Clause 1 - Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office

Part of Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 1st March 2021.

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Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 5:45 pm, 1st March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow Kirsten Oswald. However, I am profoundly disappointed that we have to discuss this amendment to the language in the Bill today against a background of an increasingly bitter and divisive debate about LGBT and transgender rights. I thank the Minister for her reassurance at the beginning of the debate that there is no undermining of LGBT rights and that these issues will be addressed in the future.

I am sure that I am not alone when I say that it is the proudest boast of my life that I am a mother. I am completely committed to the rights laid down in this Bill. When it was first debated, I was concerned, as were many others, that it had taken too long to bring the legislation before us, and that it did not go far enough in recognising all forms of parenting and the need for wider parental leave. Today, I am more concerned that this important piece of legislation is potentially being, or could be, sidetracked. Regardless of my frustration about the background to the debate, I would not want that delay to happen. I know that there are those in this place who believe that there is an important political point about the language, but I do not believe that it is as important as the necessity for this Bill.

As a liberal—in this context, I believe that there are many liberals with a small “l” in this place on both sides of the House—I am firmly of the view that language that excludes or remove the rights of any group in favour of another is unacceptable. That is precisely why, for me, gender-neutral language is preferable and why it is used. It does not erase anyone. I certainly do not feel in any way compromised as a woman by its use, or that my rights are in any way undermined. For me, it also reflects more accurately the reality of modern life.

The Bill relates to benefits accruing to those who give birth, extending them to Government Ministers and some Opposition spokespeople who currently do not have those benefits. It does not deal with the registration of births; it is not proposed that that process be changed. Neither does the scope extend to legal gender recognition or restrictions. In that context, I would have no objection whatever to the gender-neutral language if it were used, and I have no intention of objecting to the change. However, I cannot see why Parliament would not persist with gender-neutral language in the future. As the Minister made it clear that there will be further legislation, that this legislation does not affect LGBT rights, and that, if the occasion arises, a trans male Minister would not be disadvantaged, I feel that the importance of this legislation —and of having it enacted as quickly as possible—means that we should not delay over perfectly legal language.