Though it is a mission of Back-Bench parliamentarians to bring this Palace to life, the service and sacrifices made by Ministers in pursuit of the common good and shared endeavour should be recognised and celebrated. They are responsible for the actions, successes and failures of entire Departments, so it is perhaps inevitable that some will become overwhelmed by the sheer scale of that challenge. But it is easy, too, for ministerial office to consume the holder, defining their decisions, both privately and personally. That is precisely why this Bill is so important. In life, irrespective of how grand or important we are, what we do should never trump what we are, as individuals or as a people. When all is said and done, it is the metaphysical, the beautiful and the relational that cultivates grateful perspective and lasting joy.
Whether as mothers or fathers, sons or daughters, parenthood, as a fundamental feature of our humanity, matters. As such, it is right that we reflect on how we as a nation, as a Government and as a Parliament support parenthood, opportunity and, in particular, as this Bill does, support mothers. How do we recognise and reward the service and sacrifice required to raise a child from birth to maturity, to shape the intricacies of a human soul with kindness, commitment, discipline and restraint? This Bill is a welcome start. It provides an example. For if we in Parliament get this wrong, how can we expect others to get it right?
That a woman at any stage in her life must be supported emotionally and financially from the moment her baby is conceived is surely the right thing to say, but also the right thing to do. There is a communal societal duty to support children, and indeed adults at every stage of life, from the first heartbeat before birth to the final breath. By formalising the process by which Ministers can take paid maternity leave while remaining in Government, the Bill will go some way towards eliminating any subtle or subconscious pressure placed on women in public life to abandon their pregnancy, or indeed to compromise the care they give in the early stages of life.
I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, who has taken the Bill from its conception to, we hope, its legislative adoption. By the way, this is this Attorney General who had the courage to give up her lucrative career as a lawyer in order to enter Parliament; the Attorney General who had the will to refer the case of PC Harper to the Appeal Court; the Attorney General who is reforming the practice on disclosure; the Attorney General who successfully argued recently to increase the sentences of a rapist in the Court of Appeal.
It must be noted, however—it is too often the case with Government—that artlessness or heartlessness has allowed the capture of a well-meaning and just Bill by civil servants who have clumsily excluded the word “women”. That can be put right in Committee and I will say more about that then.
The Bill can also be the beginning of a new focus on family. I recommend the work of another hon. Friend, my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce, whose manifesto to strengthen families provides a blueprint that the Government can follow to do just that. Among that report’s recommendations, alongside sensible reforms to tax and benefits, is a suggestion that we should look again at the criminal justice system.
The Bill is an important step, but it is only a step on a long journey—a journey that affirms the role of women in public life and the role that women play in families and in wider society. It is also a Bill that is proud of motherhood and, my goodness, in the mother of Parliaments, should not we all share that pride?