Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 11:51 am on 3 March 2023.

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Baroness Bertin:

Moved by Baroness Bertin

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Conservative

I begin by thanking the honourable Member for Barnsley Central for all his hard work in taking this Bill through the other place. Thanks to his considerable effort, expertise and enthusiasm, we have a workable Bill which is supported by the Government and all political parties and by key external stakeholders, including the CBI. It was even described as a “group hug” in the other place in Committee. I do not think we do enough political group hugging, so I sincerely hope I can deliver the same joined-up spirit today.

I pay tribute to the officials at the Department for Business and Trade for their excellent work in supporting the Bill and in supporting me. I echo also the honourable Member for Barnsley Central’s sincere thanks to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the TUC—that is not something noble Lords will hear me say often, but I do thank it on this Bill—the Royal College of Midwives, UNISON, Pregnant Then Screwed—which has been a very powerful campaigning group on this issue; I know that many women will be grateful for its efforts—the Fawcett Society and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. All these groups have been instrumental in making this Bill happen.

To give noble Lords some context on this legislation and why it matters, according to figures from a report commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, at least 54,000 women a year get pushed out of the workforce after becoming pregnant. I had to double-check that figure—I thought it must be a typo or the number must span over 10 years, but it does not. That equates to one in nine women either being dismissed, made compulsorily redundant, or being treated so poorly that they felt they had to leave their job.

Further to that, in 2018 YouGov conducted a survey to understand managers’ attitudes around pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Almost half of employers agreed it was quite reasonable to ask women during the recruitment process whether they have young children. One-third believed that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are generally less interested in their career progression. Four in 10 employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace put an unnecessary cost burden on them. That was in 2018 but I would be surprised if those attitudes had changed radically, so we still have some way to go on this issue. I think we can all agree that the figure of 54,000 women being pushed out of work does not belong in a progressive and modern society.

Becoming a parent is the most exciting and rewarding, but often the most challenging, thing that a person can do. I am lucky enough—or mad enough, depending on which day you catch me—to have done it three times. But it is also an anxious time, from the minute you find out you are pregnant to the moment you hold your baby—God willing—and during all the months and years that follow. I believe very strongly that no woman should ever have to fear losing her job because she is pregnant or because she has taken her entitled leave.

The current regulations under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations—MAPLE for short, which is how I will refer to them, for the sake of all our sanities—put a woman on maternity leave in a preferential position in a redundancy situation so that she goes to the back of the queue when jobs are being cut. There are parallel regulations, as many noble Lords will be aware, which have the same effect for parents taking adoption leave or shared parental leave.

The point of the Bill is to extend the redundancy protection I have described into the period of pregnancy and for a longer period after the return to work, thus alleviating much of the anxiety around job security that a pregnant woman or a new parent may face. The clauses in the Bill are simple but important. They will give the Secretary of State a new power so that regulations on redundancy can be made during a protected period of pregnancy and an amended power so that regulations on redundancy can be made during or after a period of relevant leave. That relevant leave is currently maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave.

I am very glad that shared parental leave is included in this extended protection. We must get better in this country at encouraging fathers and partners to take up a proportion of their shared leave. Nearly all the evidence points to improved family outcomes, and legislation such as this, although not a silver bullet, helps maintain momentum in that culture shift. I think attitudes have improved in this regard but let us be under no illusions: uptake is still very low. I am sure there are financial reasons and quite understandable financial considerations for that and that is not something we can hope to settle in this debate.

Let us also acknowledge that, in some industries and companies, a father taking a decent chunk of parental leave is still akin to committing career suicide. I think that this macho way of thinking has a big impact on us gaining real equality between the sexes. Big, profitable organisations should be running towards generous shared parental leave schemes. They want their talent pipelines to be stuffed with great women as well as men and this is one way to do it—we know that. Until the burden of responsibility is shared more evenly in those early years, I do not think we will ever really achieve real equality between the sexes in the workforce.

Going back briefly to the technicalities of the Bill, clearly these are delegated powers in the clauses I referred to earlier. Noble Lords, quite rightly, are often concerned that we should be clear about the need for delegated powers and how these will be used. The Bill deals with matters linked to existing delegated powers. To achieve a consistent effect, provisions are therefore drafted in similar terms in the Bill. The powers in the Bill mirror, in so far as it is possible, the approach in the existing MAPLE legislation. These have been on the statute book for some time and are well understood by employers and the legal community. I reassure noble Lords that the Bill is clear that regulations made under the new powers will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and that Parliament will have the opportunity to debate and consider the detail the regulations set out. I am delighted that last night the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report said:

“There is nothing in this private member’s Bill which we would wish to draw to the attention of the House”.

I hope that reassures noble Lords.

Redundancy protection will apply from the point a woman tells her employer she is pregnant and for 18 months after the birth of the child, covering the period of parental leave and a return-to-work period. The 18-month period of redundancy protection means that a mother returning from 12 months of maternity leave will receive six months’ additional protection when she goes back to work. It is a very simple approach, allowing both new parents and their employers to easily understand those requirements and it accommodates parents who make use of shared parental leave which can be taken in discontinuous blocks.

I know that the Government continue to work very constructively with stakeholders who really understand this issue inside out—I want to praise the Government on that—on the finer detail of how it will work and how the legislation will be most effective. Indeed, there are ongoing discussions with the Government on several areas, the most contentious perhaps being the qualifying period. Currently, there is a proposal to include in the regulations a qualifying period of six consecutive weeks of family leave before you are entitled to these redundancy protections. I urge the Government to reach an agreement whereby maternity leave is exempt from that period. Such a threshold could inadvertently leave a new mother, who may be forced to curtail her leave for whatever reason, doubly unprotected and vulnerable. I fully back keeping a qualifying period for shared parental leave; this feels just and reasonable, and encourages a meaningful uptake—why that is so important was discussed earlier.

In conclusion, this Bill is a welcome strengthening of the redundancy protection for pregnant women and parents. Not only will it prevent unscrupulous employers discriminating against pregnant women—as we have seen that they still do, and can do—but it acknowledges that you are not necessarily on a level playing field as soon as you come back from your maternity leave, or your shared parental leave, if you have taken a significant amount. To be put on a level playing field in a round of job cuts is simply not fair when you have come straight back from your leave.

This is a progressive policy, which I am proud to be involved in. I thank all noble Lords in advance of this debate for their contributions. The Bill will make a real difference to people’s lives—to the woman telling her boss, not with trepidation but now with confidence, that she is pregnant, and to the mother returning to work after maternity leave, knowing that her job is safer and more secure. This is a small step, but it has wider significance. It is a statement about the sort of society we are and want to be, one that protects and values parents, and the sort of economy that we are trying to build, one that makes the most of all its talents. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 12:02, 3 March 2023

My Lords, for the second time today, it is a pleasure to support a Bill. I am only sorry that my noble friend Lady Chapman is not here to hear me make the second most enthusiastic speech that I have ever made in your Lordships’ House. It is a particular pleasure to do so as we approach International Women’s Day next week. Noble Lords will be aware of an analysis published by the World Economic Forum which found that the pandemic has slowed the global trend towards gender equality by more than three decades. In that context, this Bill will make a real contribution towards a more equitable working environment for women in this country.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, not only on sponsoring the Bill but on making, if I may say so, a profoundly convincing case for it. It was a speech that only a working mother could make, all the more powerful in being made by a Member of your Lordships’ House who has been at the very centre of government in this country. She reminded us that the genesis of the Bill can, in part, be traced back to 2015, and research commissioned by the Cameron Government. She shared some of the findings of that and other research. That research found that, disturbingly, 77% of mothers surveyed had faced some form of discrimination or disadvantage during pregnancy or maternity leave, or when returning to work from maternity leave. More worrying still was the attitude of the employers surveyed. Despite years of equality legislation and attempts to change people’s attitudes, some 70% said they felt a woman should reveal if she were pregnant during the recruitment process and, more egregiously, 25% felt that they were entitled to ask a woman about her plans to have children in future. As we have heard, more recent work undertaken to assess the impact of the pandemic on expectant mothers at work suggests that a quarter had experienced unfair treatment, with this being significantly more probable at the lowest end of the income scale.

In the Second Reading of the Bill in the other place, the Bill’s sponsor invoked the redundancy protection model in Germany—and indeed this same model was commended by the Women and Equalities Select Committee in 2016 when reporting on this same issue. Although a straightforward transposition of the German model into UK legislation is impossible, the Bill as it stands comes as close to extending those same protections into UK law as is possible, while taking into account the divergences between the two countries. I am bound to say that those divergences are significantly to our disadvantage.

As it happens, I have friends in Munich with young children, and, in the margins of the Munich Security Conference, which I attended a couple of weeks ago, I visited them. It is astonishing the degree to which they, their employers and the whole environment benefits extraordinarily from the German attitude to the support of families with children. It is not the only aspect of German employment policy that we could learn from, but we should learn more from it because it is consistent not only with a positive attitude to children, and their growth and development, but with a successful industrial economy in the modern global world.

This legislation will strengthen the Equality Act 2010, which already prohibits discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and prevents employers laying off new mothers by extending redundancy protections to six months. I shall not labour this point, because it is directly analogous to something that I addressed at greater length in my remarks in the debate immediately preceding this one. However, it is frustrating that repeated commitments from the Government to introduce an employment Bill, of which these provisions were to be part, have failed to materialise. Each year there are somewhere in the region of half a million pregnant women in the workplace. This is not, therefore, a peripheral issue or something artificially amplified by sections of our community but something which will, in some form, affect all of us. Given that we have been promised action on this since 2016, with an employment Bill eventually being included in the 2019 Queen’s Speech before Covid derailed the legislative programme, why has it taken seven years, pricked by the spur of a Private Member’s Bill, for the Government to consent to act on this issue?

My hope and expectation is that the Bill will have universal support as it passes through your Lordships’ House. I do not wish to take up time that could otherwise be filled by the expression of full-throated support by other noble Lords, but I would like to mention the issue of employment tribunals. The Bill today, and the consequent regulations to be made by the Minister, will not apply a comprehensive blanket ban on making a pregnant woman or those on parental leave redundant, but it will markedly strengthen their chances of making a successful claim of unfair dismissal through the employment tribunal system. However, that system is, if not broken, at least hugely dysfunctional.

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice a few weeks ago show that it takes an average of 49 weeks for a case to be heard by a tribunal. It is a grim irony that, as it stands, the average wait for a new mother to receive justice would be longer than her pregnancy. It is worth emphasising that this is simply the time until the first hearing, which in many cases is only the start of an elongated process that is further bedevilled by delay. If the Government wish this Bill to be effective and to really protect pregnant women and new mothers, as I am sure they do, their first priority must be to bring down the tribunal backlog, currently at close to half a million cases. Simply citing the pressures of Covid is not good enough. Waiting times have been lengthening since tribunal fees were declared unlawful in 2017. When the Minister responds, I would be very grateful if this question could be addressed.

I close by commending once again the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for the thoroughness and care that she has displayed in bringing this Bill before your Lordships’ House today. She offers us a good opportunity to show your Lordships’ support for it to progress, I hope swiftly, into law.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business) 12:10, 3 March 2023

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne. We are in danger of basking in his enthusiasm, having had two speeches in succession.

There is only a small number of speakers in this debate, but that reflects the fact that, to use a phrase we heard when discussing the previous Bill, this seems like a slam dunk. It is a Bill that we should not be speaking against. In advance of his speech, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Leong, to his first Front-Bench speech—the first of many, we hope. My speech will be relatively short, because the preceding speakers have covered a whole tranche of it. The noble Baroness set out a compelling case for the Bill, which I have to say, as did the noble Lord, Lord Browne, has been a long time coming.

The Bill owes its existence to 2019, when the Government announced that they would extend redundancy protections, but of course it goes back much further than that. The Queen’s Speech in 2019 contained a government commitment to introduce an employment Bill, as we have just heard, that would extend redundancy protections and prevent maternity discrimination, among other things. To date, we have not seen that employment Bill, and it was not included in the Queen’s Speech in 2021 or 2022. I ask the Minister if I am right in saying that this tranche of government-supported Private Members’ Bills, which in a sense fillet some aspects of that employment Bill, is a sign that we will not be seeing an employment Bill in this Parliament. Many of us are beginning to draw that conclusion. We would say, and I am sure other Members of your Lordships’ House would agree, that that is a tremendous shame. There is a huge amount of work that needs to be done in that employment Bill, and many people will be disappointed.

I turn to the Private Member’s Bill in hand. It is very good that the Government are choosing to support the Bill, which was led by Dan Jarvis in the Commons and so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, here. It is a big step forward, and they are both to be very much credited for bringing it forward. I am delighted that it will receive government support—and of course it will receive support from these Benches.

As we know, the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations about protection from redundancy during and after pregnancy, and for six months after returning from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. The Bill will deliver the government commitment that was made in 2019. Sometimes it is good to recognise that Bills come in different ways; most of us work on primary legislation in an adversarial way, and it is good to see us joining across the House to welcome this.

A real driving force behind the Bill was the 2016 EHRC landmark investigation into pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work. It came up with the need to extend the period covered by existing protections against unfair selection for redundancy under Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999, so as to cover both pregnancy and the six-month period after returning to work from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

Like the noble Baroness, I was shocked by the numbers; I had to go back and look at them. There seems to be agreement that 54,000 new mothers do not go back to their job after maternity leave. That is a huge waste of human capital, as well as undermining the family economies of some of our poorer families across the country. The noble Baroness cited 2018 data. Unison has provided me with a briefing which refers to a TUC survey in 2020 of more than 3,000 women, and the numbers are very similar: one in four women had experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy and furlough—which was another version, in a sense. It is very much at the low-paid end where most of this happens. Low-paid women—those earning less than £23,000 a year—were much more likely than women with higher salaries to be victims of this sort of discrimination. Gong forward with the Bill will therefore have a discriminatory advantage both in terms of sex and the economy.

Those of us who have worked in business know that it is really important to give women who come back from maternity leave a proper opportunity to get their feet back under the table and to get back into the system. The Bill will make it impossible for unscrupulous employers to get rid of women in a way that has clearly been happening systematically across the country.

As we have heard, the Bill received support from the Government and MPs from all parties during its passage through the House of Commons. There have been voices beyond your Lordships’ House that say that it does not address all the underlying issues within the legal system. I am sure this is true, but it undeniably moves things forward, and for that reason it has our full support.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, cited the German experience. I have quite a lot of experience of that, having worked for businesses that had a big footprint in continental Europe. I add to that the experience of Sweden, which is even further down the road of cultural change. The way that Swedish employment law operates has created a family-centric culture in that country. I do not pretend that the Bill will achieve that, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Photo of Lord Leong Lord Leong Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Opposition Whip (Lords) 12:16, 3 March 2023

My Lords, I thank my honourable friend in the other place, the Member for Barnsley Central, Dan Jarvis, and congratulate him on his important Bill. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for sponsoring the Bill and introducing it with a passionate and powerful presentation. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his very warm welcome. I always look forward to hearing my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton’s enthusiastic speeches. I thank everyone for their contributions on the Bill.

Many noble Lords will recall this feeling: the sense of anticipation and trepidation; the gratitude for the work of the team around you; and the hope that the delivery will be successful, sensing that after this day your life will never quite be the same again. The first time, one cannot help but feel especially anxious, despite knowing that some people have been through this experience many times. I am of course referring to standing at the Dispatch Box to speak in support of a Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, have already mentioned that some 54,000 new parents each year are potentially affected by the issues addressed in the Bill. Delays since 2019 mean that a further 200,000 people may have faced dismissal or compulsory redundancy because of pregnancy, marring what should be a joyful, if exhausting, time in their lives. So although this has taken a rather long time, I am pleased that, at Third Reading in the other place, the Government committed to supporting the Bill. I can confirm that the Labour Party also gives its full support.

Let me be very clear. The Bill should not be seen as providing the absolute minimum baseline for how employers should respect and treat their female employees. As many noble Lords will be aware, some of the charities working in this space do not support the Bill because they do not feel it goes far enough.

While I recognise those concerns, I argue that although the Bill is not a silver bullet, it is at least a step in the right direction. But, if we delay it any further, we should be mindful of the 54,000 people each year who will not be protected by the support that it offers. Of course, there is more to be done in changing attitudes and improving legislation. I was disappointed to discover that five years after the Equality Act 2010 became law, a survey showed that one-quarter—one-quarter!—of employers still felt it was reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children, and almost three-quarters felt that women should declare if they were pregnant during recruitment. While I hope that these attitudes will have improved since 2015, I am sure that they will not have disappeared.

The world of work and the demographics of the workforce in this 21st century are going to be completely different from what many of us experienced in our younger days. The cost of housing means that most young couples need two incomes to run a household, and especially—as many of us can testify—to bring up a family. Birth rates are historically low. Furthermore, the proportion of people of working age in relation to those in retirement is falling. This has been aggravated since the pandemic by the increase of people in early middle age leaving the workforce, as vacancy rates testify. We should be supporting—not penalising—people who want to remain in work. Furthermore, it is in the interests of employers, who want to attract the best and brightest employees of the future. We should remember that around 60% of UK graduates are now women, so it makes sense to have policies and practices around maternity which offer security and support, free from fears of discrimination.

The increasing shift to hybrid working in many jobs—it will only increase as technology develops—should permit innovative and creative solutions to some of the physical and mental challenges faced during pregnancy and early parenthood. While we should encourage employers to do far more than the statutory minimum, the Bill should reassure new parents—and those who tragically lose their babies through miscarriages—that they do not have to become embroiled in litigation or expensive and long tribunal processes at what will always be an incredibly stressful time.

While I do not want to get ahead of myself, I draw the attention of those in your Lordships’ House who are concerned that this does not go far enough to Labour’s A New Deal for Working People. My party has committed to

“extending statutory maternity and paternity leave, introducing the right to bereavement leave and strengthening protections for pregnant women by making it unlawful to dismiss a woman who is pregnant for six months after her return, except in specific circumstances.”

Under a future Labour government, I feel sure that we will be revising and revisiting this legislation and addressing the concerns of those who feel that the Bill does not go far enough.

I urge noble Lords to support the Bill, which represents the minimum that new parents should expect from employers as they begin one of the most important, joyful and essential journeys—though often challenging and sleep-starved—that a human being can make: bringing a new life into this world. I urge noble Lords that we turbocharge this Bill through this House—and perhaps we can set a precedent by having a political group hug.

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade) 12:24, 3 March 2023

Hear, hear. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leong, on a fabulous first outing at the Dispatch Box. I believe that he was in the same cohort as myself in October last year. Like him, I feel like a troop in some war film; I arrived as a fresh recruit and a musket was thrust into my hand, and I was pushed forward to the front line. I thought that he acquitted himself beautifully, and I look forward to many hours debating with him over the next few years. This is a subject that is clearly extremely dear to both our hearts. I really do feel deeply moved by the words I have heard during this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for introducing the Bill today and for her comments and technical coverage, which were extremely useful. It is an honour for me, as a father, to confirm this Government’s ongoing support for this absolutely essential Bill. I also pay tribute to Dan Jarvis for initiating the process that led to us being able to be here at this moment debating such an important and clearly right topic.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination has been a cause for concern for some time, as has been raised by noble Lords today. The noble Baroness highlighted the research which showed that 54,000 women are forced out of work a year; that was also echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, commented that 54,000 women were not returning to work after maternity, but I am sure he misquoted this point. I am only emphasising it because of the important fact that, actually, these are women coming back after maternity who are being forced out of work. It is not of their choosing. This is on top of mothers who are coming back to work and feeling pressured to leave the workforce. It is a separate point and an enormous number. These figures are absolutely shocking. In 2017, the Women and Equalities Select Committee undertook an inquiry into pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Its headline conclusion was that

“pregnant women and mothers report more discrimination and poor treatment at work now than they did a decade ago.”

We would like to think that we have a progression in our society, in terms of respect for and understanding the vitality of motherhood in our workplaces. It is tragic to discover that, according to this evidence, it is not the case. It is absolutely right that this Government are taking forward these moves in supporting this Private Member’s Bill.

I will cover some of the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Fox, based around the systems of other countries. I too investigated what other countries do with interest. We should aim for the very best policies that we can to encourage these sentiments and activities. However, given where and how the German and Swedish systems operate, I think the processes and proposals here go a long way towards achieving our ambitions, as noble Lords were right to say. As is often the case in legislation, this is a journey. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Fox, will agree that it is essential that we put this in place now so these measures can be built on. I believe there are sentiment or cultural changes that will come from further legislation. I support this as a result while paying attention to, investigating and noting what other countries aspire to so that we may also aspire to those levels.

I will turn to some of the other points. In January 2019, the Government consulted on extending redundancy protection for women and new parents. We received 643 responses, which is a considerably high number for these sorts of consultations. The majority strongly agreed or agreed—and this refers to the question of whether or not we are going far enough—that six months would be an appropriate period of “return to work” for redundancy protection purposes, and that protection should be extended to parents who have taken adoption leave and shared parental leave. This shows we have struck a very sensible and appropriate approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, raised an important point about the entitlement period—if I have the phrase right. This will be covered in the consultation process which will follow the Bill. That is important, as is right that there is a threshold limit for some elements of shared parental leave. That would only be fair and proper and, given our direction of travel, would fit in well. I stress to this House that these are major steps in ensuring that parents can return to work and be protected. That is what this is about.

I stress that in November 2019 the Conservative manifesto—we were discussing manifestos earlier and the noble Lord, Lord Leong, mentioned his party’s manifesto going forward, so I would like to look at our party manifesto historically—made a commitment on redundancy protection.

Questions have been raised about an employment Bill and why we are doing this now. There are no plans, as far as I am aware, to bring in an employment Bill. That is why it is all the more important that the Bills that we are discussing today are enacted, since they form an important component of how we wish to run our employment legislation. In 2019 the Government published a consultation on this issue and announced steps to bring forward legislation to implement these changes. We are pleased to support this Private Member’s Bill, because it delivers stronger redundancy protections for pregnant women and those returning from parental leave.

I am also extremely pleased at the degree of cross-party co-operation and support in the other place. It is a testament to the strength of our system that we can work across parties, put aside our rivalries and deliver change which will make a real and positive impact on people’s lives. However, I would not like the noble Lord, Lord Leong, to think that every debate with me will be so amicable as to either begin or end with a group hug.

There are a few technical details before to I come to a conclusion. As set out by my noble friend Lady Bertin, the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power through regulations to extend the MAPLE protection into pregnancy and for a period following the birth of a child covering the return to work period. The existing redundancy protection that applies when a parent is taking relevant leave will remain unchanged. The result will be that redundancy protection will apply consistently from the point when a woman tells her employer she is pregnant all the way through to 18 months after the child is born.

I am very aware, as I am sure noble Lords are, that businesses have to accommodate these important changes. We think it is essential for the way we wish to structure and construct our society. We also believe it is essential in order to have a sustainable workforce that we bring these measures to bear. However, it is not the Government’s intention needlessly to burden businesses with excessive regulatory burdens. I think we would agree with that, since they power our economy. This Private Member’s Bill does one thing which I think is very important: it makes it much simpler for businesses. Maternity legislation can be complex, and by having a very simple timeframe, as I have just described, redundancy protection will apply consistently from the point a woman tells her employer she is pregnant all the way through to 18 months after the child is born: it is clear for everyone to understand. I think that is very important indeed. I hope that businesses see this as a clarification rather than a confusion, and I know that the general public will be pleased to see the simplicity and clarity of this approach.

I am also pleased to reassure this House that the powers in this Bill as far as possible mirror the provisions relating to the existing MAPLE regulation 1999. I believe we had confirmation of that yesterday or the day before, when the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published its report stating simply that there was nothing in the Bill to which it wished to draw the attention of the House. I hope this is ample reassurance for noble Lords.

To conclude, these measures will provide valuable support and protection for pregnant women and parents after parental leave. The Government are pleased to support this Private Member’s Bill and to deliver our manifesto commitment. Supporting this Bill is in line with our ongoing commitment to supporting workers, working mothers and parents and building a high-skilled, highly productive, high-wage and fair economy. I believe it is simple for business, and I believe it is absolutely the right thing to do on our journey to building a better society. I look forward to continuing to work with my noble friend Lady Bertin as the Bill progresses through the House.

Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Conservative 12:35, 3 March 2023

I thank noble Lords for their contributions today. There were numerous contributions, which I take as a positive sign. They were so supportive that I would like to acknowledge each one. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Browne, made a very powerful speech. He told an anecdote about Germany and how culturally different we are. It does not get more high-powered than the Munich Security Conference. Acknowledging that children are part of every element of life is something that we need to get better at in this country. Culture change takes a long time, but legislation can sound the starting gun for that, although this Bill is not going to solve everything. The noble Lord made good points on tribunals as well. I will not comment on that here, but I do hear what he is saying, if I could put it that way.

I say a big thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I was very grateful for his speech and also for acknowledging that when we have agreement we must agree with each other—and we definitely need to do a bit more group hugging. I think the public want that from us. Where we can agree, we should come together, even if we are on other sides of the fence. He made a very important point, which it is right to acknowledge: some organisations have not been necessarily 100% behind this Bill. It is a very hackneyed phrase, and I hate to use it, but of course if you had a blank sheet of paper maybe you would start again and do things slightly differently. We do not, and we must be careful that we do not let perfection get in the way of good.

The noble Lord, Lord Leong, made that point very well. I had not realised that this was his first outing on the Front Bench, so I feel very honoured to be part of the beginning of this chapter. I very much enjoyed his speech. I thought it was very well made, and I hope to have many more interactions with the noble Lord going forward. Again, I am very grateful to him for his robust defence of the Bill and for acknowledging that some organisations—not many, but some—have pushed back on it.

I also appreciate the point about birth rates falling. Being a parent these days is really quite tough. When I think back to when my mother was raising us, the homework levels now are so much higher, and the pressures that we have to run with as parents. It does not surprise me at all that people are thinking, “D’you know what? I don’t really fancy this”. It is very expensive and the pressures are there. I think it is right to acknowledge that. We must support, not penalise, parents who want to remain in the workplace, particularly mothers. We must double down on that.

Finally, I thank my noble friend Lord Johnson for the Government’s response. It was a very eloquent and thorough reply. The Government have obviously thought long and hard about this subject. We must acknowledge that they are very committed to this issue. We have moved very far forward. On timing, we always want to do these things a lot quicker, but the reality of government and the challenges that the Government face mean that that is not always possible. I think that we should acknowledge the progress that has been made under this Conservative Government. It has been a progressive time in office, and I am proud of that.

My noble friend also talked about the vitality of motherhood in the workplace. No self-respecting company or organisation should think, “How can we get mothers out of the workplace?” What a disgrace. We should be thinking, “How can we get mothers back into the workplace?” They offer so much and their organisations are far richer for them.

My noble friend also said that we were on a journey and that we would build upon it, and I look forward to walking with him on that route. Manifestos have been mentioned. I hope and am certain that the Conservative manifesto will give a very strong and powerful offering to parents. It must, because that is the way to electoral victory. I therefore invite noble Lords to support the Second Reading of the Bill.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.