My noble Friend Lord True said on Second Reading in the House of Lords that, although “specific and limited” in its aims, this Bill is a significant reforming measure for women and points the way to wider reform. It will make an important and long overdue change to existing law by enabling Ministers and Opposition spokesmen for the first time to take paid maternity leave from their job for an extended period. It ends the unacceptable situation where a Minister would have to resign from Cabinet or their post to recover from childbirth and to care for their newborn child. Members in the House of Lords have exercised their role as the reviewing House and have decided to return the Bill to this House with amendments and the Government are content to accept those amendments in the House today.
The Lords amendments make a number of changes to the drafting in clauses 1 to 3 of the Bill, substituting the word “person” with the words “mother” or “expectant mother” where appropriate. These amendments tabled by my noble Friend Lord Lucas were supported by the Government in the House of Lords in recognition of the strength of feeling on this issue displayed in both Houses. The Bill, as originally drafted, was in line with the long-standing convention to use gender-neutral drafting where doing so is necessary to achieve the full policy intent. The use of the word “person” in this Bill as originally drafted achieved both those aims.
The amendments that the Government are accepting today to substitute “mother” or “expectant mother” where appropriate for “persons” in clauses 1 to 3, although grammatically challenging in places, do not affect the operation of the Bill and achieve the twin aims of being legally accurate and delivering on the policy intention. Moreover, the use of the word “mother” or “expectant mother” where appropriate is in line with recent case law of the Court of Appeal, as was noted by Lord Pannick in the House of Lords. These amendments are legally acceptable and the intention and meaning of the Bill would be unaffected by such a change. As discussed previously, the word “woman” or the word “Minister” would have run into legal difficulties, and I hope the words “mother” and “expectant mother” will be acceptable to hon. Members. During the passage of the Bill through the Commons, we also amended the explanatory notes.
I know that there will be some who are concerned by these amendments and by the Government’s accepting them, and I hope to give them some reassurance today. Many of their lordships who spoke in favour of these amendments also spoke about their understanding of and commitment to LGBT rights. Many hon. Members in this place who I think would support the revision were, when discussing the Bill with me, also focused on ensuring that if we ever had a trans male colleague in future who needed to make use of the provisions, that would be the case. We also hope to bring forward work in future on shared parental leave and adoption leave. If legislation is needed, and we expect that it may well be, we would add new sections to the Bill, and we anticipate not having to return to amend the wording back to “person”.
I thank all those who have taken part in debates in both Houses and made interventions. The Bill before the House today makes an important and long-overdue change to existing law. It will enable all Ministers, for the first time, to take paid maternity leave from their job for an extended period. Women who aspire to and hold high office will no longer be disadvantaged. It is in recognition of these amendments that the Government wish to proceed on that basis.
We also recognise that there is much more to be done, and, as we have said, this Bill is the first step. Throughout the Bill’s passage, the Government have made commitments to Parliament both on the wider reports on issues that could no longer be accommodated in the Bill and in relation to a review of language used in drafting legislation, with a genuine willingness to work with parliamentarians. We are thankful to Members of both Houses for their willingness to work with the Government on this issue.
I once again thank Rachel Reeves and her colleagues for their engagement on this Bill, and all hon. Members who have contributed to and spoken with passion in these debates. The Government are keen—some members of the Government in particular, I might add—to ensure that this Bill receives Royal Assent as soon as possible. I ask the House to accept the amendments and send the Bill for Royal Assent.