Clause 1 - Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office

Part of Ministerial and other Maternal Allowances Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 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) 4:15 pm, 11th February 2021

Again, I agree. We are not only paid on maternity or paternity—if Members choose to take time off—but we do not receive sick pay because we continue to be paid at that time as well. I acknowledge that during this period a number of people in my constituency and across the UK are really struggling because statutory sick pay provisions are nowhere near adequate.

I worked for a global organisation, but I am conscious of the impact of parental leave on small businesses. That is why the statutory support needs to be so much better. We would view it as unacceptable if the Bill said that the Attorney General would receive only basic statutory maternity rights, and yet fundamentally that will be the case for millions of people.

Hon. Members have touched on MPs’ staff and IPSA contracts, where I also have concerns. Many MPs employ staff who have worked for other MPs, especially after the churn of an election—indeed, I did that in January 2020—but to qualify for full maternity pay on an IPSA contract, a staff member needs to have worked for over a year. If staff members change MP, even if they have worked for a long time in Parliament, they effectively start a new employment and are penalised as a result. Although, like the hon. Member for Walthamstow, I was pleased to see in my mailbox this morning correspondence from IPSA on this issue, it was specifically related to MPs. I urge IPSA to consider MPs’ staff as part of the review. My first 15 months have certainly taught me that having excellent staff and supporting them is critical to success in this place.

I want to reflect on the work I have done with 50:50 Parliament since my election. I have spoken at a number of its events—obviously enabled by being online during the pandemic—and the common theme in the questions that come from women interested in or considering standing either in this place, at local authority level or, indeed, at the Senedd or at Holyrood are around how to manage family time and find a work-life balance, and having children as part of that. I continue to urge the Paymaster General to regard this Bill as a first legislative step. We have a real opportunity to send out a strong, positive message about diversity in this place, but someone who has served as a Cabinet Minister for less than a year is to receive full maternity pay. As I say, that is right, but we have an issue to address when a staff member who might have worked in Parliament for years would receive only statutory pay.

It is now a month before the Attorney General’s maternity leave, and it is worrying that the Government have only now realised that this is an issue. Obviously, the business changed last week to allow us to debate the Bill today. That tells me that equalities are not at the heart of the Government’s thinking. I always think about an inclusion lens: everything that we consider in this place should be looked at in the light of inclusion and therefore we will see the issues before they are pointed out to us latterly.