It is an honour to be part of the debate and the work that we are doing to bring forward this legislation. Let me congratulate the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, and wish her well in her forthcoming maternity leave. What is so powerful about this legislation is not just the clarity over her income but the clarity about her actual cover: she will be able to spend time with her child and not receive calls at three o’clock in the morning when the Attorney General is needed.
I welcome the Paymaster General’s comment that we need to do more. It is that which I wish to speak on particularly, because, as she has recognised, the Bill benefits only a very small number of women. To benefit only a very small number of women at this time in this country’s life is to fail to recognise the peril that may come from this legislation, which is not about its drafting but its scope. We are sending a message that maternity leave should be a perk conferred by an employer as a benefit—just as a company car would be—if we only pass this legislation.
The Paymaster General said that the Prime Minister believes it is wrong that a woman might have to leave work to care for a child, but in truth that is happening in workplaces across the country, and it involves thousands of women. During the pandemic, one in four women who are pregnant or a new mum have said that they have faced discrimination, and that they are losing their jobs or being furloughed. In that context, to work only with that small number of women is not just a missed opportunity, but potentially sets up a two-tier system for maternity leave in this country. As the people who make the laws, we send such a message to businesses regarding how they should treat pregnant women at our peril.
The Government are currently being taken to court by Pregnant Then Screwed because, when they calculated the self-employment income support scheme, they forgot about women who are self-employed and who took maternity leave. We have heard from many Members about our concerns for public life. It is not an accident that most women who enter public life, not just in this place but in local government and our Assemblies, tend to be older women who have already had children, or those who have chosen not to have them. Even in this Bill, we have yet to begin talking about fathers.
The Bill tells the lie that I was told two years ago when I was pregnant and asked for a locum to cover work in my constituency, so that my constituents would not feel short-changed by having a woman of childbearing age as their MP. However, as MPs, our employment status was too complicated to enable us to act. If we can pass a Bill in a day in this place to address that issue, we could do so much more to ensure that our public life is open to all women. It is a missed opportunity not just for local government, but for the staff who have worked with us in this building, who have terrible maternity rights.
Two years ago I fought for a locum. No other MP has been able to have that, even though I know colleagues across the House who have had terrible experiences of being pregnant and trying to get support. We cannot say, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” On that basis, let me be clear: the Government have made commitments today but, as the suffragettes said, this must be about deeds not words.
Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, you may be looking and me and thinking that during lockdown I have been attacking the pies a bit, and you would probably be right. But I am also pregnant with my second child. I am early on in my pregnancy. I should not have to reveal that, but I am doing so today to be clear to pregnant women around this country that they will find champions in this place, and it is not enough for us to act only for that small group of women at the top of our society. We must act for every woman to be able to take maternity leave.
We must make sure that legislation such as that proposed by Mrs Miller is given time in this House, and we must stop IPSA prevaricating, as it has done for the past two years. We must give every woman in this place the same rights that we are giving the Attorney General. Please, Paymaster General, it is time for deeds not words when it comes to maternity and paternity.