I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for her opening remarks and for ensuring that the Bill is being debated today.
Many will ask why this issue has not been addressed already. It is over 100 years since Nancy Astor entered this place, and we still have not quite got it right. The Bill is another welcome step towards ensuring that Parliament and a career in frontline politics are a realistic option for all women, whatever our time in life. It is vital that all obstacles of inequality are removed and that all important contributions can be made.
It is my hope that by passing the Bill, we will open the door a little wider for many young women considering entering Parliament in the future. Being an elected representative for their local community should be a viable option for as many people as possible, and the more obstructions that we can remove, the better. I want as many capable young women as possible to think that becoming a Minister is a viable option for them, regardless of their age or their fertility.
The Bill is highly unlikely to affect me personally, but as the co-chair of the APPG on baby loss, I have a special interest in the health of mother and baby. The Bill is a step towards improving the condition of both, with Government setting the example that the health of a mum and baby comes first. It is fundamental that in a free, modern and civilised society such as ours, we give a clear signal that this is paramount. The wheels of the Whitehall machine must not stand in the way of the most precious time that any new mum has to bond with her newborn baby. This time is important not only for the physical and emotional recovery of mum but to the continuation of the physical and emotional development of the baby, and thus to the life chances of that child.
Unfortunately, the level of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK is still astonishing, with an estimated 54,000 mothers every year being forced to leave their jobs because of how they are being treated during their pregnancy or maternity leave or after they return to work. These worrying statistics are from a report produced in 2016 by the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the prevalence and the nature of pregnancy discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace. The covid pandemic has made this even more stark. At present, employers can lawfully make a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave redundant if they carry out a fair redundancy process, and the only responsibility the employer must have in these circumstances is to make them an offer of a suitable alternative vacancy. All this can, and does, lead to a crazy amount of stress for a pregnant woman or new mum at the time when stress levels should absolutely be kept to a minimum for the sake of her own health and that of her baby. Sustained strategies such as these can lead to pregnancy loss, low birth weight, and post-natal depression.
The particular nature of our job does not help. I have been very upset to read and learn of some of the shocking abuse that female colleagues in all parts of the House have taken for daring to have a baby while being an MP. That is simply not acceptable, because MPs are also wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and friends. It is not acceptable for any new mother to feel that extra pressure, or to be told that they are skiving, not working hard enough or should not be having a baby while serving in office. Post-natal depression, if left unchecked, can and does lead to tragic suicide. Do we really want to wait for a female MP who has post-natal depression to be pushed too far before society sits up and takes notice? MPs are not alone in suffering from post-natal depression, and I would not wish for special treatment, but society does seem to think it acceptable to target its anger towards MPs.
I mentioned in my speech last October as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week that birth is always perilous for women. I hope that the Bill sends an important signal to society that women and the contributions they make are valued.