Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 2:36 pm, 11th February 2021

First of all, I add my congratulations to Suella Braverman, and the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark).

As so many other right hon. and hon. Members have said in this debate, I find myself both supporting and welcoming this Bill, and at the same time being astonished at its shortcomings. Before being elected, it would never have occurred to me that representatives in this place did not have the basic provisions for parental leave that I had taken for granted during my career. Indeed, my daughter is now 24, and I was taken aback in 2017-18 when one of the first changes we discussed in the House after my election was about proxy voting for Members who were pregnant, and about maternity and paternity leave. I discovered that parents in the House did not enjoy the same rights that I had had more than two decades before, so while I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues support this Bill, we are disappointed yet again that it lacks provisions for paternity leave and other parental rights. It does not, for example, address rights for adoptive parents, and how someone becomes a parent should not determine what leave they are entitled to.

This was, as I say, a missed opportunity: an opportunity for the Government to bring parental rights up to date, and to introduce not just measures for Ministers, but measures that apply to all MPs. This place should not just pass legislation, but set a tone for so much in our society. Gender equality is something on which we should be taking a lead, not running to catch up, as we seem to be. Work practices such as shared parental leave are vital to creating new cultural norms and achieving that gender equality, but how can we expect that to happen if we do not, as I say, set the standard ourselves? As the hon. Member for Walthamstow pointed out, if we get it wrong here, that will be reflected across the country. That is why I have signed, and support, the hon. Member’s amendment requiring the Government to produce an equalities impact assessment of these proposals. As has been mentioned, even well-intentioned legislation can, if it is rushed through, fail to recognise pitfalls. So please, let us not fall into one or fail on that account.

It is vital that the Government recognise that the Bill cannot be seen in a vacuum. It is certainly an important measure, but we must also send a message across the country and ensure that it is the correct message. It must send out a national call to action to protect the rights of all parents in all workplaces during these most difficult and challenging times.

There is still much more we need to do for parents. We need to increase statutory paternity leave, ensure that parental leave is a day one right and address the continuing inequalities that same-sex couples face. Organisations and employers must be required to publish parental leave and pay policies.

Like so many—indeed, all, I believe—of the speakers we have heard so far, I welcome the Bill. It has simply been too long delayed and does not go far enough.