Clause 1 - Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office

Part of Ministerial and other Maternal Allowances Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 3:45 pm, 11th February 2021

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. If he will forgive me, as somebody who has actually been through this process and actually understands what is available and what is not clear at present, I would gently encourage him to talk to his colleague the hon. Member for Stroud about her experiences.

It is really important that we are honest about the lack of clarity. As I have said, there is not a formal maternity leave scheme or formal maternity cover. Unless the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that if an MP disappears for six months, nobody would notice because they do not do anything, then there is work to be covered. The point about this legislation is that it recognises that. It is not about the pay—that is a red herring in this environment. It is about having somebody to cover the work we do outside of this room: the campaigns we run, the constituency events we attend, and the casework we do. For me, it was not acceptable to ask my staff to fill in everything that I did for six months, and expect my constituents to have a reduced service as a result, rather than to have somebody cover those roles.

I am very conscious of time and I do want to press on, but I would gently encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at what is actually being provided at the moment. It is not the same as what we are providing in this legislation, and that is my point: we want parity, because every woman should have six months’ paid cover so that they can actually take time off. Perhaps he might want to speak to my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq, who was back doing casework three days after a caesarean section because, although people thought she could take maternity leave, the reality was that she could not. I know that it is not a situation in which the hon. Gentleman has found himself, but I hope that he can understand, through listening to those of us who have, why we need change. Certainly, I hope that he will join me in supporting paid parental leave for our male colleagues because that is really important. I have talked to many colleagues who find that this place takes them away from their families when we want to bring them together.

I want to highlight the other amendments that I have tabled. I recognise the cross-party support for new clause 1—I think the Paymaster General does, too—and the call for change and for us not to be blind about the messages we send from this place about the importance of paid maternity cover and ensuring that everybody can access it.

Amendments 1 and 2 are probing amendments to recognise some of the questions the Bill raises about the practical technicalities and what would happen. The Bill seems to take account of the idea that somebody might be demoted while they are on maternity leave and I am sure that the Paymaster General will want to clarify that. Although the Bill provides that no Minister would be in a financially difficult position if they were removed from their ministerial post while they were on maternity leave, it does not make the same provision for the small number of Opposition office holders. Will the Paymaster General clarify what would happen in that case? We all want to ensure that when any woman takes maternity leave, she can do so with confidence and certainty about her financial and logistical position.

There are still battles to be won, but I want every pregnant woman in this country who is facing problems right now to know that there are voices in this place that are prepared to stand up to those who tell them not to worry and to be grateful for the fact that somebody might employ them at all; not to worry about going home and being stuck with their children, and that equality does not matter to our economy. I know that there are voices and champions for the importance of not discriminating against pregnant women and new mums across the House, but it is time that we saw ourselves as we are now, and we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope if we do not understand the impact of the Bill on the messages that we send.

I know that the Paymaster General realises that we need to do the research. She is honest about how small the number of women affected by the Bill is. If she will not accept the amendment, I am keen to hear from her—because I do not want to have to take the Government to court—a clear timetable for action, a clear commitment by the Government to make parliamentary time so that we can resolve the issues in this place and support women of child-bearing age and their partners in local government and across the Assemblies as appropriate, for public life if nothing else. Deeds not words.