I strongly support the Bill and everything that has been said so far by the Minister, by my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves in an excellent speech, and by the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I also fully support everything said by Cherilyn Mackrory.
The Bill formally recognises that women now play an invaluable role in public life and that women have babies, and that we should support them and not downgrade them when they do. It is true that it has taken forever for us to get here, but better late than never. I do think we must give the Government credit for bringing the Bill forward, because they could have tried the fudge, favours and verbal behind-closed-doors promises that were the best that women Ministers could have hoped for in the past. The Bill sends a big and important public signal of valuing women’s work and recognising their commitment, including at the highest level. The Government have done the right thing by the Attorney General and women Cabinet Ministers; now they need to put right the completely wrong situation for the rest of the women in this country.
Women are doing an amazing thing when they have a baby. It takes a huge toll on a woman’s body to carry a baby, and it is the most demanding thing to care for a new baby, and yet we punish them by cutting their income and making them insecure at work. Statutory maternity pay is only £152 per week—less than half of what people get on the national minimum wage—so the woman’s income is clobbered just when she needs to be spending more. Honestly, if men had babies, do we really think that maternity pay would be so insultingly low? Not a chance. The law allows a year for maternity leave, but many women are forced to go back way before that, and before they feel they or their baby are really ready, because they simply cannot afford not to, or they fear—with justification—that they will be downgraded or even sacked if they take more than a few months.
We are here in Parliament to do the hugely important job of being an MP, but we have an additional responsibility as women in Parliament to fight to improve the lives of women in this country. Therefore, as I give the Attorney General my genuine and warmest best wishes for her second baby, I am counting on her, when she comes back, to be an outspoken champion in Government of the maternity rights of all women.