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Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill

Volume 723: debated on Friday 25 November 2022

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.

Fertility treatment affects hundreds of thousands of people from all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds —infertility does not discriminate. Treatment is emotionally draining, costly, risky and a very long process. Someone might go through multiple cycles before conceiving, and they will quite often fail to conceive at all.

According to the latest figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority—the UK fertility regulator—it takes on average three cycles of in vitro fertilisation to achieve success. Cycles can be unpredictable, and women have to deal with the symptoms, the risk of complications and the daily practicalities, such as self-injecting with hormones. Undergoing fertility treatment is difficult at the best of times, but doing so while juggling a job is particularly tough.

Unlike for pregnancy, maternity and paternity, there is no legislation to compel employers to give time off work for fertility treatment or even initial consultation. Women are, of course, protected from pregnancy-related unfair treatment and discrimination throughout the protected period. In the case of fertility treatments, however, the protected period begins only at implantation stage, not before. In practice, there is little recourse to legal, medical, practical and emotional support for men and women undergoing fertility treatment.

That leaves people vulnerable to unfavourable treatment or dismissal during the early stages of treatment, and without legal recourse. I hope that my Bill will address that significant gap in the law.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her Bill, which is in the best traditions of private Members’ Bills, because although the matter does not affect that many of our constituents, for those whom it does affect, it does so quite profoundly. I realise that we do not have much time today—I hope she will make more progress on another occasion—but I want to wish her well and congratulate her on her work encouraging employers to adopt some of the principles in the Bill voluntarily.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Only a small percentage of the population is affected by fertility treatment, but it is so important that we support those people through what is quite often a difficult time.

I thank my hon. Friend for introducing this Bill on a matter that is so important to so many people. The point that she just made is ultimately about the stresses. Many constituents have told me that going through IVF is emotionally challenging. For many people, knowing that they have the surety of time off work during that period would make a huge difference.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, for his support and for the time he gave me to discuss my Bill when he was a Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) said, fertility treatment does not affect everybody across our constituencies, but that does not matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) knows—I have been in contact with her about it—the issue affects some of my constituents, and if something is wrong for one, 1,000 or 10,000 constituents, we in this place should put it right.

My right hon. Friend is right. I have been in contact with his constituent, who contacted me via his office, which I thank for its support with the Bill too.

The organisations with which I have been working include Fertility Matters at Work, whose recent research shows that a third of people going through IVF treatment have considered leaving their job rather than face possible workplace discrimination. Its findings also indicate that many people do not feel comfortable even discussing IVF treatment openly with their employer or their colleagues at work, so they struggle through the journey largely unsupported.

The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech on an important issue that means so much to so many of our constituents. I commend her for her work with employers and for bringing the Bill to the House today.

I thank the shadow Minister for his support. I put on record the support that I have received across the House. My friend the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) has been particularly supportive; I know the personal journey that she has had. I have been really touched by the support from Members of every party in this place.

Some people surveyed by Fertility Matters at Work said that they feared that undertaking fertility treatment would be held against them, that they would not be considered for the next promotion or that they would face redundancy. When they did have a conversation with their employers, many felt that it was used against them when future opportunities and progressions arose.

On my journey looking into the rights of those who undertake fertility treatment, I have been contacted by people across the country, especially women. They all said the same: once it was out in the open that they were undertaking fertility treatment or even thinking about it, they were sidelined for promotion or did not get the extra project that they had hoped for, because it was thought that they might not be around so much. It was thanks to a constituent of mine that I came to the subject; I am afraid she has to remain anonymous because of her situation with her employer in the City of London.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on promoting the Bill. Briefly, may I confirm that the present Minister will work closely with her, as the previous Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), did? I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster on the fertility workplace pledge, which I think she is just about to come to.

I thank the Minister for her warm words. I also thank the Minister responsible for employment law, who has been extremely supportive and has met me to discuss the issue.

My constituent, who ended up having to sign a non-disclosure agreement and is not allowed to speak about her experience, feels that the situation has to be righted for the next generation of women. I am delighted to be working with her, with Fertility Matters at Work and with Fertility Network UK, who have all been so supportive.

As well as trying to get this private Member’s Bill through Parliament, I have launched a voluntary scheme called the fertility workplace pledge, as the Minister says. Hon. Members may have heard of it; I have invited many of them to take part. It is about encouraging employers not to wait for the law to change, but to do the right thing now: train line managers to understand what fertility treatment means, support people going through it, have a fertility ambassador and fertility policies, and work with employees undergoing treatment to give them the flexibility they need in the workplace. I am delighted that the House of Commons has signed up to my workplace pledge, as well as NatWest, the Co-op—

Other banks are available. Others include Channel 4 and many different law firms, such as Burgess Mee Family Law; Natalie Sutherland has been an amazing advocate for fertility policies in the workplace. I pay tribute to all those amazing organisations. If hon. Members would like to persuade employers in their constituencies to sign up to the workplace pledge, they should talk to me, because I have plenty of information—

The Deputy Speaker interrupted the business (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 9 December.