Clause 1 - Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office

Part of Ministerial and other Maternal Allowances Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 4:00 pm, 11th February 2021

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in Committee, having been unable to do so on Second Reading. I start by wishing Suella Braverman and the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) all the best in their pregnancies. Indeed, it is particularly poignant for me to speak in this debate today because I am currently receiving updates on my stepson’s partner, who is in the early stages of labour; they are on the way to the hospital as we speak. Step-grannyhood awaits. I am not quite prepared for that.

The Bill corrects what is fundamentally a clear unfairness in relation to ministerial appointment legislation. Clearly, as we heard on Second Reading, there is support from all sides of the House for ensuring that Cabinet Ministers can take maternity leave, and rightly so. However, like many Members across the House, I find it worrying that this huge hole in legislation has been spotted only now. Sadly, I think that speaks volumes about this place, the current Government and—dare I say it?—previous Governments, in which my party took a part.

While today we may be updating antiquated rules, the Bill takes us not so much up to the present day as into the 1990s. Of course, a particular element of maternity leave is ensuring that a new mother can physically recover from the birth. I was a police officer for 12 years, and it was critical that we took time off work. That is why all mothers should take at least two weeks off work in the first instance. It was therefore incredibly saddening to hear of the experience of MPs who have been forced to attend this place either immediately prior to giving birth or shortly thereafter.

In 2021, there is wide acceptance of the fact that, no matter how a person is becoming a parent, they should be entitled to leave, whether it is maternity leave, paternity leave or adoption leave, to give the child that is coming into their family—the child should be at the centre of this—the very best start in life that they can. We should therefore expand the scope of the Bill beyond maternity leave, because that is clearly the direction of travel that we see in society. This must be a legislative first step, and I welcome the Paymaster General’s comments on Second Reading that it is. I look forward to hearing the timetable accordingly.

I worked for a number of different organisations throughout my career before I came into this place. I have seen a variety of policies on parental leave, and I have seen them change over time. In fact, when I was a police officer, they changed between the births of my children; when I had my daughter, I had six months’ leave, and when I had my son, I was able to take longer. However, I would have really struggled financially if it had not been for my mother, who was able to help us cover childcare. There was just no way that, as a family, we could afford the multiple days.