Parental bereavement leave and pay

Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury 3:00 pm, 31st January 2018

I beg to move amendment 16, in schedule, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“Such relationship with the child may include—

(a) the mother as identified on the child’s birth certificate,

(b) the father as identified on the child’s birth certificate,

(c) the step-parent of the child, by virtue of marriage or civil partnership with the mother or father at the time of birth, and

(d) the adoptive parent of the child.”

This amendment would give specific examples in the definition of a ‘bereaved parent’ for the purposes of taking parental bereavement leave.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 21, in schedule, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“Such relationship with the child may include—

(a) a person with parental responsibility, as defined by section 3 (Meaning of “parental responsibility”) of the Children Act 1989, for the child, and

(b) a person who is the child’s foster parent.”

This amendment would give examples in the definition of a ‘bereaved parent’ for the purposes of taking parental bereavement leave. This would include foster parents.

Amendment 22, in schedule, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(2A) For the purpose of this section “foster parent” means—

(a) a local authority foster parent within the meaning of the Children Act 1989,

(b) a person with whom a child has been placed by a voluntary organisation under section 59(1)(a) of that Act, or

(c) a private foster parent within the meaning of section 53 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.”

This amendment is consequential to Amendment 21 and provides a definition of foster parent.

Amendment 17, in schedule, page 5, line 26, at end insert—

“Such relationship with the child may include—

(a) the mother as identified on the child’s birth certificate,

(b) the father as identified on the child’s birth certificate,

(c) the step-parent of the child, by virtue of marriage or civil partnership with the mother or father at the time of birth, and

(d) the adoptive parent of the child.”

This amendment would give specific examples in the definition of a ‘bereaved parent’ for the purposes of taking parental bereavement leave.

Amendment 23, in schedule, page 5, line 26, at end insert—

“Such relationship with the child may include—

(a) a person with parental responsibility, as defined by section 3 (Meaning of “parental responsibility”) of the Children Act 1989, for the child, and

(b) a person who is the child’s foster parent.”

This amendment would give examples in the definition of a ‘bereaved parent’ for the purposes of taking parental bereavement leave. This would include foster parents.

Amendment 24, in schedule, page 5, line 26, at end insert—

“(3A) For the purpose of this section “foster parent” means—

(a) a local authority foster parent within the meaning of the Children Act 1989,

(b) a person with whom a child has been placed by a voluntary organisation under section 59(1)(a) of that Act, or

(c) a private foster parent within the meaning of section 53 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.”

This amendment is consequential to Amendment 23 and provides a definition of foster parent.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

Given that this is the first opportunity I have had to speak, I pray your indulgence, Mr Gray, as, like other Members, I thank people for the enormous work that has gone into the Bill. I thank the Government for their support. I also thank the Treasury in the form of a former Minister who is sitting here. Some of my happiest moments during my time as an MP have been when I see “money resolution” attached to a Bill and think, “This is really going to happen.”

The Bill is very exciting for those of us who started the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss in the middle of the night in the Tea Room during our first months in this place, along with Mrs Hodgson, who is not here. It was lovely to be joined later on in our journey by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. We were glad to have her on board. The Bill is an exhibition of what we have been trying to achieve. In some cases, that has gone on for many years outside this place. It is exciting to be here and to have got this far.

The amendments are simple. They merely seek to identify a parent. One might have thought that was obvious, Mr Gray. I do not need to explain it further. I had a brief conversation with the hon. Members for Swansea East and for Gower earlier. It is nice to see Swansea so well represented on this Committee. My grandmother, like Mrs Griffiths, is an avid follower of parliamentary proceedings. She and the Gower will be very proud that we are all here. She feels very strongly about this issue, too.

The hon. Ladies from Swansea make a powerful point that foster parents should possibly be included in the definition of a parent. I am happy to leave that to the Government. This is a framework Bill, and I am happy for the definitions in it to mirror those in other such Bills. I say that as the very proud Member for Banbury, who has Adoption UK in her constituency. I am particularly live to the issues faced by adoptive and foster parents, and it is important that we include those who should be properly included in the Bill. I, too, am sorry that we did not have the discussion far enough in advance to ensure that we had one amendment on the amendment paper. With that in mind, I ask that you consider the amendments together, Mr Gray.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The answer to the hon. Lady is that amendment 16 is being considered alongside amendments 21, 22, 17, 23 and 24. They are all grouped together, which is practical.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. First, may I say how passionate I am, as a bereaved parent and a campaigner to get as much support as possible for bereaved parents at the darkest and most painful time of their parental lives, to see the Bill come to successful fruition?

The amendments would extend the definition of a bereaved parent to include foster parents for the purposes of taking parental leave. The latest figures from March 2016 show that there were 51,805 children and young people in foster placements, and that evidences the vast number of families that the amendments would account for. While local authorities may on paper be the legal parent of children in the care system, it is the foster parent or carer who delivers the parenting in their homes as a family. Although many foster placements are short-term interventions, a huge number of children are placed with families for much longer periods of time. Currently 47% of all independent fostering agencies households and 38% of local authority households are offering either long-term or permanent placements.

Irrespective of whether children are being fostered in the short term or the long term, foster parents and carers form very strong bonds, often in the most difficult circumstances. The strength of that bond is highlighted by the growing numbers of young people choosing to stay with their foster families after their placement has ended.

We are now seeing more and more foster carers reporting that they are having to take on paid employment to subsidise their allowances, if indeed they have any allowances to start with. They are just as much working parents as anyone else and therefore deserve the same recognition.

To finish, I will use the words of Marie, a foster carer from Leeds and former member of GMB, the union for foster carers:

“Foster carers feel too, we are not super humans and go through the same grieving process as everyone else. To provide our young people with the emotional support they deserve from us, we need to be afforded the time as every other worker is to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.”

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

This is a place of debate and discussion, but there are no words that could possibly describe or give comfort when people talk of their personal experiences of losing a child. We have all heard stories in the Chamber and are humbled by them. It is important that we hear the personal experiences and tragedies to make sure that we consider the points around the legislation and to connect us to the wider world of other people who have suffered terrible experiences.

Defining a parent is without a doubt one of the toughest jobs we have here. In the world we live in, there are lots of different people who would consider themselves parents and lots of children who might define that in different ways than we might. Through the engagement we have had through Facebook and with charities on the issue, stories about all kinds of different elements that need to be properly considered have been relayed.

On Facebook, Mandy Ruston told us about her partner, not a biological parent, who, after they lost their child in a hit-and-run accident, was told by his employer to return to work in the early days after that tragedy. That is a situation that I am sure we would want to cover. Nicky Clifford talks about the child’s grandparents, who felt they suffered a double loss when Mrs Clifford’s son died. Together for Short Lives, along with Holly Simon, who contacted us on Facebook, believe that leave should be extended to legal guardians, working grandparents, aunts and uncles. The Rainbow Trust, which does such fine work providing support for families where children are diagnosed with life-threatening or terminal illnesses, felt we should extend the leave and pay to legal guardians such as foster carers, a point covered by the amendment. Unison, which represents 1.3 million trade union members, proposes the definition of a parent be set as wide as possible, including legal guardians and those with formal parenting responsibility.

I do not think we have time in this Committee to look at such matters in their totality. There is much debate and, although it is useful to consider the issues and it is very good to hear different perspectives from Committee members, I return to the point about the fragility of the Bill and the time we have to consider it in Committee and the Chamber. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury stated, this is a framework Bill that allows the powers to be debated and discussed properly and to go through consultation to ensure we get this right.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

There are all sorts of amendments before us today and lots of us would like the Bill to go further than it does. There are many reasons why that is not practical or necessarily the right thing to do at the moment. Will my hon. Friend confirm that this is the beginning of the process? As we have seen with many other pieces of legislation, they get amended over time to increase the scope, bring more people in and provide further rights, but it has to start with a statute.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We all want to see this legislation on the statute books. To borrow a phrase I heard the Minister use, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. We need to get this legislation through, so I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

This is not only an enabling framework piece of legislation, but a signal to employers. It gives the minimum possible standard that employers should give to their employees. I am an employer outside this place—as well as inside it, as we all are. I am sure if one our team members suffered a tragedy such as this—whether they were a grandparent, a brother, an uncle, or, obviously, a parent—we would all be considerate and give time off. I imagine we would give time off at full pay, rather than statutory pay. That is what we expect.

Today we are setting the signal and framework, not just in the legislation but for employers to recognise the terrible tragedies and the impact on their workforce. I do not want to agree to amendments at this stage because of issues around timing and proper consideration. We could end up in ping-pong with the other place, with redrafting and other ideas about the definition of a parent, which would take time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury made some very good points about examples of parents—biological parents, step-parents by virtue of marriage or civil partnership, the mother or father at the time of birth, and adoptive parents. It is absolutely right to consider all of those. The concern would be about who we are missing, as that is probably not an exhaustive list. We need to consider this properly.

I have often heard the hon. Member for Swansea East speak with passion about these issues. I accept many of her arguments, such as including a person with parental responsibility or a foster parent. It is absolutely right that we should consider those. I have those same concerns but I am also concerned to ensure that the legislation gets through in good shape and good time, and that we have a parallel process for consultation on the definition of a parent in order to get it absolutely right.

I would be in favour of widening that as much as possible but we clearly need to have consideration for employers as well, to ensure that we get this right. I know that the Minister has officials from his Department looking at consultation on the definition of a qualifying parent. It is important to consider the outcome of that consultation. I am sure the Minister and his Department’s officials will do that. We will make sure that we properly consider these issues.

I encourage all Members to continue to input into the process to ensure that we get this right, without making a firm decision at this point. I hope my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Swansea East agree it is sensible not to press the amendments. To ensure we get this right, we will give it proper further consideration to ensure we have a proper, systemic approach to define accurately a parent in this regard.

Photo of Laura Pidcock Laura Pidcock Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour)

The anxiety with which hon. Members want the Bill to go through is almost palpable. There is twitching, nudging and a few sweat beads in case any of us might wreck it. Of course I understand that and would not want to be the person who—two weeks into a job—ruins the Bill. However, it is imperative that we question the Government and the Bill’s promoter, because all the time, we are saying, “That can come later; that can be considered later,” but that is not an assurance or a warm signal to people who are in precarious work, are foster carers or are not directly mentioned in the Bill. The Bill is to be celebrated, but it leaves lots of people out. I come back to the point that was very helpfully—

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:15 pm, 31st January 2018

The hon. Lady says that the Bill leaves lots of people out. It does not leave people out at all. The question is whom we put in. That is what we need to get right—not whom we leave out, but whom we put in, to ensure that they are covered.

Photo of Laura Pidcock Laura Pidcock Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour)

I understand that, but at the moment, for the purposes of this Bill, the argument is not for foster carers, self-employed people or people on zero-hours contracts. I understand the concerns, because it would be hard to convince the Treasury that what we propose could be financed at this time, but I would just like to ask, quite humbly, how hon. Members should proceed. If my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East wanted to push this issue on Report, would she be pushing at an open door? Would we be able to include all those people? It has taken two years to get to this point, and this place can be quite frustrating. It would allay the fears and worries of people who might be bereaved in the future to know that they might be included in some provision. I would just like some assurances in that respect. Sometimes I am not that confident about guarantees, and I am very anxious to include as many people as possible and to hear that foster carers would be considered on Report.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury moved the amendment in her own inimitable style—the style that we would expect. She is, I think, a force of nature. Whatever she is doing in this place, whether she is campaigning on this issue or harrying us all to support Singing for Syrians, we either get with the programme or get out of the way, it appears to me. I am delighted that she has committed herself so totally to delivering this provision for bereaved parents. I understand exactly her intentions in tabling the amendment.

The hon. Member for Swansea East spoke about her amendment with great dignity and perfect intentions. We talk about bravery, and we see many different types of bravery—in our military, in our public servants, in the police and so on—but it takes great bravery to suffer a personal tragedy, something that is so private and raw as it was with the hon. Lady and her son, Martin, and to lay all that pain bare for everyone to see. That takes real bravery, but because we all understand that, it makes it so much more valuable; it has so much more force behind it. I have the utmost respect for what the hon. Lady has done, and continues to do, for people in such miserable and desperate positions and I congratulate her on it.

The hon. Member for North West Durham gets, I think, the level of sensitivity in this room today. There was laughter when she said what she did, but it was nervous laughter, because everyone wants to make sure that nothing goes wrong. Unintended consequences are something that a Government have to deal with all the time—if only we could plan for all unintended consequences. With the known unknowns, or the unknown unknowns, lots can go wrong. We need to ensure that nothing goes wrong with the Bill.

Bereaved parents, at an already heartbreaking time, should not be put in the difficult position of needing time away to grieve while being required to be at work because their employers will not agree to their taking leave. On Second Reading and at the evidence sessions, we heard about all the brilliant employers that offer fantastic, compassionate support for their employees at the worst of times. That is to be commended, but some employers do not do that—there are some that put profit ahead of people. It is those that we wish to address.

Supporting the Bill was therefore a natural decision to make. More needs to be done on such an important topic, and the Bill provides a minimum standard—this is not the benchmark or the gold standard, but the minimum standard, which will protect employees who do not have the security of the reasonable and compassionate employer we have discussed.

Defining exactly who is eligible as a “parent” is not as easy as I first thought. When I heard that I was dealing with this Bill, I thought that defining a parent would be the easiest thing—a parent is a parent; we all know what a parent is—but then I read the responses and about the different perspectives and points of view, from people who have the right intentions, the best of intentions. The hon. Lady asked why people should be left out, and I understand why she talked about that, but I honestly assure her that we want not to leave people out but to ensure that we do not leave anyone behind. We want to get this right first time.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton stated on Second Reading:

“As a society, we have clearly moved on from mum, dad and 2.4 children.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 1161.]

Family units are now hugely varied, and extending this provision to the biological parents alone would be too simplistic. People’s lives are different and more complicated. Society has changed and we all need to get with that and to support those new family units as they develop.

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

Approximately 25% of all parents in the country are single parents, but the fact remains that they may have, or have had, a partner while still married to someone else, because they have not sorted out their divorce. Legally, the husband would automatically be assumed to be the parent, without actually being so. That is the kind of complication that the Minister is alluding to, and why there is a need for much greater investigation. We now live in a society of hugely extended families in which it is not uncommon for someone with one or two children to have a partner with another one or two children.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My hon. Friend is right. Facebook used to be a thing for young people—kids used to do Facebook—but now old people like me use it. Someone’s Facebook status may say “Married”, “Single” or even “It’s complicated”, and life is complicated. People’s personal arrangements are much more complicated than they have ever been before. If I tried to define some of my mates, my friends, and the complicated personal lives they lead, that would be a heck of a consultation. We have to be aware that there are a number of potential groups to extend this provision to beyond the biological parents. That is the point—more time and work is needed to identify which of those are the right groups to include.

Officials from my Department recently met their counterparts from the Department for Education, which has responsibility for adoption policy, for example. During that meeting, they discussed the different situations in which a person can have some form of parental responsibility for a child, and which of those groups of people should be considered parents for the purpose of this policy. It was clear from that meeting that there is a bewildering range of arrangements in which a person can be seen to be acting, to some extent, as a parent to a child. Thankfully, the majority of those arrangements, such as adoption, are legally recognised, and so considering such groups when thinking about eligible parents is straightforward.

However, there are arrangements in which a person is not legally responsible for the child but still has a connection with them and would benefit from time away from work if the unthinkable happened and the child died. It is important that such arrangements are properly considered when we define a bereaved parent. That is why officials from my Department are in the process of preparing a consultation—the hon. Member for Swansea East will be interested in this—to discuss how we will approach that definition. It will form part of a wider consultation on the other parts of the Bill covered by secondary legislation.

Amendments 16 and 17 require examples of groups that should be included within the definition of bereaved parents to be specified. Furthermore, amendments 21 and 22 propose specific examples that should be included, yet the examples proposed in those amendments are different from those proposed in amendments 16 and 17. That contradiction illustrates how complex defining a bereaved parent for the purpose of this Bill is. Although I understand why some of those amendments were tabled, I do not think it is right to specify types of parent at this point. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton set out a sensible and cogent argument for taking time to consider the definition of parenting through a consultation.

Amendments 22 and 24 follow from amendments 21 and 22, and provide a similar definition of a foster parent. I said that officials from my Department recently had discussions with the Department for Education about that subject. One type of parent they discussed was foster parents. Amendments 22 and 24 include private foster parents within the wider definition of foster parents. Concerns were raised in that meeting about private foster parents and about the fact that such arrangements are often not made known to local authorities. They are private arrangements, and it is therefore difficult to identify those foster parents. It is even possible that people acting as private foster parents do not realise that that is what they are. They are just looking after somebody, and they do not realise that they are defined as a foster parent.

As I said, we need to identify qualifying parents in a straightforward way, based on clear facts, and we must provide clarity and certainty to them and to employers. Further thought is required to correctly define bereaved parents. We should make a decision only once we have given this matter the right consideration, based on evidence and representations. I do not want to rush the decision and risk making a mistake. As I think everybody recognises, there are clear time pressures in relation to the passage of this private Member’s Bill, which makes it impossible to produce the right answer at the moment. We must not allow the Bill to be derailed.

With that in mind, I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and the hon. Member for Swansea East agree that now is not the right time to try to define a bereaved parent, and that it is sensible not to press their amendments. I give them both a guarantee that the consultation will take place during the passage of this Bill, so they will have plenty of opportunity to take part in it and see what it contains. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, and that she will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

In the interests of the Bill, I will not press my amendment to a vote.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I will withdraw my amendment, but I ask the Minister to consider carefully the complicated lives that people now lead, and to consult the relevant agencies, such as Adoption UK and fostering organisations, about the proper wording that should be included in the Bill.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Kevin Hollinrake.)

Adjourned till Wednesday 7 February at Two o’clock.