I am pleased to follow the Minister, and I thank her for the discussions we have had in the lead-up to the Bill’s Second Reading. I congratulate Suella Braverman on the impending birth of her baby, and I know that the whole House will want to send her and her family our very best wishes.
Let me say at the outset that the Opposition will be supporting the Bill, which is a small but welcome step in updating legislation in this important area. It is, of course, important that parents in the workplace should be supported in the challenging early months after the birth of a new baby, with the right to take paid maternity leave from their employment, whether they are in the Cabinet or in any other workplace. These changes should be made for the right reasons—because they are the right thing to do to support working parents, not because they are just politically expedient.
I welcome the Minister’s assurances that the Government are prepared to work on a cross-party basis to look at further reforms to bring us into line with best practice in this area. Further changes are indeed needed, because the proposals in their current form do not include, as the Minister recognised, any provision for paternity leave entitlement, those seeking to adopt or those on shared parental leave. As things stand, we are very much playing catch-up when it comes to parental leave.
If we are to encourage women from all backgrounds to become Members of Parliament and, indeed, Ministers, we must have modern working practices, so that it is a vocation that is open to everyone. A clear sign that further changes are needed, particularly when it comes to making Westminster a more family-friendly environment for working mothers, is the make-up of the House today. At present, 102 years after women first won the right to stand for Parliament and after reforms to sitting hours and the system of proxy voting, there are still just 220 female MPs compared with 430 men. That has to change if we are truly to reflect the country and all the experience and talent within it. I urge the Minister to work constructively with other parties and find parliamentary time to progress the further reforms that I believe many in the House would like to see.