I completely agree with my colleague from north of the border. People’s ability to take shared parental leave is so important. Again, parental leave is not covered in this Bill, but an equality impact assessment could look at the consequences of failing to include it. That matters because the Bill talks about ensuring the income of a Minister, and, to put it bluntly, the biggest barrier to people taking up parental leave is that it is only open to those who can really afford to do so.
The gender pay gap is at the heart of some of these challenges. That is because for most women and their families, it is actually better for them to take time off with the baby than for their partner to do so. That means that they take the hit on their career and on their incomes, and we do not get the fathers’ involvement in children that we all want to support. Why are we sending the message that we are not even talking about ministerial paternal paid leave and therefore ensuring that fathers can be part of it? The Paymaster General said that it is already covered in existing provisions. That is because it is only two weeks. In the first two weeks post birth, parents are lucky if they see daylight and are able to go outside—or, indeed, to wear clean clothes, if I remember correctly—so having more time with their child is crucial.
I want to look particularly at what this legislation means for Parliament. The Paymaster General has pointed out that she gets this and she understands that we have to go much further, and I believe her. She talked about a timetable. Let me be clear why that timetable matters. I said earlier that I have a direct discrimination case, and I think that an equality impact assessment could look at this issue. She will have seen that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has come out today and said, “Yes, we’re going to consult”, and it is having a meeting again today. That is all very welcome. I recognise that the new chair of IPSA takes a very different approach from the previous administration. I have worked on these issues for the last two years and I wrote to IPSA before the last election, begging it to come out and say that it was at least looking at these concerns so that nobody of childbearing age would be deterred from standing in the election, but it refused to do so, so it is welcome that there is movement.
But, as ever, the pace of change is glacially slow—for me, literally, because yet again I find myself in a position where I cannot be confident of what I can say to my community to answer the question posed by the member of staff of the hon. Member for Strangford: “What cover will there be?” I cannot even look my own staff in the eye because of the lack of cover that we offer staff in this place. If nothing else, that makes us terrible employees.
This legislation gives the lie that this is an independent matter. I have been told for the last two years that MPs’ employment status meant that it was impossible. Indeed, it says on the IPSA website:
“MPs as independent office holders are not employees and are therefore not eligible for statutory maternity, paternity or adoption leave.”