Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:20 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham 2:20 pm, 11th February 2021

I welcome what the Government are trying to do with this legislation. I know that it is for a specific case that has come about relatively recently, but I support the idea that we should do everything we can to ensure that public life is open to all. The current rules are antiquated, so this Bill is absolutely a step in the right direction. I am particularly glad to see the inclusion in the provisions of those who, sadly, have stillborn children.

It is quite right that we are looking at this issue, although, as the Minister said, the beneficiaries are narrow. As my hon. Friend Shaun Bailey said, it opens up a real question around the leadership of this House and what we want to do for the future. I was particularly glad to hear that Rachel Reeves supports the legislation, and that following this Bill the Government are looking at proper cross-party working on paternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave.

There was one thing in the Minister’s opening remarks with which I disagreed: that this legislation affects the 115 people currently in positions in the Government. It does not, because it does not cover shared parental leave or paternity leave. I really hope that those matters will be considered as quickly as possible. I have several friends in couples where both partners are working, and who are in very difficult positions at the moment. For example, one partner—now often the woman—is earning a higher amount of money but might actually want to go back to work sooner than the man, and they cannot do that because there are not equal rights, in the same workplace, for men and women on shared parental leave. It is a real issue that is affecting people across the country right now. We in this House have a responsibility to put it at front and centre, and to lead the way on these issues.

The Bill is a step in the right direction. I echo some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West, particularly about the importance of men’s role in bringing up children. We are not going to crack the issue of shared parental leave and men taking more responsibility for the children they have until we move beyond the narrow debate that we are having today, and broaden it out to the issues that affect families—yes, in ministerial office, but right across the country as well.

Some important issues were raised from the Opposition Front Bench, particularly around caring for newborn children. It is hugely important that people’s careers, particularly at ministerial level, are not held back by outdated practices. I would like my right hon. Friend the Minister to reflect on some of the concerns raised by me and other Members across the House. We really want to see these issues, particularly around shared parental leave, brought to the fore. We want to ensure that people—whatever their gender—are there and doing what they can to support the upbringing of their children.