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Ministerial and Other Maternity Allowances Bill

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 4 February 2021

The Government have today introduced the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill in order to make provision for Ministers and Opposition office holders to be able to take maternity leave. I am grateful to Her Majesty’s Opposition for its constructive engagement in preparation of the Bill and welcome its support for the measure.

The choice between taking leave to recover from childbirth and care for a new-born child or resigning from office is not acceptable in modern times. The current provision for statutory maternity pay for employees has in contrast been in place since 1987, and some form of maternity grant, even for those who are not employed, has been in place since the National Insurance Act of 1911.

Changes that I made to the ministerial code on becoming Prime Minister set out provision for junior ministers to be able to take maternity leave. However, this work-around relies on another Minister taking on additional responsibilities and cannot be used for Secretary of State or individual offices, such as the Law Officers or the Lord Chancellor.

Until now, the limits on the number of salaries that can be paid overall, and for individual offices has left the Government with limited flexibility to appoint cover should a Minister want to go on maternity leave. In the absence of that flexibility, a senior Minister wishing to go on maternity leave would likely need to resign from the Government.

The Bill creates a designation of “Minister on Leave” which provides for Ministers to take maternity leave. This will also apply to certain Opposition post holders too. Ministers on leave will remain part of the Government and be able to be briefed on matters and kept in touch with work, but will not be responsible for exercising the functions of the office from which they are on leave.

This is a necessary piece of legislation. However, it does not resolve wider issues such as adoption and parental leave, absences for sickness and other reasons, and unpaid roles. These are complex issues which require careful consideration, taking into account modern working practices and the wider constitutional context. The Government will present a report to Parliament setting out considerations and proposals. I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses a policy document titled “Maternity Leave and other absences by Ministers” which provides further information, including on the practicalities of these arrangements. The Bill and its explanatory notes are being published today.