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 John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings 3:45 pm, 11th February 2021

In George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, protagonist Syme explains the objective of Newspeak:

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

Although there are those who do not understand or will not recognise this truth, language matters. It is through language that we understand, express, consider, challenge, think and articulate. Through language, we breathe life into sentiment. So we must ask ourselves a question. How did we get to a place where a Conservative Government bring a Bill before us that seeks in effect to abolish two beautiful words that have been used for centuries and embody goodness and truth: “mother” and “woman”? The Bill as drafted does just that. It rules those words out of law.

Is it now considered embarrassing to be described as a woman and to admit to being a mother? That seems to contradict the whole purpose of the Bill. After all, the Bill is about recognising the significance of motherhood and extending that recognition to those in the service of the Crown. Are we now acknowledging as a Parliament that the concepts of motherhood and womanhood are so radical that they must be censored?

You know as well as anyone, Dame Eleanor, that when tabling amendments, one is often seeking to make small, sometimes complicated technical changes to legislation. Today, with my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, my motivation is much more straightforward: to affirm the existence, worth and eternal value of womanhood and motherhood. By the way, if the need arose, I would do the same for men and fatherhood. By saying the words and including them in the Bill, we will cement the virtues that the Bill embodies in law.

As drafted, the Bill, in effect, extinguishes the ordained particular characteristics of human types. I do not know whether that is as a result of artlessness or heartlessness, but whichever it is, it anonymises and dehumanises. That is why I have introduced the two amendments that stand in my name, and I am grateful to Members from across the House for supporting them.

My speech will be uncharacteristically short but characteristically straightforward, because this is a matter of common sense—the common sense that prevails beyond this place and, clearly, beyond the wit or will of the people who drafted this legislation. Never underestimate the power of language, for there are those—those who are extreme and immoderate—who understand its power very well and those, as Joanna Cherry said, who seek to obscure the biological differences, which are, frankly, the very reason all of us are able to contribute to this debate, because we would not be here without them.

It is sad to see the attempts that have been made to blur the picture, muddy the waters and cloak this matter in denial. It is sad to see the descriptions of “drafting difficulties” and “legislative complications”, which were described to me today by one parliamentary lawyer, a distinguished one too, as entirely “clueless” and “baseless”. This is a matter not of drafting procedure, but of principle. Electors of all political persuasions and none, across our kingdom, from Caithness to Caerphilly to Cornwall, from Antrim to Arundel, from Kent to Kendal, expect us to do what they would anticipate is that common sense—to affirm womanhood and motherhood in this legislation, which is, after all, about maternity.

As Orwell understood, semantics matter, because through them, via meaning, we find truth. In the pursuit of truth, and in solidarity with every woman and mother in South Holland and The Deepings and beyond, I am proud to put forward the amendments that stand in my name, and I shall be seeking to divide the House on them at the end of this Committee stage, with your indulgence, Dame Eleanor.