Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Bereavement) Bill

– in the House of Commons at on 26 January 2024.

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Second Reading

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:36, 26 January 2024

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When I first discovered that I had been successful in the ballot, as other Members have been during this Session, I received requests from organisations and groups on all manner of worthy issues, yet my overriding thought was that I hoped to take through legislation that would achieve meaningful change for individuals and families on a day-to-day basis, and make their lives that little bit less difficult. I put on record my thanks to organisations such as Gingerbread and the Fawcett Society, which have offered invaluable support and guidance in aiding the development of this Bill.

In the tradition of the House working at its best when it works cross party, I place on the record my thanks to the Minister, his officials and Rebecca Harris, who is often forgotten and never thanked for the invaluable work she does in supporting Members in the passing of private Members’ Bills. I sincerely thank the Minister and his officials for the constructive and open way in which they have engaged in finding consensus to reach this point.

I am confident that within the political DNA of all Members of this place is an aim to almost always undertake work that has the biggest impact—work that brings about the most meaningful change for the largest group of people in society we can reach. In doing so, however, we often miss the groups in society who are forgotten or who fall through the legislative cracks of loopholes in our laws. I am pleased to say that this Bill will not impact tens of thousands of people across the United Kingdom, because nobody in this House or in wider society would want it to. As its title states, it is fundamentally about the loss of a partner, wife or mother in childbirth, and about ensuring that more of those left behind have a right to leave in those most horrendous of circumstances.

The House rightly has an annual debate on child loss, which impacts too many people year after year. To me, it is an unimaginable grief, yet like so many issues, life events and tragedies, it can be left unsaid and undebated if it is not raised by a Member. As a husband and a parent, I cannot comprehend losing a partner in childbirth, or indeed what it is like for a child to lose either of their parents before their birth. The phrase, “It would make anyone’s blood run cold,” is probably a grave understatement. The trauma is unimaginable, yet every year a proportion of families must endure that most tragic of circumstances: the unimaginable joy of becoming a parent, but facing the devastating grief of losing the person you had planned the next part of your life with, and now having to somehow raise a child alone.

Like many colleagues across the House, my party has been committed to boosting and safeguarding employment and parental rights in recent decades. In recent years, Bills have been passed on neonatal care, supporting people with baby loss and, of course, shared parental leave, but there is always much more to do. The Bill I have tabled seeks to give a day-one right to leave for parents in the most tragic of circumstances who do not meet current continuity of service requirements, so that they have a guaranteed leave entitlement to process the grief and change in personal circumstances, along with a job to return to when they are able to do so.

I want to mention Darren Henry, who led the charge on this issue when he introduced his ten-minute rule Bill in respect of his constituent Aaron. I will leave him to speak of those circumstances, but I pay tribute to him for the tenacious way that he has lobbied on this issue over the past year. Equally, in mentioning him I confess that this Bill is a little different—or perhaps a lot—from his original Bill, but for me this is about making progress on the issue. My sincere, genuine hope is that the Bill will be the start of a process and debate about making changes to a specific area of law in the months and years to come. I am pleased that the Labour party, if given the privilege to serve our country following the general election, whenever it comes, has a plan to improve employment rights, including those of new parents, so I hope I can lobby Labour Ministers in the years ahead.

The numbers behind this issue are concerning, and I am sorry to say that they are going in the wrong direction. Data released only a few weeks ago by MBRRACE, which monitors the cause of maternal deaths, stillbirths and infant deaths, highlights how the number of women dying each year during pregnancy, or soon after, has increased to its highest level in 20 years, with 3.41 deaths per 100,000 women. Even more troubling is that black, Asian and minority ethnic women, and those in economically deprived areas, are more severely affected. Women from ethnic backgrounds remain four times more likely to die during or after pregnancy, and those from Asian backgrounds are twice as likely to die compared with Caucasian women. Those are figures not seen since the early 2000s.

The UK Government’s stated ambition was to halve maternal mortality rates between 2010 and 2025, yet the numbers clearly paint a different picture. It is clear that with maternal deaths rising, more partners and spouses are being left in the unenviable and heart-wrenching circumstance of bringing up a newborn, planning a funeral and adjusting to life without their significant other. When dealing with such a trio of issues, the last thing many will want to be thinking and worrying about is leave from their employment. Parental leave is something we should be proud of in this country, but it is by no means perfect. Making it easier and more accessible for individuals in what can be incredibly difficult circumstances is something I am sure colleagues across the House will support.

When doing a deep dive into the issue of leave, I was shocked at just how low the take-up of shared parental leave is in this country. Only 1% of eligible employee mothers, at a time when maternal mortality rights are rising, and only 5% of eligible employees take up any shared parental leave, according to the parental rights survey of 2019. For many, even the process of getting set up on the scheme is too arduous, with nearly 10% of eligible mothers and fathers stating that it was too complex to set up and manage. Furthermore, due to the strict eligibility criteria for SPL, approximately 40% of working fathers are left without any leave entitlement. That includes, but is not limited to, fathers whose partner is not working or not entitled to maternity leave, fathers who are in insecure work, fathers who changed jobs after their partner became pregnant, and those fathers who are on lower incomes.

The Childhood Bereavement Network has made the important point that parents of babies may be particularly at risk of financial strain because they are younger. Their partner, who they have lost in childbirth, may have had less time to build up earnings, make mortgage payments or contribute to pension schemes, and is less likely to have planned future finances. Dads who are currently not entitled to SLP because of their own or their partner’s insecure employment prior to death may therefore be among the most vulnerable financially.

We have heard a lot about the stats and figures  behind this issue, but it is important to name and understand the lived experiences behind those figures. I want to read, in his own words, what happened to Simon Thorpe. His lived experience means that now, as an employer himself, he supports this change in the law:

“My wife and I had our first child in August 2020 and 6 months later my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I worked for a medium-sized charity in the north west as general manager, and I immediately asked my chairman to go part-time and work flexibly so I could help out with childcare and hospital appointments. Working flexibly had become the new normal during covid anyway. My chairman and board agreed, and to be honest they didn’t have a choice, but I expect many other employers would not have been able to be so flexible.

After five months, it became clear I couldn’t carry on working in such a responsible position, and manage the childcare and hospital treatment requirements of my wife, so I resigned and left work in October 2021 and became a full-time carer and parent. Fortunately my wife was receiving full sick pay from her employer so I could afford to give up work.

My wife died in August 2022, and by not having a job I was in a better position to immediately deal with the aftermath, especially the childcare. Looking after my two-year-old son was the single most important task. However, as an employer myself, if one of my staff had been in my position of losing a partner, I would have been able to offer our standard three to five days’ compassionate leave. I now know first-hand that this would be totally inadequate, and would not even allow time to hold a funeral. It’s true that after the funeral is when bereavement often hits hardest. I’m sure some employers would be as flexible as possible and offer a period of unpaid leave. Three to five days might be fine for a distant relative, sibling, or even a parent, but for loss of a spouse or even a child it is completely unthinkable that a person could return usefully to the workplace. The only other option would be to be signed off sick by a GP.

I don’t think any legislation can ‘fix’ bereavement and every person responds to bereavement in a different way. There is no prescribable timescale for overcoming a significant loss and being ready to return to work. However, providing a statutory basis for leave following loss of a spouse, particularly in the case where there is a dependent child, seems a positive step. After all, there is two-week statutory paternity leave on birth of a child, but it is equally significant should a parent die that the surviving parent is able to be present at home in the immediate aftermath. It’s not just the emotional impact, it’s the practical aspects of organising a funeral, the “deathocracy” paperwork that goes on and on—probate, wills, liaising with school or preschool and so on. In these moments thinking about work is the last thing on one’s mind, but of course for many there will be a financial pressure, although Bereavement Support Payment has been a most unexpected source of income for me.”

The Bill sets out the following changes. It would make shared parental leave and pay for a father or partner, where the mother of the child has died, a day-one employment right. While I recognise that there is already provision in law for shared parental leave in the case of bereavement, that is subject to a strict continuity of employment test, as the Minister knows. As it stands, for a mother’s partner to take shared parental leave, they must have been working for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before the baby was due, and they must have earned at least £390 in total across any 30 of the 66 weeks. The partner must also have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date. They must also stay with the same employer until they start their leave period.

In short, that is a lot of fixed conditions in a world where people change jobs and careers more frequently than in previous generations. The Bill would allow the Secretary of State to remove that test through regulations. That would effectively close the loophole that, for example, resulted in the constituent of the hon. Member for Broxtowe not being entitled to shared parental leave.

According to research carried out by the Childhood Bereavement Network, a child’s need for stability following a parent’s death makes it vital for the surviving parent to be able to respond flexibly to them. The child’s adjustment is often closely associated with the parent’s capacity to care for them, including being physically available to them.

We know that, thankfully, only a small percentage of families each year find themselves in such a position. Therefore, after discussions with the Minister and his officials, it is envisaged that the Bill would not require a money resolution due to the relatively small financial cost incurred by the Government, as it links to leave only. However, as I stressed earlier in my speech, this is a first step. I have learned throughout my time in this place to not let the perfect get in the way of the good.

While the Bill aims to give a day-one right to leave to those in insecure work, I hope it will open a broader debate on the employment rights of not just those who work in secure roles, but the growing number of constituents who work in insecure roles. According to a report published by the TUC, the number of people in insecure work has increased from 3.2 million in 2016 to 3.9 million last year. Furthermore, there has been a startling 132% increase in absolute terms of black, Asian and minority ethnic persons in insecure work. Over the space of a decade, that figure has jumped from 360,241 in 2011 to 836,339. We also know that maternal mortality rates have been rising among the BAME community. Dads in insecure work, such as agency work and zero-hours contracts, are not eligible for leave, and those who are self-employed have little to no protections should they find themselves in such a situation.

I recognise that the Bill focuses on those in insecure work, but it is important to have a broad debate on paternity and maternity rights. That is especially so when the figures are as clear as day in highlighting the rapid rise in insecure work and mortality rates among pregnant women. I hope that if the Bill passes its Second Reading, it will open up that important debate.

At present, there is a loophole in legislation that is leaving some parents and guardians without sufficient time to grieve, plan and adjust to life without the mother of their child. I urge colleagues to give due consideration to the Bill’s passing at Second Reading. As I have stated, the Bill would make a massive difference to a small number of cases each year where families experience life-changing circumstances. Those are circumstances that none of us would want for anyone; thankfully, many never face them. Whether it is Aaron and his young son, or anyone who faces this tapestry of grief and joy, staring at a life never planned, I believe it is this place’s job to make life that little bit easier. I would argue that that is the very least we could do.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 9:50, 26 January 2024

I pay tribute to the cross-party efforts led by my hon. Friend Darren Henry and Chris Elmore to correct an injustice for parents dealing with the challenges of losing their partner and gaining a child and then not qualifying for child leave or pay. They may even risk losing their livelihood. I pay particular tribute to individual campaigners such as the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe, Aaron Horsey, who had the courage and conviction to take up the cause on behalf of others while having to deal with the loss of Bernadette and bringing up his son Tim.

The backdrop to this important Bill—how we as a society handle bereavement—needs some attention. Death and grief are too often taboos that society struggles to handle, but all our lives will be affected by bereavement at some point, whatever our age, background, religion or belief. We must do more to provide support for those who are bereaved and, indeed, those who are facing bereavement.

As a Christian, I recall Zechariah 7:10 in the Bible:

“oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor”.

Much debate, attention and action is directed to helping support the poor, the stranger and the fatherless, but perhaps less attention and action is given to the widow or the widower. I recall a number of young widowers known to me—such as Guy Hordern—who have had to face bereavement while raising small children without their wife and the mother alongside them, and then also having to face insecurity of employment.

I also pay tribute to the UK Commission on Bereavement and its 2022 report, “Bereavement is everyone’s business”. Bishops are not always in politicians’ good books, as the debate in the other place this week has demonstrated, but there are times for praise, and I want to praise the noble Lord Bishop of London, the chair of the commission. She said:

“All of us will experience grief through the course of our lives. It is a truly universal human experience, part and parcel of being mortal. And as with every aspect of life, we all experience it differently.”

She continued:

“The pandemic…had a profound effect on how those affected have experienced bereavement. Many people have been unable to see family and friends and…had limited access to formal support after their loved one died. Feeling alone in their grief due to lockdown or having to shield or self-isolate has had a devastating impact. At the same time, the pandemic has also spotlighted this universal human experience and presented an important opportunity to consider how well equipped we are”— or perhaps are not—

“to support people through a bereavement and how we should work together to improve that support both now and in the future.”

In that context, the UK Commission on Bereavement was founded, bringing together 16 commissioners and an advisory group.

Through the commission’s work, taking detailed written and oral evidence from well over 1,000 people, it has conducted one of the largest ever consultations of bereaved people and professionals working with them. The commission saw time and again that we need to do more

“as a whole society to support all those affected by bereavement.”

However, ongoing taboos around grief and uncertainty about how to help inhibit support throughout our communities, in schools, colleges and workplaces, even among those whose job puts them in contact with bereaved people every day.

The report states:

“For those who need it, there are significant challenges to accessing formal emotional support. There’s not enough of it, it’s not accessible to all who need it, and certain groups in society are particularly poorly served. However, in addition to significant shortcomings in the provision of emotional support, people affected by bereavement often find it hard to get the support that they need with the ‘practical’ challenges they face day-to-day—from registering a death to accessing adequate financial support. Overall, many people are not getting the right support at the right time, with potentially serious consequences in all areas, from health and wellbeing to education and employment and even long term economic outcomes. We must seize the opportunity to change this for the better”.

This Bill is such an opportunity.

We must not lose sight of the fact that all our lives will be touched by bereavement. It is incumbent upon us all to work together to improve the experiences of bereaved people. The commission’s report set out clear recommendations for achieving that. The UK Government should establish and deliver a cross-departmental strategy for bereavement, as I believe the commission recommended.

By making grief taboo, fearing it and locking it away, we make it all the harder to comprehend and to support each other through it. We make it harder for people to access the help they need, be it simple flexibility from an employer, help with funeral costs or access to specialist bereavement support services. It is important that we do all we can to support those who suffer in this way.

Much in that report was not directly related to the Bill, so I will not test Mr Speaker’s patience further. Bereavement can often trigger financial insecurity and poverty. Many people who experience bereavement are at particular risk of financial hardship and changes to their material circumstances and living conditions. That is especially the case for bereaved parents or spouses, where the bereavement commonly results in the loss of household income, and sometimes even in the bereaved person or family losing their home. Such pressures add significantly to the stress already experienced. Overall, people are not getting the right support they need. A parent needs particular support in the early days, weeks and months with their child, and even more so when they have lost a partner.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Chris Elmore made an incredibly touching speech. I think everyone in the House supports the Bill. My hon. Friend has been a leader in small businesses. On the fairly made point by the hon. Member for Ogmore on shared parental leave, how does my hon. Friend think small employers should approach these issues?

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

For many years in my previous life I was a probate solicitor, so many bereaved people came to see me. There is real room for compassion when employers are faced with someone who has recently been bereaved. We all need to look at what we can do to support them. Other employees are probably more than willing to chip in and give the support that they can, which would be especially needed in a small business. That is also why, for many years, I have championed family hubs. I am delighted that Department for Education family hubs and start for life funding has enabled 75 family hubs to open and provide vital services for families with younger children. We need to ensure the hubs enable bereavement counselling and emotional and relational support for widowed parents, especially after tragic and traumatic loss in childbirth.

When enacted, the Bill will plug a vital gap in shared parental leave and pay for those who have not completed the six months of continuous service with an employer necessary to qualify. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have served their constituents and us well by shining a light on this issue and making it our business to sort it out. This Bill sends a wider message that bereavement is everyone’s business.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence) 9:59, 26 January 2024

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and to support Chris Elmore. The only thing I wrestled with before making this contribution was making sure that I said “the hon. Member for Ogmore”, not “the hon. Member for Elmore”. I have achieved my purpose, and I am pleased to support him.

The hon. Gentleman rightly encapsulated the benefit of these Friday debates and the process for considering private Members’ Bills, with which I have not had an awful lot of engagement during my time in Parliament. I will come on to that. This morning, we can consider Bills of constitutional import and of infrastructural import for Stoke-on-Trent South, as well as a Bill on the theological pursuit of freedom of belief and justice, which was introduced by Fiona Bruce, and a Bill with practical and meaningful import introduced by the hon. Member for Ogmore, who is right to suggest that it will not affect the masses. However, masses of people in our country should be greatly appreciative of the fact that he has taken a step this morning so that, should sorrow or tragedy strike their family, this issue has been considered. He is laying the foundation stone to ensure that support will be there in such difficult circumstances.

We should not have to stand here and reflect on the regressive facts that he has shared with us. The statistics over the past 20 years have got worse for mothers in childbirth who have needed the state to respond appropriately, so I am glad that he is taking action and has introduced the Bill. As a Northern Ireland Member, however, I reflect on the extent of the Bill. As it stands, it appropriately enables Ministers to make regulations that will amend Acts that apply to England, Scotland and Wales. I say, gently at this stage, that I can imagine that that is because our rights in Northern Ireland, which mirror entirely the employment rights of an Act of Parliament applying to England, Scotland and Wales, were proceeded with through an Order in Council. It might be worth considering—if, indeed, it is procedurally possible—whether the Bill, if it completes Second Reading, could be amended to include Orders in Council. The Order in Council in Northern Ireland and the relevant Act in England, Scotland and Wales are exactly the same. With appropriate processes for legislative consent, there would be no barrier, in my mind, to anyone from Northern Ireland seeking to introduce the provisions in the Bill. There would be no political reason or rationale for not doing so. I make that point gently and constructively. I hope that when the Bill receives further consideration, a very slight augmentation may provide for inclusion across this United Kingdom of such an important measure.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe 10:03, 26 January 2024

I should like to begin by giving my heartfelt thanks to Chris Elmore for securing a Second Reading for the Bill. I have been campaigning to make this change in law since the issue was first brought to my attention by a constituent in February 2022, so I was delighted to find out that the hon. Member had introduced a Bill to do that.

As has been evident in previous debates, including on my ten-minute rule Bill on this topic, in which we received support from Members from every major political party, this is a measure that parties can get behind. This is truly a cross-party Bill; there is support for this issue right across the House. It is not divisive or controversial—it simply seeks to allow individuals who have lost their partners in childbirth the right to have time to spend with their new-born child, without the need to have been previously employed for the 26-week requirement.

I have told Aaron’s story in the House on various occasions, but will continue to do so until the change is enacted in law. In February 2022, Aaron, who is in the Public Gallery today, came to my constituency surgery in Stapleford in Broxtowe. In his arms was Tim, his three-week-old son. Tim’s mother Bernadette had tragically passed away during childbirth. Aaron, however, had not been employed by his company for the 26 weeks required by law to access shared parental leave and pay. I have since that meeting felt that it was my purpose in this House, as well as representing my constituency, to right this wrong.

In our modern society, people should not be forced to choose between their families and their jobs. Providing the security that allows a parent to take time off with their new-born child, knowing they will return to their job, is essential. That is no less important for the sole surviving parent than it would be for the birthing partner. As a father, I cannot imagine being in the same situation as Aaron. We must do more to ensure that as much support as possible is in place for parents who find themselves in that incredibly difficult position.

Aaron was lucky, because his company was kind enough to allow him the time he needed, but others may not be in that position. Instead of sitting back quietly, however, Aaron was determined to make a change so that others did not find themselves unable to take leave. He has campaigned alongside me for this change in law for two years, and I thank him for the bravery and determination he continues to show.

This Bill is fairly unique in that it gives something we cannot often grant as Members of Parliament: time. Specifically, it gives time to spend with a newborn following tragic circumstances. It is time that, if missed, cannot be regained. Research shows that babies undergo huge growth, brain development and neuron pruning in the first two years of their lives. The brain development of infants, including their social, emotional and cognitive development, often depends on a loving bond or attachment relationship with a primary caregiver, usually a parent. Researchers also found increasing evidence in fields such as neurobiology and development psychology studies, that a lack of consistency in parental presence, such as if the remaining parent is unable to take leave from work, can lead to long-term mental health problems, and to reduced overall potential and happiness.

The evidence is clear that individuals who have lost their partner in childbirth being able to take leave is a necessity for themselves and their child. We have a duty to ensure that that right is written in law and not left up to the good will of individual companies. The negative impact on businesses that employ individuals in these circumstances has been raised as a concern in this area. Some may have trepidation that such a change in law would cripple small businesses that cannot afford this type of leave. To that point, I say that an incredibly small quantity of people and businesses would be affected; this is not an issue that affects thousands. Furthermore, if such leave is not allowed, businesses could face losing a valued employee—a situation that many would seek to avoid. I hope that the effect a change would have on businesses would be small in comparison to the benefit that would be gained by the individual receiving leave.

I am incredibly grateful that, thanks to Chris Elmore, we have the parliamentary time for today’s vital debate. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake, who has been incredibly helpful in bringing the Bill to this stage. However, I must briefly put on the record my disappointment that this Bill will not include pay.

The Bill goes some way to ensuring that support is in place for the small amount of people who find themselves in this situation, but it could go further. It is my hope that we do get to a stage where leave and pay are granted to those who find themselves in situations such as Aaron’s, and it is regrettable that pay is not included today. Leave, whether that be maternity leave, paternity leave or shared parental leave, was created to allow a new parent to spend essential time with their new-born child. In cases such as this, it seems that the people for whom these types of leave were created to help are often the ones missing out.

When faced with a life-altering set of circumstances, Aaron was affronted by having to cope with the challenges of being a new parent, the prospect of a new job, insecurity, and all while in the midst of extraordinary grief. That is more than many of us could handle. This Bill is not controversial; it simply seeks to allow individuals the right, under circumstances beyond their control, to take leave to be with their child. As I have mentioned previously, it is also not a Bill that will affect the vast amount of our population. It affects a small number in our society who need the help of this Government and their employers. If an individual falls through this gap, they could find themselves faced with the choice of losing their job or losing spending time with their new-born child—not a choice anybody should have to make.

To summarise, we have a gap in our law. It does not affect a huge amount of people in the UK, but those that it does affect feel the impact. The Bill will ensure that individuals who lose their partners in childbirth have the assurance that they will have leave, no matter how long they have been employed by their company, to take that crucial time to be with their child. The alternative may be companies losing valued employees and new fathers becoming unemployed during one of the hardest moments of their lives. We have the opportunity to change that today.

I will wind up my remarks today by thanking all those who have got us to this point: the hon. Member for Ogmore, the officials, the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my parliamentary team, Lillie Grant and Joshua Stefan, all those who have contributed today, and lastly, and most importantly, Aaron. Thank you.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South 10:11, 26 January 2024

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I commend Chris Elmore for introducing this important bill, as well as my hon. Friend Darren Henry, who I understand has also attempted to introduce a similar Bill previously.

It is difficult for us to imagine the impact and trauma a family must go through on the loss of a mother during childbirth. Besides all the emotional impact of that loss of a loved one, the parent that remains has all the pressures of caring for the newly arrived baby and any other children without their other half. At a time when the family will be going through huge distress and the challenges of keeping the family going, it is only right that the father and other parent figures can be given all the support possible to get through such challenging circumstances.

As a parent myself with two young children, I would certainly find it near on impossible to cope with the loss of my wife and all that she does. I am sure Members across the House would agree that our other halves take on a huge amount, so to lose one in such a tragic circumstance is impossible to imagine. Though it is difficult for us to think about, those who lose their partner in childbirth must find a way of continuing life without them, and managing, without much thought for themselves, for the sake of their children and raising a newly born baby alone.

In those challenging circumstances, it is clear to me, as it will be to Members across the House, that time off work will be needed to sort out a number of issues and most importantly to care for and look after the newly arrived baby. As the father of two children, I know the round-the-clock attention new babies need from a parent. Such parents should have an equal right to be granted the same parental leave. The baby should be at the top of the list of priorities, without their parent having to worry about how they can juggle everything, cope alone and fight for time off work.

As the hon. Member for Ogmore said, to qualify for leave currently an individual must be continuously employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby’s due date. For someone to be denied this leave simply because of the length of time they have worked for an employer is totally outrageous. The Bill is likely to be of benefit to only a small number of people each year, as has been mentioned, but it is necessary to address the injustice of their exclusion from the parental leave they so desperately need. Although I recognise the potential impact of this change on employers, it is far outweighed by the impact on those families who find themselves in this circumstance.

This flexibility is also potentially beneficial for employers as it enables them to retain an employee in the workforce. Without that supportive approach, a parent may find themselves in the impossible situation of having no choice but to give up work to look after their new baby.

I fully support the Bill. Where a mother has died, removing the continuity of employment conditions for the father or partner will ensure that families who have been through such difficult trauma get the basic entitlement that they deserve and can bring up their new baby as a parent should. I hope the Bill has a successful passage through the House and the other place.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North 10:15, 26 January 2024

I suspect the population of the United Kingdom are not gripped by Parliament TV at the moment, but I wish they were, because debates such as this show the humanity of Members of the House. This whole discussion is based on humanity, and it says a lot about Chris Elmore that he has taken on a Bill that my hon. Friend Darren Henry has worked on to bring about positive change. When I became a Member of Parliament, I thought how difficult it was to change the lives of thousands of people in one go, but if we can change the life of one person in a positive way, even if it is in very tragic circumstances, it is a worthwhile thing for us to do, so I am pleased to take part in this debate.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a practising solicitor and partner in a firm of solicitors. People have different views on whether that is a good or a bad thing, but I would like to think that I work hard as an MP. When we talk about employment rights, even in the most tragic of circumstances, I sometimes feel that the views of small employers, the backbone of our economy, are not represented, and I will give a few thoughts on that today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe has rightly said, some of the commentary on the Bill has been about how employers would react to such circumstances. When I come down here to be a Member of Parliament, including on a Friday, I am very lucky that I have a wife who runs a business, looks after two children, looks after a dog, looks after a family, and does literally everything in respect of that. She has the pressures of life on her, and she maintains a business in challenging circumstances; we employ approximately 20 people. She is my template when I think what she would make of the Bill. We are a business that does not make vast fortunes of money; we rely on treasured and important employees being able to create incomes so that we can pay wages. None the less, I do not believe, unless my hon. Friend has been told something different, that a small business, even in the most challenging circumstances, would seek to terminate the employment of somebody who has gone through such a bereavement. We must have faith not only in the words that we say in this place, but in the humanity of the people we represent. Faced with these circumstances, the small businesses that I know up and down the country would, I think, rise to the challenge, and support in exactly the way that my hon. Friend has described.

It is sometimes difficult to talk in this Chamber about things of which we have no personal experience, but as Aaron is in the Public Gallery today, I can say that both he and Tim can be very proud and pleased that good will come from tragic circumstances.

On the wider issue, both parties share a commitment to shared parental leave and employment rights. I would like to say that it is not a political issue, but it is important to note that we have seen developments under this Government, such as carers’ leave and flexible working, to try to respond to the challenges, many of which came from covid. Those developments ensure that the nuances of people’s everyday lives are recognised and that they are supported, because they have much to contribute to our economy. In the circumstances we have heard about today, it is not anyone’s fault that a person is put in that position, but we cannot, through prejudice, hinder people who have so much to offer and so much to support local businesses with.

With regard to bereavement, the pandemic brought that very much to the fore for many of us. I have two children, Alexander and Teddy—we all take the opportunity to mention our children’s names. I cannot imagine—no, it is too much to think about. I lost my dad during the pandemic. My dad, who was a very rumbustious, lively man, was a big part of my life. When he passed away, sadly the covid regulations were in place, so we were perhaps unable to come to terms with his death, or to celebrate his life and speak to his friends and wider family in the way we would have liked.

Bereavement, in its widest sense, affects people in different ways in the workplace, and I think there is an ongoing debate. My friend the hon. Member for Ogmore said that this is a starting point for the debate, and the issue of how bereavement impacts people is very important. My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce also made a valid point on that subject.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe

Does my hon. Friend agree that what is proposed would actually benefit the employers who provide that, because they would retain the employee in the workforce in the long term, rather than losing them, which would have a negative impact on their business?

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

I completely agree. The great challenge in the modern economy is productivity. I cannot express how difficult it is to recruit good staff who are productive—it is genuinely incredibly difficult. That takes me back to the point that employers will do just about anything to retain productive staff, which is what we want to see.

I was here last Friday, when the House was debating a different subject, and the question often asked is why we should legislate on such matters. It is important that this House, and through it our democratic will, guides employers on what we feel are matters of importance and priority, and this is another example of a Bill that does that. Making employers aware that this is an issue that our democratically elected Parliament feels is important is incredibly important.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe

Does my hon. Friend agree that businesses also need to consider leave and pay if they are to retain good staff?

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

That is absolutely correct. Obviously there are bad employers, but the colleagues I know who run their own businesses, who value their employees, would certainly not resile from their responsibilities to those employees. I appreciate the point about legislation, but we must have faith that employers will rise to the challenge. I think very few employers—I am sure there are some bad examples—would resile from that challenge.

Before us we have a Bill that states Parliament’s clear view that a grave injustice must be remedied. It is an honest Bill that says it is the start of a journey, a discussion not only about how we can build on the Bill, but how flexible working and other employment legislation can develop and respond to the modern economy. I have severe concerns about flexible working from home. My local authority tells me that a lot of people are no longer working in the town centre, which is having a hugely detrimental impact on the high street. The Bill is part of sensible and pragmatic employment legislation, and part of an ongoing response to the modern economy and modern needs that understands the nuances and differences in people’s lives.

Any Bill that touches a person’s life in a positive way should be fought for, and this is a good Bill. I encourage the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake, to think about the points our hon. Friend Fiona Bruce made about bereavement counselling. There is in my constituency a wonderful charity that deals with the consequences for parents of suicide and supports parents and carers in those circumstances. In this ongoing debate, we need to think about how the state can invest in services that give people the best chance to come to terms with horrific events. We are a good Parliament, ours is a good country, and this debate shows that. It shows humanity and reflects our belief that employers will rise to the challenge the Bill sets. I think Aaron and Tim will forever be proud of what has happened here today.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade) 10:26, 26 January 2024

It is a pleasure to follow James Daly, who made some important points to which I will return. At the outset of my speech, however, I will take the opportunity to praise my hon. Friend Chris Elmore. He already has a reputation as an impressive and skilful operator in the House, and the way he presented his Bill today will only add to that reputation. Labour Members want his Bill to make progress today, and perhaps to open up a broader debate about employment rights.

Having taken through a private Member’s Bill a long time ago, I know just how much work it takes to get such legislation through. The way my hon. Friend appears to have secured support across the House for the Bill to make progress today is certainly encouraging. The Bill is important because of the case Darren Henry has raised many times in this place, and again today, which does him credit. I believe he has raised the case in Parliament at least three times previously—in a 10-minute rule Bill, in a question to the Prime Minister, and in an Adjournment debate in December. I congratulate him on taking up from his constituency advice surgery the case of Aaron Horsey and pursuing it as he has.

I share my hon. Friend’s opinion that the situation Mr Horsey found himself in was truly awful. It certainly was not right that in those circumstances Mr Horsey was not entitled to any parental leave. Although he was clearly lucky in his employer, to whom we should give credit, it is right that we begin to close the loophole in the law that Mr Horsey’s case has exposed. Obviously that cannot bring Mr Horsey’s partner Bernadette back—and we pay tribute to and remember her today as well—but, although this is outside the scope of the Bill, her passing is a reminder of the need to keep maternal mortality at the forefront of our minds.

The Bill gives us a chance to consider the almost unimaginable grief of losing a partner who has just given birth to a new-born baby. It is clearly wrong to expect the other partner to bring up the baby alone while being worried about their employment status, and that needs to be resolved. Let me say again that I welcome the manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has picked up the issue on which the hon. Member for Broxtowe has campaigned, and the fact that the House has an opportunity to begin to close that loophole.

Fortunately, the tragic scenario that Mr Horsey has brought to the House appears to be very rare—the death of a mother during or soon after childbirth is thankfully a very rare event in our country. Nevertheless, I understand that 261 mothers passed away within 42 days of giving birth between 2019 and 2021, and that is 261 too many. Each of those cases represents a tragic loss for their families and friends. In most of those cases the father or partner will have been eligible for shared parental leave because they met the eligibility requirements, and in most cases they could have taken over their partner’s parental leave and, crucially, the entitlement to statutory pay that would have been shared by both parents had the mother survived. In some cases, however, as my hon. Friend has explained, a father or partner who does not meet the continuity of employment test and is not entitled to shared parental leave is left in the awful position, potentially, of having to care for their new-born baby, while grieving the loss of their partner, and yet having no guarantee of parental leave. It is clearly right for us to close that gap.

Before I move on to the wider debate about rights to paternity leave and employment rights, I want to reflect on some of the other contributions that we have heard this morning. Fiona Bruce did the House a service by mentioning the work of the UK Commission on Bereavement and the challenges faced by her constituents when experiencing bereavements of this kind and then bringing up small children. She was also right to make a wider point about bereavement still being a taboo, and the difficulty of dealing with the issues of grief and loss that our friends and members of our communities feel. That needs to be explored. As she rightly said, thought must be given to how we provide better access to emotional support, and the bereavement commission is already doing important work to ensure that people have access to practical help and support and do not have to worry about their employment situation or, perhaps, access to benefits.

Gavin Robinson was also supportive of the Bill and made some positive comments in the debate. The hon. Member for Broxtowe has been quietly impressive when speaking about this issue in the House. Normally I would be holding a surgery on a Friday, and I think it right for Members, when it is appropriate, to bring the individual problems of those who attend their surgeries to the Floor of the House. That is one of the unique things about our democracy and, despite all its challenges, it is why our democratic system continues to be arguably the best in the world.

I commend the hon. Member for Broxtowe for his support for Mr Horsey, who I hope will take some comfort from the cross-party support for the work of his Member of Parliament and, indeed, for this Bill. The hon. Gentleman rightly raised the question of potential costs for employers and the fear that some might have about those costs, but he rightly noted that the cost implications are very limited, which is another reason to support the Bill.

Jack Brereton eloquently supported the case for the Bill. He rightly said how awful a prospect it would be for any of us to lose our partner, in any circumstance, particularly when our children are young and have round-the-clock needs. The trauma of losing a partner at the moment of a baby’s arrival is almost unimaginable.

The hon. Member for Bury North helpfully described the mutual humanity of Members on both sides of the House, and he spoke about the cross-party work to get the Bill to this stage. Cross-party work does not often get much attention and has plenty of detractors but, in this case, there is clear evidence of its benefits.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

I do not wish to put the hon. Gentleman on the spot, but I want to raise an issue in this ongoing conversation. Does he believe that the House should further consider bereavement leave? I mentioned the Big Fandango, a charity that supports families following a suicide. Older parents may well be grieving the loss of children in very tragic circumstances, so we need a wider debate on how we support people going through bereavement. This Bill is a good starting point.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and it is one of the reasons why I was particularly keen to praise the work of the UK Commission on Bereavement, which the hon. Member for Congleton raised. I hope there will be a debate, and perhaps the Backbench Business Committee will be receptive to the case for one.

In 2003, my party introduced the first entitlement to paternity leave. I was very pleased to vote for it and, indeed, to take paternity leave following the births of my children. I welcomed the Government’s introduction of shared parental leave but—and I say this gently, because I do not want to spoil the positive, cross-party discussions on this Bill—it has perhaps not gone as well as we might all have hoped, with just 2.8% of partners deciding to take it up.

My understanding is that the Government’s evaluation of shared parental leave has noted a series of problems. Some seven in 10 employers, while being aware of shared parental leave, are not actively promoting it to their employees, and a third of mothers and nearly half of fathers who did not take shared parental leave had not even heard of it. There are clearly issues with the take-up of shared parental leave and, if not today, it would be good to hear from the Minister how the Government plan to address those issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has secured support across the House for this important Bill, which will address a very particular loophole. We certainly want to see it progress and have its Second Reading.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) 10:39, 26 January 2024

May I first thank Chris Elmore for bringing the Bill before the House, and all the other hon. Members who have spoken on this important matter today? He has been incredibly constructive and pragmatic in our deliberations on what we should do in this area, and I thank him for that. It is always a pleasure to work with him on this issue, and we have worked together on a number of issues over the years.

I would like to express my wholehearted agreement with the intent behind the hon. Member’s Bill. His speech was incredibly touching and he spoke passionately about the need for the Bill, but also about the devastating impact on individuals. His point about the future plans of one’s life suddenly going to ashes was incredibly powerful, and I express my sympathy for Mr Thorpe, whom he referred to in his speech.

It is always a great pleasure to take forward legislation that makes a meaningful difference. I was lucky enough to take through Parliament two private Member’s Bills prior to becoming a Minister. One was on parental bereavement leave, and people asked, “Why does this not exist in the first place?” When people say that to us, as I am sure they have said to the hon. Member about his Bill, we know we are on the right track. In my experience, we normally do not do these things on our own—we do them jointly—and his work with my hon. Friend Darren Henry has been really important in bringing the Bill forward.

It is clear that we should look at what more we can do to support employed parents who lose their partner around the time of their child’s birth and who do not currently qualify for statutory leave entitlement because they do not meet continuity of service requirements—that is, they have not been in the job for the required length of time to qualify. The principle of this Bill has support across the House, and I was pleased to hear that reflected in the debate.

Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe, who has long campaigned on this issue. We met his constituent in my early days as a Minister, and I thank him for bringing it to the House’s attention. We were always keen to do something when we could, and I am delighted to say that we now have the right time and space to do this. It was a pleasure to meet him and his constituent Mr Horsey, who is in the Gallery today, in the Department the year before last. I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our condolences to Mr Horsey for the loss of his wife Bernadette and in sending our best wishes to him and their son Tim.

I will take the time to address some of the points raised by hon. Members today, but I will first put on the record why the Government support the intent behind this legislation. Losing a partner is a truly devastating experience for anyone. The combination of the terrible grief and, as my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce said, loneliness in these situations—the shadow Minister, Gareth Thomas, called it “unimaginable”, which is an apt description—with the challenges of caring for a new baby must be incredibly hard. My deepest sympathies go out to anyone who finds themselves in this terrible position.

The United Kingdom has a generous range of entitlements and protections designed to support parents to balance their family and work commitments and maintain their place in the labour market while raising their children—for example, maternity leave and pay, paternity leave and pay, and shared parental leave and pay, among others. Maternity leave is rightly available from the first day of a woman’s employment, recognising the special circumstances of pregnant women and new mothers.

Parental leave and shared parental leave are not day-one leave entitlements for mothers, fathers and partners; all parents must meet continuity of service requirements. As such, if a mother dies in the first year of a child’s life, a father or partner who has not met continuity of service requirements for paternity leave or shared parental leave will not have the statutory right to take leave so that they can care for the child. In those tragic but, thankfully, rare circumstances, they will need to rely on the compassion of their employer to provide them with adequate leave and job security. As the hon. Member for Ogmore says, though, some of these people are falling through the cracks.

The intent of the Bill is to provide more support for the grieving and surviving parent when their spouse or partner has tragically passed away. The legislation will support people in those terrible circumstances to take time away from work to care for their new baby, without the risk and associated stress of being made to return to work before they are ready to do so. I am delighted that the Government are able to support this positive development in the parental leave and pay system.

However, as is the case with any legislation, it is crucial to ensure that it is not only well intentioned, but practical and effective in achieving its intended effect. It is therefore important that I set out to the House today, as I have previously discussed with the hon. Member for Ogmore, the Government’s view that the Bill will require amendment in Committee to fully achieve its intended changes and operate effectively alongside existing parental leave legislation. I am delighted that the hon. Member has agreed to work with me to do that, and that we have a shared understanding of the need to create a legislative framework that not only supports families in their time of need, but does so in a way that is clear, fair and effective. Committee stage provides us with the opportunity to fine-tune the details of the Bill and address any potential gaps, issues or inconsistencies to ensure that it achieves its intended purpose. I will, of course, provide more information on the necessary changes ahead of Committee stage, but I will take a moment to highlight some of the areas in which we are considering amendments.

First, we will need to consider what type of parental leave best meets the intention of the Bill. Secondly, we will need to analyse whether it is right to confine its scope to the death of the mother, or whether it should make broader provision for the death of other parents. Thirdly, we need to make sure that the changes we make integrate well into the wider framework of parental leave legislation. Finally, we intend to remove the pay element from this entitlement—I will explain why shortly. The hon. Member for Ogmore and I are in agreement on the removal of the pay element. As Members will have seen, the text of his Bill does not refer to pay, although I hear and understand his clear ambition to include it at a future stage. I concur with his point, though, that we should never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

All the UK’s statutory parental pay entitlements have a continuity of service requirement, including statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay, statutory shared parental pay and statutory adoption pay. They are designed to ensure that a parent has made a reasonable contribution towards their employer’s business before that employer is required to administer statutory parental payments. Continuity of service requirements are designed to achieve a balance between the needs of employers and those of working parents.

I will be able to give more details in Committee on the changes we intend to make to the Bill. In the spirit of collaboration, I encourage all Members to engage constructively in Committee. Our priority is to work together to deliver a piece of legislation that meets the needs of bereaved families, providing them with the support they require during one of life’s most challenging chapters.

In response to the shadow Minister’s points about workers’ rights, the Government are committed to supporting the participation and progression of parents in the labour market to ensure that it is fair and works for parents. Our 2019 manifesto pledged changes to enhance workers’ rights and support people to stay in work. The Government have delivered on those commitments by supporting a package of six private Members’ Bills helping new parents, unpaid carers and hospitality workers; giving all employees easier access to flexible working; and giving workers a right to request a more predictable working pattern. We have been pleased with the successful progress of that legislation through Parliament, where it has received cross-party support, resulting in six Acts successfully receiving Royal Assent. The Government have already made good progress on laying secondary legislation in due course to implement those new Acts.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, for example, will give all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service the right to request flexible working, empowering employees to ask for a working arrangement that suits them and their unique circumstances.[This section has been corrected on 19 February 2024, column 8MC — read correction] (Correction)

I take the point raised by my hon. Friend James Daly about homeworking. Flexible working does not necessarily mean homeworking; it can mean different working times to suit people’s parental responsibilities—for example, different times during holidays—and it does not necessarily mean that people have to work from home. He is right to say that workers should work where they are most effective, and where employers require them to be.

The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 will provide greater protection to women who are on maternity leave or an employee who is on adoption or shared parental leave in a redundancy situation.[This section has been corrected on 19 February 2024, column 8MC — read correction] (Correction) That legislation will help to clamp down on poor or inappropriate practices, such as discriminating against pregnant women or new mothers, or waiting for a woman to return from maternity leave, and when the current protected period ends making her redundant.

The Employment (Allocations of Tips) Act 2023 will make it unlawful for businesses to hold back tips, gratuities and service charges from employees, ensuring that staff receive the tips they have earned. This package of legislation will increase workforce participation, protect vulnerable workers, and level the playing field, ensuring that unscrupulous businesses do not have a competitive advantage. The legislation builds on the strengths of our flexible and dynamic labour market, and gives businesses the confidence to create jobs and invest in their workforce, allowing them to generate long-term prosperity and economic growth.

Protecting and enhancing workers’ rights while supporting business to grow remains a priority for this Government. We are determined to build a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy. A key part of the UK’s economic resilience is our strong, flexible, and dynamic labour market. It is a labour market that gives businesses the confidence to create jobs and invest in their workforce, and allows them to generate long-term prosperity and economic growth. It is a labour market that rightly bears down on unscrupulous employers, and protects those keeping to good working practices, promoting more competition in UK markets to build a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Does my hon. Friend agree with the point I raised my speech, that we should not denigrate employers? Most employers in this country support their staff, are keen to invest in skills to improve productivity, and are keen to ensure that they take whatever steps necessary to keep employees who are key to the future of the business, no matter what personal circumstances someone is facing at that time.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

My hon. Friend has great experience, and it is great to hear from people with experience at the sharp end of business. It is not an easy place to be. I had a fairly long business career myself for 30 years before politics, and we know that people are our most precious assets. It is good business to look after our workforce, not only because of the individuals concerned and the loyalty that brings, but because of the loyalty of other members of the team when they see how someone is treating their staff. It is important to recognise that what we are legislating for is not a ceiling, but a floor. It is a minimum period of leave that people can be offered, and of course the minimum level of pay. Clearly an employer can pay more than that expected by law, and I know that many employers do so. I understand that Mr Horsey was well treated by his employer. That illustrates that most employers are good employers, and we in the House should always recognise that when we are legislating. We want a labour market that promotes competition and choice, so that consumers have confidence in markets, and businesses compete on a level playing field.

Turning to the specific points, the hon. Member for Ogmore raised a point about the numbers of people affected. Maternal deaths—the number of people who pass away during pregnancy or within 42 days of that—are around 290, as he said. Some will have continuity of service requirements. We therefore think that this legislation will benefit just under 50 people a year. That is our best guesstimate, because there are so many different moving parts, but that is the kind of number we are talking about. That is not a huge number, but the legislation is very important to those affected by it.

I noted the hon. Member’s points principally about pay. It is a first step on the road, but it is a very important step, and future Governments—of whatever colour they may be—may go further. He also raised the complexity and take-up of shared parental leave. Take-up is in line with estimates and has doubled over the past few years. In July 2021, the shared parental leave tool was deployed. The tool enables parents to check their eligibility and plan their leave, and it has been well received. I think that also covers the point raised by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow West.

The hon. Member for Ogmore also asked why parents with other employment statuses, such as the self-employed, are not entitled to this support. The Government’s support is focused on employed parents, as they do not generally have the same level of flexibility and autonomy over how and when they work as self-employed parents. Employees have a contractual requirement to work regular hours and have an employer who has control over when they work, where they work and how their work is done. Due to that, employees have the greatest level of employment protections, to balance the lack of flexibility that their employment type provides in other ways.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North talked in his intervention and his speech about the burdens on business. Obviously, all legislation should include an impact assessment, including a financial impact assessment on business. The impact assessment result was de minimis—I think that is below £5 million, which is not a significant impact. We therefore do not think that the changes will create a significant burden on businesses. We have engaged with business representative organisations and payroll professionals throughout the policy development of these changes. They have responded positively and understand how the changes will increase flexibility for families. We are working with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to plan communications with businesses to ensure that they fully understand the new arrangements, and we will continue to engage with them while we finalise guidance to ensure the smooth introduction of these changes.[This section has been corrected on 19 February 2024, column 9MC — read correction] (Correction)

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton rightly talked about the UK Commission on Bereavement and the important work that it does. She also referred to a cross-departmental bereavement strategy, which may include bereavement counselling for people in key situations. That is a little outside my remit, but she may continue to press for that across Government.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I would indeed support that. Not many people want to talk about bereavement—certainly not as death approaches—but there is a well understood concept, particularly in hospices, of such a thing as a good death, where families are encouraged to get together to talk, including with the person whose life on this earth is coming to an end, about how issues may be best resolved. Those might be differences that have occurred over many years, but can also be practical issues surrounding the death, where involving everyone is a good thing. Such work has a lot to commend it.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank my hon. Friend for those points. As the hon. Member for Ogmore stated, bereavement affects all of us. Society is probably more open than it was when I was a young child, and I think we are now better at dealing with these matters and getting them out in the open. There are good ways to deal with bereavement—better ways to deal with it than we experienced in the past—and some of the counselling offered by experts must be a good thing. We certainly had a lot of engagement on that during our consideration of the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018, which I dealt with. That obviously covers the loss of a child, and in this context there is nothing more devastating than the death of a child.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe again on getting to where he has got with this legislation. I know he would have loved to have taken it through the House himself, but these things are a team effort. He understandably asked for an explanation as to why the entitlement will not include pay. In response, I flag that no statutory parental leave entitlement, including maternity leave, has pay available from an employee’s first day in a new job. That is because, apart from small businesses, employers are required to contribute towards the cost of statutory parental pay, as well as meeting the costs and burdens associated with their employee’s absence from work and the administration around that. I think he would accept that this legislation is a floor, not a ceiling, and that good employers will go further and in some cases much further than the legislation.

I thank Gavin Robinson for his comments. I am pleased he supports this legislation. Understandably, he talks about Northern Ireland, and my officials in the Box today have rightly had conversations with their counterparts in Northern Ireland, and we are keen to continue those discussions. Clearly employment law is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

Employment law is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland, I understand, but we will continue those conversations. I note his point about an Order in Council, and we will take forward discussion on that.

My hon. Friend Jack Brereton spoke passionately about this issue, and he reflected on what it would mean for him as a husband and father. He rightly talked about how this is a great injustice and how we need to address it, and I am pleased to tell him that that is exactly what we are doing.

To conclude, the Government support the Bill’s intent as an important extension of support and protection for those parents who have to face one of the most challenging and tragic situations. The Government take pride in endorsing this private Member’s Bill, allying our efforts with an unwavering commitment to bolstering workers’ support and cultivating a high-skilled, high-productivity and high-wage economy. It is always good to see support from across the political spectrum, and no less than that has been on show today in this House. This is a hugely important measure, as has been clearly set out in today’s discussion. Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe for his unwavering support and advocacy for parents who find themselves in this tragic position. He has been pivotal in bringing this issue to the forefront of our minds and this legislation forward. It is a pleasure to work again with the hon. Member for Ogmore, and I look forward to working with him to support the passage of the Bill.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:02, 26 January 2024

With the leave of the House, I thank all the Members who have spoken today: the hon. Members for Bury North (James Daly), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), as well as the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Gareth Thomas. I thank the Minister for his closing remarks.

It is to the credit of Darren Henry that he was able to convince an Opposition Whip to take forward a Bill from a Government Member, but actually this is not about party politics. Death and bereavement, as the hon. Member for Congleton said, affects every single one of us, and one of the misconceptions about politicians is that we are not human, but we all breathe and live the same lives and are impacted by many of the issues that the hon. Member for Broxtowe has championed over the past two years. I thank Members for their comments.

I want briefly to talk about what happened to Aaron and the 50 people in a year whom the Bill may impact, as the Minister referenced. I would rather this Bill was not needed, because I wish that there were no mortalities of mothers giving birth in this country, but the reality is that for those who face it, it becomes an unimaginable grief. There is the joy of having a child, while having to bury the person with whom they were planning the next chapter of life and the rest of their lives. Speaking as the parent of a child who will be three on Sunday, I cannot comprehend even three years into raising a toddler managing that without my wife. It is with that sense that I am glad there is cross-party support.

I am glad to have been able to work cross-party with the Minister to ensure that we make this progress. He and I worked on a number of issues over the years before he gained the dizzy heights of high office. As I said in my speech, we must not let the perfect get in the way of the good. I will carry on championing this issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West, who I hope will be on the Government Benches following the general election, to ensure that we bring about more change. I will also carry on working with Conservative Members to support people in bereavement, talk about it and ensure that the issue is always raised as something that everyone faces across the political divide.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).