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 Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Paymaster General 5:45 pm, 1st March 2021

I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions. In closing this debate, I will respond to a few of the points made. The Government have been clear throughout the debate in both this House and the House of Lords that the Bill is an important step forward that at last makes provision for Ministers to take paid maternity leave. I repeat my thanks to the Opposition Front Benchers for their constructive support—not only on this, but on the future work we are planning to bring forward. I am pleased that the Bill will be able to make similar maternity provisions for Opposition office holders as well.

I turn to the comments of Cat Smith. In earlier consideration of the Bill, I spoke about the context in which we are bringing it forward. I am very conscious that even if we took into account future ministerial post-holders, this is still a tiny group of individuals compared with the general population.

There is work that we want to bring forward, not least the work that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been leading on, to help make progress on a number of related areas. This Bill has afforded me the opportunity to check in with those Ministers and to encourage them. It is understandable that the effort of that Department has been focused on the pandemic, but if we are to recover from that, we have to ensure that women are economically empowered and are supported, and many of the things that BEIS has been looking at will help do that.

The hon. Lady asks whether we have considered premature and sick babies. We have, and I think the provisions in the Bill will certainly help anyone in that situation. We originally drafted this Bill to incorporate adoption leave and shared parental leave, but it was too difficult because of some of the issues around the royal prerogative, Ministers, caps on payroll and so forth, which is why we need a little bit more time to do this additional piece of work before we bring back, I think, future legislation to address those issues.

That will also dock into work that hon. Members will want to do in this place with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. We recognise its independence, but clearly we are talking about the same individuals. Indeed, the Attorney General may have got her ministerial situation sorted—I hope, if this Bill gets Royal Assent—but she will still face the difficulties that other Members have spoken about as a Member of Parliament.

Turning to my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt, I first thank him and the all-party group for the incredible work they have done not only on domestic issues, but internationally. When we in this place look back at footage of our predecessors and see some of the remarks made decades ago about LGBT people and the homophobia that was exhibited, I am sure that all of us cringe. I think we should ask ourselves whether, were we in the Commons at that time, we would have called it out. Would we have gone out of our way to send our support, empathy and understanding to gay people at the time?

The challenge for us today is exactly the same with trans people, and I hope that all Members of this House—I know that many Members do—take that responsibility extremely seriously, none more so than my hon. Friend. The amendments we are accepting today are legitimate and understandable, and critically they are also legally sound, but let me say in supporting them from this Dispatch Box that trans men are men and trans women are women, and great care has been taken in the drafting and accepting of these amendments to ensure that that message has got across.

So often these issues are presented as an intractable row between two incompatible positions. They are not; they are about all people being able to go about their lives and to be supported in doing so. I know that many hon. Members in this place and their lordships in the other place feel that very strongly and feel a huge responsibility. As a woman, I agree with many of the comments made today. I want the rights of all women to be taken care of and all men to be safeguarded, too.

Kirsten Oswald made some very good points. I have to inform her again, sadly, that Ministers have no rights because of the royal prerogative—I am sorry to say that—and, therefore, the Prime Minister is the arbiter of this, but I cannot imagine a situation where any Prime Minister would not allow someone to take maternity leave. If anyone has any idea how to get around that as a Minister, I am quite keen to have some rights. We will obviously keep that under review, but that is the current situation.

The hon. Lady also questioned whether the Bill was progressive. I think it is progressive for women and for trans men, and that is an important message that we should send. We want to bring the future piece of work that we wish to do on those other matters back to this place before the summer recess. I do not know whether it will involve legislation or the nature of that legislation, so I cannot give her any more assurances on that, but we will bring back the work that we will do cross-party on these matters.

Christine Jardine made some very powerful remarks; I thank her for them and agree with them entirely. Kim Johnson also spoke about the context in which we are presenting this Bill. I reassure her that it is our intention to bring forward adoption leave and shared parental leave and related matters. She is right to point to the impact of the pandemic on women. Finally, Jim Shannon shared a sad and beautiful story with us. We have taken into consideration the situation where there is a stillborn child. We spoke on Second Reading about the opportunities that this presents for the devolved Administrations and, importantly, for councillors.

In conclusion, the Government have accepted these amendments. We are confident that the wording of the Bill is legally accurate and does not adversely affect the operation of its intent. Moreover, the Government are content that the Lords amendments are legally acceptable and more inclusive than other suggested alternatives. The Government are supporting these amendments in this House and recommends to it that they are accepted and that the Bill is now allowed to proceed to Royal Assent.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 15 agreed to.