Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:51 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Paymaster General 2:51 pm, 11th February 2021

I am glad I took that intervention. This afternoon, we have heard from the hon. Lady and Rachel Reeves—for whose support for the Bill I am grateful—as well as Ms Harman about the trailblazers who have gone before us. We have heard about the battles and trials that colleagues past and present have gone through in order to get maternity leave and to improve the situation for their colleagues in the future. We all appreciated the speech from the hon. Member for Leeds West in which she cited many colleagues who have made a substantial contribution. As well as those Members past and present who have battled to improve arrangements, we should remember that what we are doing today, although it is narrow in immediately affecting only a few individuals, will also benefit those who come after us. That is important.

Cat Smith referred to the wider context. It is of course vital that we get this right for everyone in the country, and I know that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking into these issues. It is not only a matter of fairness and justice but a matter of economic empowerment. If we are to get the country back on its feet after the year we have had, we have to support women and enable them to do that.

I also thank Her Majesty’s Opposition and other parties in the House for the cross-party support and commitment that we have for the other work that we know needs to be done. I know that this is a very narrow Bill. The technical consultee is the Leader of the Opposition, but he will clearly wish to delegate to other Front Benchers and, potentially, to Back Benchers as well. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will contribute to the work that will follow. It is vital that we get those other issues addressed and, although I cannot give a timetable on legislation because we do not know what legislation would be required, I think we should be bringing this back to the House before the summer recess in order to address those other issues.

I thank my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes for the powerful report that her Committee has produced and for her support. I hope that her Committee will be able to play a role in the future work that looks at the wider issues, not just for Front Benchers but for all Members, particularly those who sit on the Back Benches.

Kirsten Oswald clearly referred to the Prime Minister’s power to enable people to benefit from the new provision that we are introducing today. Unfortunately, the power still has to sit with the Prime Minister. I know that the optics of that are not ideal, but I am afraid that this is hinged on the royal prerogative and that must be the case. Hon. Members mentioned various other amendments that have been tabled, and I will address those in Committee.

My hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory focused on how maternity leave is a vital time. The Government very much recognise that, which is why we have the piece of work that my right hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom is undertaking on early years. The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, who has been such a stalwart in campaigning on these issues, outlined why, as well as the main issues that the Bill focuses on, it is vital that we get this right for women outside the House too.

I thank my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price for the helpful amendment that she has tabled. Again, I will explain in Committee why it has not been possible to use that language in the Bill with regard to Ministers—we have been able to use language to describe Opposition office holders—but I understand how offensive the word “person” or “persons” can be in this context. I hope that we can make some changes, if not to the legislation then to the explanatory notes, that will address some of her issues. I will come on to the detail of that in Committee.

Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow. I am sorry that she framed this measure as a perk. Just to clarify, this is not about rights purely for Cabinet Ministers—well, they are not rights; it is a provision. The article in The Guardian today also misrepresented that. This is a provision not just for Cabinet Ministers but for all Ministers and those Opposition posts. Only Cabinet Ministers are prevented at the moment from taking maternity leave, so that is what the Bill tries to address.

I hope that I can give the hon. Lady some assurances on the work that we want to take forward with regard to the Women and Equalities Committee and IPSA. Although, clearly, there will be other consultees involved, as well as the Government, with regard to IPSA she is absolutely right that we have to address the remaining issues both for Ministers and for all Members of the House. She has certainly set us a timetable today to try to get that resolved, and I hope to give some clarity on that later. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. It is vital that we get these issues right. I also want to give some assurances on the issues that have been raised about fathers. This is absolutely vital. I was brought up by my father in my teenage years. Fathers are critical. We will bring that forward in our future work. We will look at paternity leave, shared parental leave, adoption leave and a raft of other issues to ensure that all Members of this House, at whatever stage of their career and whatever Bench they sit on—Front Bench or Back Bench—can have the flexibility they need to thrive in their careers, and have and raise a family. I look forward to the future debates on that subject.

The Deputy Speaker put the Question (Order, this day).

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).

Further proceedings on the Bill stood postponed (Order, this day).