Amendment to the Motion

Part of Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill - Second Reading – in the House of Lords at 4:25 pm on 22 February 2021.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 4:25, 22 February 2021

My Lords, it has become almost formulaic to say that it is an honour to follow the previous speaker, but it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. She is a woman of quiet courage and total determination; she spoke from the heart and I hope we will heed her.

We have all said, and meant it, that we wish the Attorney-General well and a safe delivery of a healthy child. It is totally fitting that we should be passing legislation that enables her not to have to worry about her job or future—unless the Prime Minister changes his mind about her appointment, but that is a wholly different issue—and we can all support the objectives of this Bill, narrow and late as it is. I associate myself with all the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, and others on that.

Apart from my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, with whom I normally find myself in agreement, but certainly and emphatically not tonight, we are all concerned about the language, particularly the erasure of “woman”, “maternal” and “maternity”. We are very fortunate to have a glorious mother tongue—I use the words very deliberately. In our language there are some rich, marvellous and emotive words, none more so than “maternal” and “mother”. There cannot be a Member of your Lordships’ House who does not have fond memories of a mother or grandmother. For many—I include myself—a mother has been the most significant and important figure in their early life. I still think of her very fondly.

I believe it is completely wrong to have the ugly insensitivity of “person” in the language in this Bill. “Personhood and apple pie”—how wonderfully and trippingly it comes off the tongue. I disagree with what has been implicit in many of the fine speeches we have heard, led by my noble friend Lady Noakes: a sort of recognition that we cannot really do anything about it this time. We can. We have a Committee stage on Thursday. If my noble friend the Minister really recognises this, as he does to a degree in the changed Explanatory Notes, and if we can have a translation of that recognition into a free vote, which there should be—I believe all votes are free votes, but I know that is not a commonly held view—we should be able to change this Bill without delay.

If my right honourable friend the Attorney-General is great with child and could produce a child very soon, and this is one of the reasons for the hurry, we can forget that, because I shall introduce an amendment on Thursday which would make this possible for her, if the child is born between 22 February and the receiving of Royal Assent. We can certainly deal with this and make sure that the Bill emerges from our House, as so many Bills do, improved—improved in its language and its recognition of the importance of maternity and motherhood.

I beg my noble friend to talk to his colleagues in government, because the amendments that we shall move do not alter by one jot or tittle the thrust and content of the Bill. All they do, by using the words “woman” and “mother”, is recognise properly that the Bill is about maternity. If the Government were to accept that, the passage of the Bill would not be delayed by more than 24 hours at the very most. As I said, if the child were to be born in that period, and if we accept the amendment that I will have tabled or something like it, then there is not a problem at all.

We are guardians of many things in your Lordships’ House, and one of the things that we should guard with most jealous fervour is the English language. I hope that we will strike a small blow for that as we strike a big blow for motherhood when we come to dispose of this Bill in Committee. I accept the fact that we do not normally vote on Second Reading, and I am not calling for that. I know that my noble friend Lady Noakes, who made a very fine speech, is not calling for that either. I am, however, calling for common sense to triumph over the language of bureaucracy. I hope that we will make progress in the right direction here, just as we are making progress in acknowledging motherhood. We should not do so with a Bill that does not acknowledge motherhood.