Clause 1 - Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office

Part of Ministerial and other Maternal Allowances Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 3:15 pm, 11th February 2021

I rise to speak to a number of amendments. Before I do so, I will acknowledge some Members across the House who have done such amazing work in raising issues of equality when it comes to pregnancy and maternity in this place. I believe there is a high degree of cross-party consensus that we need to act.

I also put on the record my support for the many men who have spoken today about the importance of fathers. Let me be clear: there will be no equality for pregnant women and new mums until fathers are able to step up and equally do their bit. It is not a zero-sum game; it is about parents being able to support each other, and the importance to women’s equality of not being left literally holding the baby.

Let me put on the record my thanks for the work of my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman; my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, who was a trailblazer in her time and continues to fight for women’s rights; my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper; and, indeed, my hon. Friend Feryal Clark, who spoke bravely and set out her own fears for what would happen. That is one of the tests we must face in this place.

I take the point that the Paymaster General is making when she says that this is not a perk, but I think it is quite difficult to make that argument when faced with another Member of the House who is in exactly the same position as the Attorney General but will be unable to access the maternity leave that we have all agreed it is important that new mums should be able to access.

I want to put on the record my support for the words of my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves. If Members have not read her books, trying to correct the record of the absence of our understanding of what women parliamentarians have done, they really should.

I also want to mention Mrs Miller. I said in my earlier contribution that one of the things I thought was missing from the debate was a recognition of the legislation that she has proposed to try to help women facing redundancy in pregnancy, and to make real the promise, which I think we all expect for our constituents, that we will not make someone who is pregnant redundant. As we know, even before the pandemic, 50,000 women a year were facing that situation. I think about the narrow scope of this Bill and contrast it with what her Bill could do for thousands of women in this country. If she is able to bring it forward, she will have my support.

I also want to thank the current Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes, who is doing an amazing job. She spoke today about the importance of equalities impact assessments. New clause 1 is about exactly why that matters. Obviously, we usually expect those assessments to be done for any form of Government legislation, because we recognise that we cannot be blind to the consequences of legislation for different sections of our society.

We have an Equality Act in this country and we protect certain characteristics for a reason, because we know that not everyone in our society faces a level playing field. Pregnancy is a protected characteristic for just that reason—to enable us to say, “Actually, in our society in 2021, women who are pregnant in our communities face discrimination.” We recognise that if we address the challenges that they face and remove those barriers, we shall all benefit. This legislation seeks to do that, and I recognise that. That is why I will support it, and why I think it is the right thing to do.

However, as the Paymaster General herself said, this legislation does that for a maximum of 115 women. In a society of 70 million people, that cannot be enough. That cannot be the message that we send from Parliament. That is why it is important that we have an equalities impact assessment of this legislation, and that we recognise that it does not take place in a vacuum, but in an unequal society where women who are pregnant face discrimination. We see that in our public life. We have already talked about this place briefly, and I do want to return to that, because I think it is important.

I acknowledge that the Paymaster General has recognised the timetable that I am setting her. I want to put that on the record, because I think that should be part of an equalities impact assessment where I believe the discrimination is against those of us who are pregnant, and there are human rights elements of this. But we cannot be blind, either, to the message that this legislation, in the way it is crafted, will send to our sisters in local government and regional Assemblies, or indeed to our sisters who are employees of this House.