedy. No parent should be denied the time to grieve and make the basic necessary arrangements. No parent should have to worry about whether they can pay the bills if they take time off. That should never happen again.
The hon. Member for Colchester was right to say that we have heard the voice of the grieving, and I pay particular tribute to the champions here who have suffered the trauma themselves. We are on their side, and Parliament is determined to make a difference.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who spoke so eloquently in sharing his family’s own story. That shows what a timeless and terrible problem we are discussing. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on securing a high place in the private Member’s Bill ballot and thank him for choosing to introduce such an important Bill.
At the recent Westminster Hall debate on bereavement leave after the loss of a child, which was led by my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), I was pleased to see that we have cross-party consensus on this issue, as has been borne out this afternoon. I am pleased that Members have shown a great deal of willingness to work across party lines to achieve a positive outcome today, and I have high hopes that that will continue as we discuss the Bill’s detail in its subsequent stages.
As many as one in 10 of the workforce are bereaved in any year. Although the Bill addresses only those who lose a child who is below the age of 18, that is an important place for us to focus our efforts. I completely understand that it is deeply distressing for a parent to lose a child at any age, and we will continue to work with ACAS and Cruse to identify the best way to encourage employers to act sympathetically to requests for leave following the loss of an older child who has reached adulthood.
The loss is particularly harrowing, though, when a child has barely had a chance to start their life. All the hopes, anxieties and dreams invested in that baby, toddler, young child or teenager: gone in such a desperately final way. I extend my heartfelt sympathy to all parents who have suffered and, of course, continue to suffer from such a terrible loss. Like other Members, I commend those who have spoken in the House about their own loss of a child. Their bravery in so doing has raised awareness of this issue and enabled my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton to introduce this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) made such a passionate speech. The ten-minute rule Bill that he so bravely introduced in the previous Parliament led to the inclusion of a commitment in our manifesto to ensure that all families who lose a baby are given the support that they need, including through a new entitlement to child bereavement leave. There is currently a clear imbalance between the experience of those who work for a good employer and are given the time and space needed to deal with the loss of a child, and the experience of those who, as we have heard in many examples, are not afforded such consideration. The House also heard in the Baby Loss Awareness Week debate last week, to which I also responded, of horrendous experiences and some employers’ cold and callous treatment of their employees following the death of a child. The Bill will go some way towards addressing this issue, which is why the Government support it.
I shall try to address some of the specific points that were made in the debate. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Ms Lee) asked about those on zero-hours contracts and those whose status is that of a worker rather than an employee. I very much sympathise with the point she made. It is helpful that the Bill mirrors existing employment provisions, thereby minimising any additional complexity for employers and parents. Nevertheless, I accept that the hours of some workers—in fact, many—are really under the control of their employer in many ways, even if the hours are flexible and the workers can take time off. Of course, they do not have an entitlement to pay during that period. We heard from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) about her personal experience of having to take off the time that she desperately needed without pay. I assure the House that, in line with the recommendations made by Matthew Taylor, we will consider this and other matters raised in the debate when we respond to the Taylor review before the end of the year.
The hon. Member for Lincoln and the shadow Minister mentioned people on benefits and universal credit claimants, who are actually not sanctioned for taking time off work after a bereavement. I am pleased to say that there is already flexibility in the conditionality to safeguard claimants in that position. If a claimant’s child has died, the work search and availability requirements are not applied for up to six months from the date of the death.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) spoke about babies who are born prematurely. He mentioned Catriona Ogilvy, who I had the privilege of meeting with my hon. Friend’s constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), as a result of the latter’s ten-minute rule Bill in the last Parliament. As a result of that meeting and his Bill, we have worked with ACAS on new and detailed guidance for employers to use when employees have a premature baby. The guidance was published last month, and I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South will join efforts in raising awareness of it.
A wider culture change is needed in the way in which some businesses deal with staff who have suffered a bereavement. Of course, we are only here this afternoon because that is very much the case. There are some other issues that the Bill will not address, but things are happening so I want to mention a few of those points.
One of the key aspects of the Bill is that a mother or, indeed, a father who was on maternity or paternity leave when they were bereaved is entitled to carry on having that right. That is being enshrined in the legislation. What steps will be taken to ensure that employers are aware of this impending legislation so that they can adequately prepare or, at least, try to amend their policies even before the legislation comes into effect?
We will inform employers through the various advisory services, via gov.uk and via other means. We will also work with ACAS to ensure that the maximum number of employers are made aware of the legislation. The efforts of all in this House to amplify the message would be extremely welcome.
More needs to happen in various areas in the handling of bereavement as a whole. We would like more employers to familiarise themselves with the ACAS guidance, “Managing bereavement in the workplace—a good practice guide”, which was developed in conjunction with the charity, Cruse Bereavement Care. This has been created specifically to support employers in managing staff who have suffered a bereavement.
The fact is that, as well as needing to take time off work, employees may also find that their performance is affected when they return, or they may be temporarily unable to perform their role. I think that that is highly likely, and other hon. Members have already stated that it is impossible in some cases of bereavement—particularly when the loss is of a child—for someone to concentrate as they would normally. I am the first to accept that this experience could exceed the two-week period that we are here to discuss. We are bringing a new entitlement into law, but I do not wish to discourage employers from understanding that all cases are different and that, of course, some people will need greater periods of flexibility in how they approach their work following a bereavement.
The guidance sets out the benefits of effective engagement at such a time and the positive effect that it can have on the employee and the business in the long run. The employee feels supported, less pressured and therefore better able to deal with the issue they face, and that helps them with the overall process of grieving.
Alongside that, employees need to understand better what other support may be available to them should they suffer the terrible loss of a child. Concerns have been raised in the House in recent months that the cost of child funerals can be an additional concern. As such, where people meet eligibility conditions, a contribution towards the cost of a simple, respectful funeral may be available through the social fund funeral expenses payment scheme. In addition, it is open to local authorities to waive burial and cremation fees for children, as some already do.
Parents who lose a child at the point of birth also need quality care and support. They are the unit that somehow has to carry on functioning after such a devastating outcome. I am a former employer myself, and although it is many years since I was responsible for a lot of people in the workplace, I am pleased to say that I had a management team who tried their best to empathise with parents who had stillborn children or who lost their child, as the mother of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington did all those years ago, at just a few days old—indeed, the majority of parents who suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18 do so in the first six months of their child’s life.
Losing a child is a truly terrible time, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton is introducing a Bill to dramatically improve the situation for anyone unfortunate enough to be in the employ of a firm totally lacking in empathy. Such parents do need the protection we are here to debate this afternoon, but we know, as I said earlier—this was certainly true in my firm, and it is true in the vast majority of firms I am aware of—that having a period of time to cover the immediate bereavement and the tragic, heart-rending funeral service is the basics, and one has to continue to empathise with the individual after they return to work. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out during the debate, people obviously do not come back to work able to switch back on again. They will need time off for certain things. The registration of the death and all that sort of thing carries on. From my personal experience of bereavement—fortunately, it did not involve the death of a child, but being responsible for estates—I know that these things just take time. People want to take time over them; they do not want to feel in a rush and up against a deadline.
Of course I understand the needs of employers, and my company was fortunate enough to have people who could cover for absence and that sort of thing. It is different for a very small employer, and I do sympathise—it can be very difficult. It is also difficult for the self-employed. We have not heard much mention of the self-employed, who are not covered by this legislation, on the basis that they can take time off because they are their own boss. On the other hand, if they are providing services, there are other pressures on them. They have the difficulty of having to deal with customers and so forth without the back-up of a team underneath them who can take up the reins. When we come to consider issues regarding the self-employed in our response to the Taylor review, I trust that we will be able to cover some of these aspects for people who are currently not of employed status.
The Minister made a very good point about the time needed for people to go on the bereavement journey. Will someone who feels able to come back to work sooner but then finds that the grief hits later on—as it does; it hits different people at different stages—be able to take some of the two weeks’ paid leave later, perhaps within a six-month period? Will the Bill accommodate that?
That is definitely the sort of thing that can be raised in Committee. At the moment, the period is two weeks. The hon. Member for Lincoln asked whether it could be divided into days here and there. That is currently not possible within the various types of family leave and carer leave that exist on the statute book. The leave is divided into weeks, but it can be taken over a period of time. I am sure that when hon. Members get to discuss the Bill in Committee, the fixed period of time might be a subject of debate.
Thanks in large part to the work of the all-party group, the Government have recognised that the NHS needs to improve its own environments. That has led to better bereavement rooms and quiet spaces, now at nearly 40 hospitals. The Department of Health has funded Sands to deliver a national bereavement care pathway to reduce the variation in the quality of bereavement care provided by the NHS. Only last week, 11 pilot sites were announced in hospital trusts that are going to implement the new pathway.
From time to time, I receive letters from parents who have suffered the loss of a baby in my local hospital. I know that efforts have been made to improve the services for those parents. If the parents have lost their baby very, very shortly after childbirth, I can think of no worse place to be than the average maternity suite. My heart goes out to those parents. I am glad that the work of the all-party group is leading to improvements in the care in our local hospital trusts.
Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton for choosing this subject from among so many interests competing for our time. I very much welcome the consensus among hon. Members across the House and thank them all for their hugely valuable and sensitive contributions.
With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to conclude the debate. Please tell me if I am likely to run out of time, as that is the last thing I want to do.
I thank the Minister and the shadow Minister for their very fine closing speeches. I also thank Members across the House for their consensus view that we need to provide more support for grieving parents. I can think of no more important issue that we might ever deal with in this Chamber. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) for the work that she has done on this, and for her very good point about how we need to keep this leave flexible because people will need to take it at different times.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) spoke about managing grief. I have no idea how one would manage grief in this circumstance, but that is clearly something she is able to do. There is no way in the world that any of us can imagine what she has been through.
The taxpayer is picking up the cost of this, but I cannot imagine that any taxpayer would ever have a problem with doing that in this case. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), who talked about employers. The Bill is a signal to employers about the minimum that they should offer. They should really offer more time off, at full pay, and they should carry the cost of that because of the good will that it will generate and the sensitivity required in such situations. It is absolutely key for any employer to offer such support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) spoke of the difference we hope to make when we come into this Chamber. I was struck by the fact that parents in my constituency who have suffered such tragedies have gone out to make a difference. I have mentioned Annika and James Dowson, who raised money for a bereavement suite at Scarborough hospital. Luke and Ruthie Heron suffered a loss at the crucial stage when a miscarriage becomes a stillbirth, and they want that to be changed to ensure that a child is formally recognised as such. Making a difference after a loss—directing their energies into something more positive—is a tremendous thing for people to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) mentioned that I was able to take forward Claudia’s law when we debated the previous Bill on this subject. Perhaps we should call this “Will’s Bill”; I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).