It is an honour and privilege to follow Mrs Miller in this debate. There is no doubt that Parliament needs to be brought into the 21st century. In principle, this is a vital and long overdue Bill and I welcome it. It ensures that female Ministers will have similar maternity rights to other women at work. I very much welcome the further work and proposals that have been spoken about today.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Stella Creasy, who highlights that the Government must not make this a two-tier system in Parliament, with only those who have the most senior Front-Bench positions having these arrangements. That gives licence to employers to think that maternity leave is a benefit like a company car that can only be offered to some. It is a right, not a privilege.
It is important that shared parental leave is championed by Members in this House to encourage the take-up by men across the United Kingdom. Being a parent is a tough job, and men need to step up and take a more equal share in caring responsibilities.
There remains a significant barrier to women’s involvement in politics, which has been spoken about today. As a single parent myself, without the support of my mother, I would not have been able to sit on those green Benches in 2017 when elected. Very few women have that privilege, which is why removing the barriers for new mothers in politics is of great importance to me.
In Chwarae Teg’s report “State of the Nation 2021”, the figures in Wales are stark: 86% of single parents are women in Wales and 40% of women are part-time workers. Many of these households are in great poverty. I hope that we will see swift changes, so we will not be holding women back and we will enable them to make their full contribution to society and the economy. I look forward to being part of that work.
Also on a serious note, I speak in support of the amendments tabled by Sir John Hayes and Jackie Doyle-Price. I thank the Minister for the comments she has already made on this. It does seem a bit of a misstep in the drafting of the Bill and can be seen as insensitive to many people. The fact that it refers to a “person” who is pregnant and does not mention “woman”, “women” or “she” at any point is totally at odds with all other maternity rights and protection legislation. The use of “person” would be asymmetric with the rest of the law on maternity rights and protection.
I give the following examples because we need to be factual: in section 66 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, on suspension from employment on maternity grounds, all references are to “she”; in section 71, “ordinary maternity leave” refers to “she”; in section 73, “additional maternity leave” refers to “her” rights; and in the Equality Act 2010, section 72 onwards, where a woman is employed or holds personal or public office, it is all about maternity equality. I therefore ask the Minister to reconfirm that the wording of the Bill will not be rushed in through the backdoor at this very difficult time, without scrutiny, discussion or challenge. The Government can be better and can move quicker, as we have seen with the speed of the Bill’s introduction. We all have to be better; we have to do more for new mothers, and not just those who have the privilege of being a Member of this House.