Parental bereavement leave and pay

Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 2:00 pm, 7th February 2018

I beg to move amendment 10, in the schedule, page 2, line 22, at end insert

“, including arrangements for taking the entitled leave at different points within the period specified in subsection (6).”

This amendment would ensure that regulations on parental bereavement leave provide flexibility on when the entitled leave can be taken.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 11, in the schedule, page 2, line 25, at end insert—

“(5A) Provision under subsection (4)(a) must secure that an employee’s entitlement to leave under this section will not be required to be taken consecutively and may be taken in blocks of one day at a time.”

This amendment would allow flexibility in the parental bereavement leave arrangements.

Amendment 3, in the schedule, page 2, line 27, leave out “56 days” and insert “52 weeks”.

This amendment would extend the period of time within which parental bereavement leave must be taken from 56 days to 52 weeks.

Amendment 20, in the schedule, page 2, line 27, leave out “56 days” and insert “26 weeks”.

This amendment would extend the minimum period of time within which parental bereavement leave must be taken from 56 days to 26 weeks.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I wish to speak in support of amendment 10, because it is important that there be flexibility on when parental bereavement leave is taken. The loss of a child, if it is anything, is hugely traumatic. The first reaction is shock and disbelief, especially in the case of a sudden death. A parent may initially refuse to accept the loss and try to continue as normal, blocking out the experience, which is a common feature of trauma. Going on as far as possible as though the death is not real will be a reaction that helps some parents to cope. Keeping busy is a coping strategy that many use and one that, to a great extent, my own husband used when our baby was stillborn at full term.

Other people cope with the devastation of losing a child in a variety of ways. There is no right or wrong way to do so. I fear that if the amendment is not accepted, we will in effect, even if we do not wish to, be saying to bereaved parents, “We recognise the trauma of your loss and its life-changing nature, but it is important that you take your bereavement leave between these particular weeks, from this date to that, as set out in the Bill.” I honestly think we can do better.

It is not appropriate or desirable to set an early timeframe as to when bereavement leave should be taken. Some parents may feel the need of leave only some months later, when the enormity and the reality of the loss have truly sunk in. Others may prefer a phased return to work instead of taking the leave in one set block.

Much of the discussion that I have seen on the Bill seems to be predicated on the loss of a child after illness, and it is true that far too many children are lost in that way. Far too many families are devastated by watching a child ravaged by an unforgiving disease against which the child has few or no resources to defend itself. There is no doubt that to watch a child go through that—to watch your own child go through that—is beyond heartbreaking and beyond horrific, but we cannot forget that many children also die in a variety of other circumstances.

The sudden and unexpected loss of a child is no less traumatic when the parent had no idea when they last saw their child that that would be the last time they saw their child alive. There may be a car accident or some other horrific accident. A child is knocked down perhaps, and in a moment a family is destroyed by grief and the random cruelty of events.

I therefore believe that flexibility is needed not just to allow parents to grieve in their own way and in their own time, but because, depending on the circumstances, there might be a fatal accident inquiry following the death or, in England, a coroner’s inquiry. There might be a court case and perhaps even a trial. There might be a significant gap between the loss of the child and the burial. There is a host of reasons why leave for bereaved parents must be flexible. It should be remembered that not all bereaved parents will necessarily take any or all of this leave, but they must have the option, and the option must be flexible. I fear that if it is not, bereaved parents who work for the minority of employers who are not as sympathetic as we might wish them to be might face losing their job as well as their child. Bereaved parents need the full protection of the law. I urge the Minister to consider the amendment carefully, as we try to put on the statute book the best Bill possible for parents.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Gray. I understand the hon. Lady’s argument on making leave arrangements more flexible and I have much sympathy with it. Certainly, we heard such arguments from many different sources, including people who have been bereaved who contacted us through social media. Many charities, such as Cruse Bereavement Care, Elliot’s footprint, Together for Short Lives and the National Bereavement Alliance also made the point that the period of 52 days was too short and they wanted longer. That was for a number of reasons, some of which the hon. Lady outlined, such as autopsies and inquests, which can often happen well beyond those first 52 days.

There are substantive reasons why we might want to look at a longer timescale. We need to strike a balance, of course, between the needs of the employee and the understanding of the employer. We have said throughout consideration of the Bill in Committee that we expect these to be the minimum standards that employers might follow. It would be sensible to consult further on those measures.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

That is certainly something I gave due consideration to when drafting the first incarnation of the Bill. I have huge sympathy with the points that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran made about flexibility. We have heard lots of very good representations from charities and different organisations in the field, but we have not heard from business. We have always said that we have to be fair to business and to those who have suffered this tragic loss.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

My hon. Friend makes a good point: we need to engage with all the stakeholders in the consultation to ensure we get it right. I heed the calls of many hon. Members, especially the hon. Members for Lincoln (Karen Lee) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who have made such points in previous debates.

If the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran agrees to withdraw the amendment, I ask that she and other hon. Members work closely with officials and the Department to feed into the consultation, which will be held later this year to consider some of these points in more detail, including the period in which leave may be taken and how flexibly it may be taken. I am very sympathetic to a longer period, but I ask that we deal with it in that way.

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

I echo the comments of the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. It is right that flexibility be given. Having listened to those comments, another consultation seems like a frustration. This is quite a simple ask. Grief can affect people in many different ways. It can manifest and culminate at different times for different people depending on their support network, what has happened to them and their child, and the delay of the trauma.

As noted in amendment 11, it is crucial that the parent or carer should not have to take those days concurrently, but could use them as they wished, in agreement with their manager. That is where we would achieve balance: the right would exist, but a manager would have to agree to those times.

When I was a team manager, one of my members of staff found out that her daughter had diabetes. We worked week by week on what the needs of the child were for getting to grips with that disease. That is where the balance could come. It is not too much of an imposition, just an ask for some flexibility.

Flexibility would undoubtedly be beneficial for the employer, because the employee would not just take a two-week block within two months of the trauma, after which they would be expected to return to work. The time could be used as a phased return, as has been mentioned, or stored up for when a particularly bad period arose, which would otherwise probably, and understandably, be taken as a sick day by that employee. I therefore think that this is a very reasonable amendment.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

I thank the hon. Lady for kindly giving way on her very last word. Does she agree that this is quite a large change? We are introducing one of the best workers’ rights in the world, so it will be a big change for business and will therefore come as somewhat of a shock. We want this to be an absolute bare minimum that businesses provide, so it is therefore really important that we take the business community with us and absolutely sell why this is such an important thing to do and why, as she rightly says, it will be beneficial to their businesses. That is why consulting is probably the right way forward.

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

I know that all this comes, as we mentioned last week, from a place of anxiety of wanting to make sure the Bill passes with ease. I have to politely disagree: I am not sure that this would be a massive shock to business. When I was a manager of a team, albeit within a charity, I still had to make sure that there was enough money in to pay the wages. We very much had to operate like a business.

I hope the new legislation never has to be used, but where does the entitlement will still be two weeks’ bereavement leave. That is not a considerable time in people’s working lives. Using the time flexibly would have positives for the employer because members of staff, if they were unable to use the entitlement, would often have to call in sick because they were so down and were unable to come in to work.

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I extend my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton for introducing the Bill. This is my first opportunity to speak on it. I know it has so much support from across the House.

My amendment 20 would extend the period in which parental bereavement leave must be taken from at least 56 days to 26 weeks. That is an important extension, for many of the reasons that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran spoke about. There are particular days and events that happen, such as inquests, and it may be very important for a parent to be able to attend an inquest relating to their child.

As people will know, I speak from personal experience. The inquests relating to my own son were carried out very quickly—in fact, within 24 hours of his death—but I did not get the results for more than two months. That was the time at which I found out the cause of death. It took two months for me to get that information, which effectively flagged it up as a streptococcal infection, whereas it had been assumed that it had been sudden infant death syndrome. That pointed very strongly to the actions of the midwives, who had not picked it up. I then had to raise issues with the NHS hospital trust in relation to how it had reacted to various telephone calls and things that I had made prior to my son dying. That flexibility, and extending that period, is really important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton has already praised Elliot’s Footprint, Bliss, Together for Short Lives, the National Bereavement Alliance and the Rainbow Trust. They all make incredibly important points, as did the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. It simply cannot be predicted how events will play out, and therefore that flexibility over when the leave may be taken is incredibly important. I am conscious that many parents qualify for bereavement leave through statutory parental leave, but for those who do not, this is a really important protection.

Grief comes in waves, and we do not know when it will hit us. I had a child who was also bereaved, because she had lost her brother. Support for a sibling is there in other legislation, where parents are entitled to ask for flexible working or to take time off. Again, the flexibility of knowing that leave can be more than a day and that people can devote their attention and time to coping with grief suffered by other family members, rather than their own grief, is really important. More than that, it helps fathers, who may find going back to work a comfort.

Sometimes, being able to go back to one’s job quite quickly gives people security and routine, which perhaps allows them to cope with grief in a different way at a slightly later stage. It also means that parents can stagger arrangements, so that mum can be at home at one point and dad at others. The amendment would introduce a degree of flexibility, which, to an extent, covers issues that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for North West Durham, and the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran both spoke about. This is an important amendment that would add to the legislation, and I urge my hon. Friends and the Minister to consider it because of the extension of time that it would bring to parents.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 2:15 pm, 7th February 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I warmly commend the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton for proposing this Private Member’s Bill. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Colchester, who proposed a similar Bill in the last Parliament. I am glad to see that the Bill has finally got Government support. I congratulate the Minister on his appointment to his post—we have had an exchange in the Chamber only this afternoon.

I rise to speak to amendments 3 and 10 in the name of myself and the hon. Members for North Ayrshire and Arran and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North. I also support amendments 11 and 20 in the names of the hon. Members for North West Durham and for Eddisbury. As the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran set out, we in the SNP believe that this is fundamentally a good Bill. We welcome it, although we feel it could be strengthened to go even further.

Before speaking to the amendment, I pay tribute to Shaun Walsh of Together for Short Lives and Priyanka Patel of CLIC Sargent, who were both kind enough to brief me about the Bill and other issues, particularly those relating to children’s palliative care. I have been fortunate to visit CLIC Sargent’s social work team at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, in my constituency.

Broadly, my interest in the Bill stems from two reasons. First, I have a longstanding interest in children’s palliative care policy. I declare an interest, as my mother is a children’s palliative carer for Icare Scotland. My second reason stems from my personal experience of becoming a father. Originally, my wife Roslyn and I were led to believe that having children would be very difficult, if it was possible at all. In February 2015, after some blood tests, we were told that Roslyn was in fact 19 weeks pregnant, and that due to her Type I diabetes it would be an incredibly complex pregnancy. Essentially, every time my wife injected insulin, which is required to keep her alive, our baby grew bigger; and as a result, so did his chances of dying. A couple of weeks later we were called in to Southern General Hospital and told that, due to the increasing size of our son, we had to brace ourselves for the possibility of a stillbirth. It was the hardest conversation we have ever had with anybody in the medical profession and as a married couple; it felt as though a train had hit us.

In the end, our son Isaac was born, almost two months premature and significantly overweight. He spent the first two weeks of his life in intensive care at Southern General Hospital, before moving on to special baby care. The doctors, nurses and staff at Southern General could not have been more loving and supportive. I know that all of us in this room have nothing but admiration and respect for the national health service staff who look after us. Many Members of this Committee have already shared their own deeply personal experiences of losing a child and I am incredibly mindful of the fact that our wee boy pulled through. For that I am nothing but thankful to God. It was during the darker times of being told to prepare for a stillbirth, and when Isaac was whisked away to intensive care after his birth without us, that we were left in shock and contemplating what losing a child could be like, on every level possible—be that practical or emotional. It is for that reason that we have come together on the Committee to ensure that a good Bill becomes an even better law.

Amendment 3, in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for North Ayrshire and Arran and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, would extend the period within which bereavement leave must be taken from 56 days to 52 weeks. The rationale behind the amendment is to give more flexibility to parents who lose a child. Through my fundraising work with children’s hospices across Scotland, I have had the opportunity to visit Robin House in Balloch and meet parents whose children have a life-shortening or life-limiting condition. I have also spoken to families who have experienced the loss of a child. One of the clear messages and asks they have of us as policy makers and legislators is to allow more flexibility in when they can take bereavement leave.

My friend, Maria McGill, the chief executive of Children’s Hospices Across Scotland, often speaks of the importance of marking a child’s birthday and other such anniversaries, which is a significant part of the grieving process. If the Committee agrees to the amendment, parents would have more flexibility in the first year, rather than the first month or two, following their child’s death. In the grand scheme of things it would not cause a lot of difficulty to employers, but it would make a massive difference to families who have experienced bereavement.

The amendments in this group seek to make a good Bill and a better law. I ask the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, and all right hon. and hon. Members, to support amendment 3 in particular.

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

Thank you for your continued chairmanship of this important Committee, Mr Gray. As I was listening to hon. Members debate these issues, I was thinking about how in this Committee it feels like we are never more than a word away from a tear. The palpable emotion we all feel in the room is powerful. I strongly commend all hon. Members who lay themselves bare by talking about their personal experiences; I know it is not easy at all.

From the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, it is easy to see the pain that remains. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury introduced me to this issue when she spoke so movingly in the Chamber, as have my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury and for Colchester. Even last week, we saw the emotion of Mrs Hodgson when, in the debate on the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill, she spoke about the loss of her child.

As you know, Mr Gray, my wife is seven months pregnant. We are overjoyed at that prospect, although Mrs Griffiths is getting slightly more uncomfortable and is daunted by the imminent arrival of Griffiths Jr. This debate makes us think about things we do not want to contemplate, and it is brave of hon. Members to lay themselves open to that. As Members of Parliament, we have little privacy these days. We regularly feel as though our every movement is laid bare to the public—we cannot even fall asleep in a hotel without someone taking a picture and putting it on Twitter.

To the point of the matter, I understand what colleagues are trying to achieve in the amendments. The period of time in which leave is taken, which amendments 3 and 20 seek to address, is key to getting the framework right. The time needed by each individual will vary according to their own way of dealing with the grief that comes from the loss.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said, there is a balance to be struck, and I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester when he says that we need to strike a balance between flexibility and certainty. I believe his approach to the Bill has been always to mirror existing provisions in legislation so that we do not create precedents, to ensure a smooth passage for the Bill. That is the right approach. It eliminates a lot of difficulties that might be the unintended consequence of what we agree in Committee. It also makes it easier for officials, business and the general public to understand the marrying of rights. In that respect, I agree that maintaining the suggested timeframe of at least 56 days, to maintain consistency with the other provisions, is a sensible approach.

However, I recognise that it would not be right if sticking to 56 days meant that the provision in this Bill did not do what we intend it to. The reason we are here today is to ensure that the leave suits and supports the bereaved parents and allows them what they need to grieve properly. For that reason, it is absolutely correct that we consult on this matter.

I know that the hon. Member for North West Durham would point to the fact that this is yet another consultation; pursuant to my urgent question earlier we had some exchanges on the merits or otherwise of consultation, but I want to be clear with members of the Committee about what the consultation is. It is our intention to launch the consultation in May, and I make a pledge to the members of the Committee that if they agree to it, it will report before Third Reading of the Bill, so that all members of this Committee and all Members of the House will be able to assess the consultation and see the range. Even in this room today we have a range of different views about how long the time should be.

We want to get it right and ensure that the time we put on the face of the Bill is the right time. Within that consultation, we will be able to talk to all the groups that have been mentioned today, and others, to get a proper understanding of the best timescale in which to deliver this.

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

I know we are not talking about new clause 2, because that is gone and it would be terrible, but last week there were assurances following the Taylor review, which is relevant to the amendments we are talking about now, that the Taylor review would respond to a lot of the concerns contained in new clause 2. Now there is a suggestion that there will be a consultation on this group of amendments. If the consultation comes back and says that, yes, flexibility is needed and it needs to be over six months rather than two months, will the Minister give us assurances now that the Government will accept those consultation findings?

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

I am sure the hon. Lady will accept that, obviously, I cannot write a blank cheque. If the consultation came back and suggested something that was simply unworkable or impracticable, of course I could not commit to that. What I can commit to is that the process will be open and transparent, and that all hon. Members will be able not only to contribute, but to see the evidence that is presented. It will be open and transparent.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

Given what the Minister is saying about the consultation process, will he give us a timeline on that, particularly for those members of the Committee who have been asked to withdraw amendments?

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

As I say, we will launch the consultation in May and it will report well in advance of Third Reading. If, at Third Reading, hon. Members are not satisfied with what we have agreed to on the consultation, they will be able to table amendments and we can have the debate on the Floor of the House. We can have a Division, and the whole House in its entirety can decide which of those dates—

Order. To clarify, if the Minister will forgive me, I think he means on Report rather than at Third Reading.

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

“Elders and betters” is the phrase that springs to mind.

Clearly, at that stage hon. Members will be able not only to question me, as the Minister at the Dispatch Box, about the content of that consultation, but if they so wish, to table their own amendments and make their case to the House. I think that is the most equitable way for us to proceed and it shows an understanding of the real and positive intentions behind the amendments tabled today. I am just getting some divine inspiration; I need to clarify something I said. The consultation will actually be launched on Third Reading in May, so the Government’s report will be published before the Bill completes its passage through the House. I hope that is clear, and that I have clarified my position.

Order. If the consultation is launched on Third Reading, it is not possible for its outcome to be considered before the completion of the Bill’s consideration. I suspect that the Minister means the Bill’s passage through both Houses.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:30 pm, 7th February 2018

That is exactly what I mean. I also commit to revisit this, and to see if there is a way that we can publish the consultation earlier and allow it to report before Third Reading. I will do my level best and I will talk to officials and see if that is possible. I want as wide a consultation as possible.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

For clarity—I ask the Minister to forgive me if he has already said this—is he saying that although he will not accept the amendments today, he is not closing the door and is vowing to return to them?

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

The hon. Lady hits the nail on the head. I want to make sure that we get this right. We have already heard that we have a number of different views on the number of days, so I want to allow everybody to consider, in a very calm way, the best advice possible and to come to a definitive decision about the days. I am closing nothing down. I am saying that all these options are on the table, and I am happy to consider all of them, should they be recommended by results of the consultation.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport)

It is a pleasure to see a fellow west coast Scot in the Chair, Mr Gray.

A wee while ago, though.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport)

Hear, hear. I thoroughly commend the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton for bringing forward a very commendable Bill, which Scottish National party Members have no problem whatever in supporting.

I will speak briefly to amendments 3 and 10 in the names of my hon. Friends and me. However, before I do, I am pleased to hear that the Minister is in listening mode. Given the exchange that just took place, I urge him to try to bring that consultation forward, so that we in the elected body can perhaps influence those decisions. Obviously, the SNP does not have any Members in the House of Lords, so we would like to influence the Bill on this side of its passage, if at all possible.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport)

Well.

I pay tribute to all Members who have shared their experiences of the tragic loss of a child, and who are using those painful experiences to make such a traumatic and tragic period just a little bit easier for those who follow them. Sadly, just under a fortnight ago, along with hundreds of others in Renfrew, I attended the funeral of little Layla Greene, who at just three years old was one of the latest victims of the scourge of childhood cancer. The Minister was obviously correct earlier on. Her parents had been told that she had weeks and months to live, so as a community we fundraised to help make memories for Layla and her family. Sadly, she was only to live for just one more week, but we will continue to fundraise in her memory.

Anything that we can do to reduce any unnecessary stress on families such as Layla’s is not only something that we should do but something that we must do. I speak to amendments 3 and 10 not only because I think they are the right thing to do, but because of my experience as both an employer and a friend. I obviously cannot speak as powerfully, or share deeply painful and personal experiences, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran and others have.

Similar to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East, my interest in this issue stems from a close-run thing. My wife had to give birth to my oldest daughter six and half weeks prematurely, by emergency caesarean. We were the lucky ones because thankfully, they are healthy, but since then I have been interested in trying to advance these issues.

Having said that, unfortunately I have shared the pain of friends who have had to go through this experience. One of those friends was an employee. I struggled to separate my roles of friend and boss. I was somewhat constrained in the paid support that I could technically offer within the company’s employment regulations at the time. I could offer her as much unpaid leave as I saw fit at my discretion, but ultimately, that does not pay the bills.

In many ways, if we are honest, two weeks is a totally inadequate period of time in which to recover from the death of a child sufficiently to return to work. I tried to find ways around it, whether through holiday pay or sick pay, which from memory was £85 a week—it is not much more now. She was signed off for periods as well, although she did not want to do that. Financial distress is the last thing that anyone needs on top of the most traumatic experience of their life, so the premise of paid leave is a very good thing.

To address the flexibility issue raised in amendments 10 and 3, I would say that people deal with trauma in different ways. No one will ever forget such a traumatic experience, but I am told by my friend that after a time, it was possible to compartmentalise, to work and to concentrate on the job at hand. Others will go through periods of struggling to cope after returning to work and might need time off as a result. Flexibility about the period in which people can take any leave might suit a lot of parents in this situation.

As has already been outlined, another reason is to ensure that paid leave can be taken around significant dates. For example, my friends visit the grave marker at specific points every year. Anything that helps to make those difficult journeys that bit easier is to be welcomed.

The compassionate leave policy at my old employer has significantly improved, and that is the case at many employers in the UK now, but it is our job in Parliament to ensure that everyone is covered appropriately.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

In the light of what the Minister has said, and of the consensus and good will on both sides of the Committee—this is the first time I have served on a private Member’s Bill Committee, although I have served on Government Bill Committees before—I will not press amendment 3. I look forward to the Minister coming back with the consultation.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

As has already been said this week and last week, we are all treading very carefully on broken glass. We are terrified to do or ask for the wrong thing, in case it upsets the whole apple-cart. I draw comfort from the fact that the Minister is not saying no. From what I understand, he is saying not yet.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I am really hopeful that we are still in the process of shaping the final Bill, and I draw great comfort from my sense that the Minister and everybody here wants this to be the best Bill possible. There is nothing to be gained by passing a Bill with which we and bereaved parents are not happy. In the light of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

I beg to move amendment 2, in schedule, page 2, line 25, leave out from “to” to end of line and insert—

“(a) at least two weeks’ leave, and

(b) at least one day’s leave for the day on which the child’s funeral takes place.”

This amendment would ensure that the minimum period of parental bereavement leave is two weeks plus an additional day for the day of the child’s funeral.

I will not detain the Committee for too long. Amendment 2, in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for North Ayrshire and Arran and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, would provide two weeks’ paid bereavement leave and one additional day dedicated for the child’s funeral. I am particularly grateful to CLIC Sargent, which has lobbied me and countless other hon. Members to table the amendment.

When I spoke to amendment 3, I referred to the sheer range of circumstances faced by parents. Amendment 2 was tabled in the knowledge that if the death of a child is unexplained, for example, there can be a longer period between death and burial or cremation. In Glasgow, there have been delays in post mortems due to hold-ups with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Amendment 2 would give a bit more flexibility and acknowledge that the day of the funeral can be particularly stressful, busy and difficult. The funeral is in itself a milestone in the grieving process and should, in our view, be treated differently and more flexibly. To conclude, a number of charities, including CLIC Sargent, allow for an additional day for the funeral. On that basis I seek the support of the Committee.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow East is well made. What employer would ever refuse to allow a parent time off for their child’s funeral? Clearly, most employers will; we know that through the research we have done. Nevertheless, we accept that we need to do more, because we accept that some employers are not reasonable and not compassionate.

I have great sympathy for the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. Clearly, in law all employees are allowed a day one right to take reasonable leave in whatever circumstance. These measures in the Bill are in addition to that basic right. We have said a number of times in this Committee that this is a signal to employers; it does not give all the answers for employers. People’s needs are different in such circumstances.

This is such a personal issue that we expect employers to be compassionate and considerate. We expect them to give the bereaved parents of a child time off for the funeral. Putting that into legislation would be difficult at this point, because of the fragility of private Member’s Bills. I politely ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment and, at this point, we will leave it at two weeks.

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

Forgive my ignorance—I have not been in the House that long. I cannot imagine anybody objecting to this provision, so I am not sure how not allowing it at this stage would scupper it at other stages. I ask that question humbly. Why would allowing it now make things difficult further along the line?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The difficulties would be in redrafting legislation and ensuring consideration of the needs of employers. There are issues with HMRC to do with how payments are made and the ability to look at a single day, rather than two single-week blocks or a two-week block. It makes things more complicated for both the provisions and the regulations. I go back to the point about employers—the Bill is a signal to employers, although I absolutely accept what the hon. Lady is saying. Would any reasonable employer giver their employee time off for a funeral? The answer has to be yes.

Order. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton is intervening on the hon. Member for North West Durham.

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

Thank you, Mr Gray. It is all getting a bit confusing.

Let me say a few tiny words in response to that answer. I understand that it would take a very brave employer to come forth and say that they would not agree with this. I also think we have to bear in mind that although this is painful to every single individual, we are talking about a minority of people who will have a child who dies, and a minority of employers who would be abusive by not allowing a day off for a funeral, so this is about small numbers.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

The vast majority of employers are rightly compassionate enough to give their staff a day’s leave for a funeral. That is paid, ordinarily, at their full pay rate. If this measure is included in the Bill, the danger is that that would only be at the equivalent of statutory paternity or maternity pay, so we might actually be penalising the people we are trying to protect.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:45 pm, 7th February 2018

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester for that important point. We want to ensure that we get the best deal for bereaved parents and that through all these deliberations we come out at the end giving as much support as possible. There are unintended consequences, as he has pointed out, that we need to take into consideration.

It may help the Committee if I explain that consultations with employers’ groups took place last summer. Those groups indicated that the majority of their members already had a bereavement leave policy in place. That is great; we are all very pleased about that. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s survey found that two thirds of businesses that responded already provide bereavement leave—that would be at the full pay that my hon. Friend alluded to—and that 40% give five days paid, and 25% give three days paid. Businesses also often provide more generous unpaid leave entitlement. At the discussions, employers’ groups also gave reassurances that employers welcome the introduction of the Bill.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I just wanted to suggest to the Minister that if employers are already quite generous and understanding in such tragic circumstances, it shows that there is a recognition that such space should already be provided by the law, rather than employers having to make up policy for their own businesses. As a Parliament we should be taking a lead in saying that we recognise that employers, on the whole, realise and understand that this has to be done, so let us enshrine it in law because we all seem to agree. If there is the odd rogue employer that does not—you know?

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

What we would not want though is a situation where employers say that they do not need to have a policy in place because there is already a statutory requirement. In other areas, such as maternity, there is a statutory pay period and some businesses enhance that, but the vast majority do not. We need a consultation to properly understand, because I would hate for this to be the minimum and for that to be what is expected, rather than businesses stepping up to the plate and offering the generous terms that they already do. The hon. Member for North West Durham is itching to—

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

I was about to say that the hon. Lady is itching to intervene, but actually she was just itching.

We all know too well that the realities of bereaved parents are sometimes very different. The fact is that those who work for less accommodating employers need this Bill the most. I understand the point that is being made. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton also pointed out existing leave provisions, which are already helpful and should not be ignored. The Bill will provide an important statutory minimum that employers must adhere to, giving key legal protections to parents who suffer a tragic loss. This policy sets an important benchmark without preventing employers from enhancing it if they wish. We know that the majority of employers try to do the right thing.

I hate to use the defence that I have used at other times during this debate, but a consultation is being held. This will be part of the consultation, which will report before the end of the Bill’s passage. With that in mind, and bearing in mind the points that have been made, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

I find myself in a difficult position. I am minded to press the amendment to a vote, but it would be the first time I have divided the Committee, which in the light of my earlier comments is not something that I want to do. A lot has been said about the fragility of the Bill and the difficulty of getting it through Parliament, but one thing that has not been acknowledged is that we are in a two-year Parliament, so it is not as if we have to get the Bill passed before Prorogation in March.

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

I hear the note of concern in the hon. Gentleman’s voice, but I think my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester raised a valid point: a parent may well be in a better position in which they already have an entitlement to a paid day without it being taken out of their leave. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider whether that is a valid argument that should be addressed.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

That is at the forefront of my mind, but as the hon. Member for North West Durham said, we seek to protect the very small number of people who could be exploited in the situation. On that basis, I ask the Committee to accept the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 6, in schedule, page 2, line 35, leave out from “means” to end and insert

“a son or daughter of any age”.

This amendment would change the definition of “child”, for the purpose of parental bereavement leave, to a son or daughter of any age.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 12, in schedule, page 2, line 35, at end insert

“, or a person with a lifelong disability and a recognised dependency over the age of 18”.

This amendment would extend the definition of “child”, for the purposes of parental bereavement leave, to those over the age of 18 with a lifelong disability and recognised dependency.

Amendment 14, in schedule, page 2, line 35, at end insert

“, or in full time education, or both”.

This amendment would extend the definition of “child” for the purposes of parental bereavement leave, to those over the age of 18 who are in full time education.

Amendment 19, in schedule, page 2, line 35, at end insert

“, or a person under the age of 25 with a lifelong disability and a recognised dependency.”.

This amendment would extend the definition of “child” for the purposes of parental bereavement leave, to those under the age of 25 with a lifelong disability and recognised dependency.

Amendment 7, in schedule, page 9, line 18, leave out from “means” to end and insert

“a son or daughter of any age”.

This amendment would change the definition of “child”, for the purpose of parental bereavement pay, to a son or daughter of any age.

Amendment 13, in schedule, page 9, line 18, at end insert

“, or a person with a lifelong disability and a recognised dependency over the age of 18”.

This amendment would extend the definition of “child”, for the purposes of parental bereavement pay, to those over the age of 18 with a lifelong disability and recognised dependency.

Amendment 15, in schedule, page 9, line 18, at end insert

“, or in full time education, or both”.

This amendment would extend the definition of “child” for the purposes of parental bereavement pay, to those over the age of 18 who are in full time education.

Amendment 18, in schedule, page 9, line 18, at end insert

“, or a person under the age of 25 with a lifelong disability and a recognised dependency.”.

This amendment would extend the definition of “child”, for the purposes of parental bereavement pay, to those under the age of 25 with a lifelong disability and recognised dependency.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

Previous discussions in this Committee have made me fearful of asking for much, but amendments 6 and 7 are really important. They refuse to put the loss of a son or daughter on a sliding scale of grief, which I know is not the intention behind the Bill, but I fear may be its unintended consequence. The loss of a son or daughter is traumatic and life-changing, no matter how old they are. It is clear from our sittings last week that we all understand that it is against the natural order of events for any parent to bury their own child. We have the opportunity to recognise that in the Bill. I am sure that no Committee member would accept or even suggest that losing a son or daughter aged 17 is a tragedy that should be treated differently from losing a son or daughter aged 19, 21 or 23.

Amendments 14 and 15 address the Bill’s distinction between offspring who are and are not in full-time education. Such distinctions are artificial, and I do not think that they are appropriate in the context of the death of a son or daughter. Loss is loss, whether or not someone’s son or daughter is their dependant. I ask the Committee to keep in mind that the Bill’s focus—its starting point—is parents, not the circumstances or the age of the child lost.

When a son or daughter is lost at an older age, the discussion becomes more academic—the older they are, the more likely it is that their parents will be retired anyway and will therefore not be covered by the Bill. But imagine losing a daughter aged 24 who has a young child of her own and is perhaps even bringing up that child on her own. As the Bill stands, her bereaved parents will not have the support that the Bill could offer, even though there may be 1,000 reasons why they will need bereavement leave, given the support that their grandchildren may need.

The parents of, say, a son aged 25 years old would not be covered by the Bill. Let us say that that son is serving abroad in the British Army in a fragile area, doing a tour of duty in an area of instability. Do his parents not deserve to be covered by the provisions in the Bill, because he happens to be 25 and not a dependant? I do not think that that is the intention of the Bill, which is why I tabled the amendment.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

This question was always at the forefront of our minds in preparing and drafting all incarnations of the Bill. The hon. Lady raises a very good question about why we focus on an arbitrary limit—18, in this case, although I think we are coming on in a moment to amendments that consider that in more detail. The question that I would pose back to her is: why then stop at parents? Why are we not including spouses? She rightly raises the example of a 25 or 28-year-old. In such instances, a spouse would be equally traumatised by the death as a parent.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I would not want to diminish in any way the loss of a husband or wife, but the Bill was introduced in the first place because of the particularly unnatural order of circumstances in which someone buries their own child. It is entirely different. I do not pretend to judge whether one grief is worse than the other, but it goes against nature for someone to bury their own child. It does not necessarily go against nature to bury a husband or wife. That is in the normal scheme of things that we ultimately all have to face, but nobody expects to bury their own children. A child is a person’s investment in the future. I really do not see the equivalence; otherwise, we could have a Bill about bereavement, not a parental bereavement Bill. It is a parental bereavement Bill because we, as a Parliament, recognise the particular circumstances of someone burying their own son or daughter. I hope that I have answered the question that the hon. Gentleman put to me.

I really hope that the Minister and the whole Committee will reflect on this matter, and consider my amendment a worthy addition to the Bill. As I said last week, the benefits, both social and emotional, will surely outweigh any financial costs, which I really do not think will be significant in terms of overall Treasury spend. The Minister will no doubt want to correct me on that.

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

The hon. Lady says she does not think it will be significant. Does she have any evidence or figures to back up her amendment?

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I would simply refer the Minister to what I said last week: we know that people who lose sons or daughters are eight times more likely than their peers to divorce. We know that there is a social cost of divorce. There is also a cost to the Government in terms of economic activity if people fall out of the workforce because they are not coping. That is why support is so important at that critical stage of vulnerability and grief.

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

I asked the Library to do an academic exercise on extending the entitlement to those between the ages of nought to 40, which would pull in 29,918 people, based on the figures for nought to 18. Obviously, that is a very crude exercise, and not incredibly accurate, but it gives us some idea that it is not a huge increase. Of course, not all 40-year-olds who die will have parents in employment.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I thank the hon. Lady for that very helpful intervention. I already said that the older the son or daughter is when they die, the more likely it is that the parents will be retired anyway and will not need the protection of the Bill. I am sure that the Minister will know far better than I that there is a social cost, and a financial cost to the Treasury, when families break down. There is a cost to the country when people become economically inactive. We are talking about £140 per week, not lottery wins.

Photo of Paul Masterton Paul Masterton Conservative, East Renfrewshire

My understanding is that one of the reasons for having a fairly arbitrary age range was to recognise that, at that point, the parents are the sole people responsible for that individual. However, beyond the age of 18 it is not completely unreasonable to think that the person would have a spouse, a partner or other individuals who would also take on responsibility for them, perhaps in funeral planning arrangements.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 3:00 pm, 7th February 2018

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to say what he is perhaps arguing for, although I am not: that those who do not have a significant other or spouse should be covered by this Bill, no matter what age they are. He is suggesting that they would have somebody else to make the arrangements for them.

It is perfectly possible for somebody to be over the age of 18 and to be responsible for themselves, but not to have a significant partner to take on that responsibility. That is a huge assumption. Many people live on their own; we know that single occupancy is rising, even amongst young people. It is at record levels. We cannot assume that people are always attached. I again draw the Committee’s attention to the example I gave, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility: a young man or woman serving as a British soldier in foreign lands facing a traumatic and awful death, and the impact that would have on the parents if that soldier were over 18 and did not have a significant other. These are the situations we need to think about if we are trying to get this Bill right.

Given the economic cost to the country of family breakdown, the Bill should cover people who are not married or in a significant relationship. The reason why it is called the Parental Bereavement Bill is that we are talking about parents and the unnatural experience of having to bury your child. That loss is not tempered if your child is older; I do not see a distinction there.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

In response to what the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire said, I should say that the national health service does not stop treating people at 18 for teenage cancer. There is an issue of consistency here. The NHS does not recognise at just 18. Is my hon. Friend aware of that?

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

That is an important point. Maybe it is a failure in myself, but I do not understand why the issue should be about the age of 18 or financial dependency. This is ultimately a Bill about grief—about losing a son or daughter. The focus is on parents, not the financial circumstances or marital status of the person who is being buried. I cannot get my head round that. It is difficult to choose, but perhaps of all the amendments this one means the most to me because it is making a statement about the enormity of the loss of burying a child, and how that goes against the natural order.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

The hon. Lady is making a powerful case. She rightly says that the amendment would make a statement, but passing this Bill in itself would make a far greater statement. It has taken a long time to get to this position and my worry is that her request to increase the cost sixfold compared with the Treasury’s current modelling will kill this Bill; the Government would have to withdraw their support, and we would move into the next Parliament. It could come back, but I would feel sad if there was such a delay just because of this amendment.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman brings me back to earth with a bump; as everybody knows, nobody wants to be responsible for signing this Bill’s death warrant. I do feel strongly about this issue, but I will not do anything to jeopardise the Bill: the important thing is to get it on the statute books—if we have to have a bunfight later, we can.

I urge everybody to reflect on the value of this issue. I am an eternal optimist: if every single one of us agreed to the amendment, I would hope that the Treasury would look at it and say, “Well, this is the right way to go,” because of the weight of that agreement. Maybe I am an eternal optimist. I am walking on glass; I will not do anything to destroy the Bill. However, I would be very sad if the measure was not in the Bill—if not today, then at the end of the process. That is all I have to say.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

Like everybody in the room, I was moved by the fine speech and impassioned words of the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. A family that includes one of my closest friends lost their daughter, sister, niece and granddaughter in the most horrific of circumstances only a couple of years ago. I spent a lot of time with them through that process. Their child was 30, and their grief was no different from how it would have been at any other point in that child’s life. I quite understand what the hon. Lady is saying.

I have children either side of the line: a 21-year-old and 20-year-old, and a 14-year-old and 10-year-old, so I can see it from both sides. If I look at my own children—I would never want to contemplate the circumstances—there is a slight difference in dependency; I feel more responsible for the ones under 18. The hon. Lady spoke about everyone in the room, and we were all moved by what she said, but it is not just everyone in the room we have to consider. It is sad to say, because these things are not about money, but we have to consider the taxpayer.

The hon. Member for North West Durham cited some interesting figures that I was not aware of, but on a raw calculation the amendment would increase the cost to the taxpayer five or sixfold—the cost would go from £2 million up to about £12 million. Despite the fact that the taxpayer is picking up the tab for the statutory pay, there is a cost to employers because they have to cover the time off for the person. That is £1.4 million or £1.5 million, and it would go up to £15 million. Members may well argue—I might well agree—that that is a drop in the ocean compared with the grief that might be mitigated by the changes, but the amendment would mean going back to the drawing board and talking to the Treasury. It would fundamentally and fatally stop the Bill in its tracks, and we might not have time to bring it forward again.

I say to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran that the Bill is a signal to employers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester said. That is key. The Bill does not do everything we would expect. I would expect any employer to give someone as much time off as they needed on full pay. That is what we have done in our business. With the Bill, we are trying to send a signal to the small minority of employers that are not compassionate, fair or understanding.

We have had a lot of engagement already with charities. None of them has said, “There should be no limit.” Some have suggested a slightly higher limit in certain circumstances, but no one has suggested having no limit, although we should not take that as read. That is an interesting point on some of the feedback we have had.

We have to consider employers in terms of cost and logistics. Members have understandably tabled a number of amendments. The hon. Member for North West Durham has tabled one on lifelong disability, and there are many different ways in which the legislation could be changed to improve it or to cover different circumstances. The amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester talks about children in full-time education. There are problems with the cut-off point and how the legislation would cater for that. The amendment would complicate the legislation.

I understand why Members have tabled the amendments, and I have a great deal of sympathy with many of them, but given the fragility and complexity of taking a private Member’s Bill through this House and the other place, I politely and respectfully ask them to withdraw their amendments so we can move the Bill forward.

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

I just want to point out that the Library said in bold that these are “very crude” figures on the extension of age—otherwise it might not provide me with any research ever again. It has been pointed out before that not all those parents of children between nought and 40 would be in employment, so there would be some mitigation there. Perhaps an exercise can be done to work out on average how many people who die are of working age and have parents in the workforce, but that is not for now.

This strikes at the morality of the Bill. It has been mentioned that the Bill is about the tasks that need to be carried out after the death of a child or in that grieving period, but I agree with the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran—I do not want to sound like a broken record—that this is about the recognition of grief, not just tasks, although grief can be exacerbated and it can be more difficult to heal and recover if people are not able to do the tasks that are part of the journey to recovery. I also agree that a child never ceases to be a child in their parents’ eyes.

I want to make a political point in what has, so far, not been a very political Committee: it seems so hard to get such things through the Treasury. We are scrabbling around, arguing and making the case for a 60-year-old worker to have two weeks off if their child is 30, but it seems so easy for the Treasury to do other things at the stroke of a pen. That is not the fault of the Bill or necessarily of this Government, but it seems that the system values some things much more than others, including employment rights.

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

This is a very important Bill. As the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton have pointed out, this is the first time that an extension in this area has been considered. There is an argument that goes, “If the parents, why not the siblings? And if the siblings, why not the aunts and uncles or other close family members?”

Much like my hon. Friend, I have reservations, but I do not want to jeopardise the Bill because the principle that it sets out is so important. There is no doubt that if one of my sisters died, I would be devastated. We have to strike a balance between rights and responsibilities, which is very difficult to do in relation to grief.

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

The point has been well made that the Bill is about parental bereavement. Back-Bench Members may want to introduce Bills about other forms of grief, but we are concentrating on parental bereavement in all its forms. I would imagine that when a child dies, grief is pronounced, raw and painful irrespective of age. My intention is for those people to be included—not, of course, at the expense of the complete destruction of the Bill.

Amendment 12 recognises that some people have to care for dependent children for much longer than 18 years—I am sure my father would argue that I am still dependent, and I am 30. Full-time carers have to care for their children because they have a lifelong disability and a recognised dependency. I urge hon. Members to support amendment 12 if they cannot support amendment 6.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester 3:15 pm, 7th February 2018

I will speak to amendments 14 and 15. One of the hardest elements of the Bill is the definition of a child. Amendments 14 and 15 would define a child as a person under the age of 18 or in full-time education, or both. These are probing amendments and I do not intend to press them to a vote, for all of the reasons that I have set out in our previous sessions.

In my ten-minute rule Bill, I defined a child as a person under the age of 18, in compulsory full-time education, or both. I think my amendments are fundamentally flawed, because they say, “in full-time education, or both” but of course somebody can go back to full-time education at a later stage—they could be a mature student. Somebody in their 30s, 40s or 50s could be caught under the scope of the amendments, and that is certainly not the intention.

What I want is to get us all talking about where we should set the legal definition. The hon. Member for Glasgow East referenced teenagers in his points about teenage cancer, but of course teenagers are pre-18 and post-18, because someone who is 19 is also a teenager. The age of 18 is the point at which we all accept that there is a legal responsibility for dependents, and it is also when we can leave full-time education. However, as we all know from our days at school, people can be old for their class—they could be 18 and still in secondary school doing their A-levels. We have to consider that.

I hope the Minister can take the amendments away and look at them. There is that element of “compulsory” —those who are still at school; that would not catch people who are at university. However, there is an argument for doing so, because many students are still wholly dependent on their parents. There is also the issue of apprenticeships and so on, which are not necessarily compulsory post-18; nevertheless, students are on a relatively low income, so will be dependent on their parents. They are often living at home.

I hope the Committee will consider the amendments in more depth, so that we can work out what the right age is. Certainly, considering compulsory full-time education might be one of the potential solutions.

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

I shall speak to amendments 18 and 19, which would add the words

“or a person under the age of 25 with a lifelong disability and a recognised dependency.”

The Bill applies to children under the age of 18, for all the reasons raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. Amendments 18 and 19 would extend the definition of “child” for the purposes of parental bereavement leave and pay to those under the age of 25 with a lifelong disability and recognised dependency.

From my own experience with the children’s hospices that work in my area, they have a cut-off of around the age of 25 for those with disability or illness—they are classified as still entitled to attend the children’s hospice as opposed an adults’ hospice up to that point.

Therefore, there should be an extension to cover disability and dependency. We know that the care offered by parents to those with a disability or a recognised dependency is very often very high, and they will have provided extensive love and support to their child. There are many parents who have children with a disability or a lifelong dependency who, sadly, do not make it to the age of 25. I question whether my amendment should be limited to 25 for such cases—

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

How about the hon. Lady supporting my amendment, which does not cap this at 25?

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

I saw the hon. Lady’s amendment and given that the Minister is consulting on a number of matters, I hope he might consider extending the consultation to the amendments. Where there is a high level of recognised dependency, the bond between parent and child is very high, largely because parents in the main, although it is often women who do this, have been carers at a level not necessarily offered in other circumstances.

I am not saying that the grief is any less, but that level of contact with the child will extend beyond the age of 18, whereas in other circumstances many children will have left home and be living independent lives. This is a probing amendment, but one the Government would do well to address, because I suspect there will be easily-available figures from Government data for the number of people covered. The Minister should be able to find that information fairly easily, although there might be implications for that extension.

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

This has been a very thoughtful and interesting debate. I draw the Committee’s attention back to the first speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. I think he used the phrase “do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

Members new to the House might not realise that this is the third time that an hon. Member has tried to take through a Bill on parental bereavement leave. The first attempt by Tom Harris was unsuccessful, as was the next by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. This is the first time not only that such a Bill has got to this stage, but that any Government have given it backing.

Many Members will say it is outrageous that in 2018 we do not have those rights in statute. I would agree, but the reality is that we do not. There are many reasons for that, given by many Governments of many colours and of different make-up, and for why such a Bill has been resisted. We have an opportunity this time to get a Bill across the line. I politely say to the hon. Member for Glasgow East that, although I understand his desire to press his amendment, he will risk the passage of the Bill if it is used as a Christmas tree on which to hang all our aspirations.

The Bill provides the minimum that we would like to see for bereaved parents in this area, but we need to get it on the statute book. We can have as many lofty aspirations as we wish and we can desire to set the bar as high as we like, but we need to make this real. Various Governments of various colours have been unable to commit to do that, and this is the first time that a Government have committed to support the legislation and make it law. I politely and gently encourage hon. Members to think about that before they decide to press amendments that could risk the Bill’s potential.

To speak to the substance of the amendments, where to draw a line on age was always going to be difficult. I recognise why hon. Members suggest the dates they do. A lost life is always terrible, even more so when a child has not had the chance to live to adulthood. The loved ones who survive that child are left rebuilding and coping in a way that is difficult to imagine for those of us who are fortunate enough never to have been in that position.

Amendments 6 and 7 propose to extend this provision to parents of children of any age. The Bill applies to parents of children under the age of 18. Much as I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, and would like the Bill to cover parents of all children who have passed away irrespective of age, to do so would have financial implications that cannot be ignored. I draw the Committee’s attention to the Exchequer estimate that the annual cost of statutory bereavement pay would be between £1.2 million and £2 million, with a best estimate of £1.77 million. The estimated cost to business––the employer––is £1.45 million and we estimate that, as drafted, the Bill will cover 5,600 parents.

The hon. Member for North West Durham sheepishly proposes the numbers in the Library note that she has received, and I do not disagree with those: she estimates 29,000 parents for children up to the age of 40. Look at the magnitude of the change from 5,600 to 29,000, when the cost is £2 million for the lower figure. We see how the cost of the Bill suddenly begins to increase dramatically. I urge caution, because there are other things to consider when we look at the Bill’s viability and future. The broader the Bill’s coverage, the more it will cost both the state and employers, in terms of absence costs. I therefore believe that the right balance is to ensure that parents of children up to the age of 18 are covered by the Bill.

I do not for one second underestimate the devastation of a parent losing a child at any age. I look to my own experience. My Auntie Ann had a seriously mentally and physically handicapped daughter called Margaret, who died at the age of 56. She had never been out of a wheelchair in her life, and my Auntie Ann was by then a widow in her late 70s. She was absolutely devastated by the loss of Margaret. As a family, we had always assumed that Auntie Ann would go and we would make provision to care for Margaret. The shock when Margaret was diagnosed with cancer and died very quickly hit the whole family. I do not for one minute underestimate the loss of a child at any age, but, for the sake of securing the Bill, I think we have to draw a line.

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

I do not wish to use the other side’s argument against myself, and perhaps I could have done this in a slightly different way, but the point has been made that there might be someone who has only their parents to sort out all the arrangements after that person’s death. Does the Minister acknowledge that that may be the case with someone who has had a lifelong dependency on their parents and that that requires consideration?

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

I understand the hon. Lady’s premise. I understand that, looking from the outside, it is easy to make bespoke cases for bespoke situations. All those are valid and have strong reasoning behind them, but I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester: we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Unfortunately, we have to draw a line in the sand.

I agree that resisting amendments 12 and 13 is not a decision to be taken lightly. I understand the genuine and heartfelt feelings on both sides. My intention and that of the Government is not to disregard the parents of a child with a lifelong disability or to ignore their needs, but to ensure that the Bill stays practical, focused and deliverable.

On amendments 14 and 15, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester for his tireless efforts in keeping this important issue firmly on the radar and acknowledge the courage with which he speaks. I continue to be impressed by the tenacity of hon. Members in all parts of the House in sharing their personal experiences. It would be remiss of me not also to highlight the efforts of the all-party parliamentary group for children who need palliative care, which other hon. Members have mentioned. I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow East feels very passionately about this and does a great deal of work in this area. I also pay tribute to organisations such as Sands, the Lullaby Trust, Together for Short Lives, the Rainbow Trust and the National Bereavement Alliance in championing the needs of bereaved parents and taking forward important decisions on this issue.

With regard to the definition of child, establishing a cut-off for the purpose of the Bill has been very difficult. We have all deliberated long and hard about it. Emotions and personal experiences clearly come into play. There have been many discussions on the issue, and I am grateful to everybody for making their points about the number that is chosen with such passion and clarity. We recognise the devastation that the loss of a child of any age causes, and understand that for some, any maximum age is undesirable. I understand that there will be many people watching this debate who have suffered the loss of a child over 18 who will feel the pain with huge sensitivity as we discuss this matter, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton has said, it is essential that the legislation makes it immediately clear to both the parent and their employer what the eligibility criteria are for taking parental bereavement leave and pay.

We are all working towards the same aim, I believe, which is to make matters clear and make it easy for parents for take leave from work to grieve following the loss of a child. Making the change proposed in amendments 14 and 15 could undermine that intention. Not only would broadening the definition in that way make eligibility less clear to parents, but it would run the risk in some cases of being no better off than we are now. It is hard to comprehend bereaved parents being challenged by their employer and having to negotiate with them for time off at such a difficult time; equally, we could place employers in the very difficult position of having to make this challenge as a result of a lack of clarity. We need this to be understandable on all sides. We need to ensure that we minimise the risk of challenge and confusion over who is, and who is not, able to take parental leave and pay.

I therefore agree that setting the definition of a child as someone under the age of 18 is logical for the provisions of this Bill. As I said, we are not disregarding the needs of parents with dependent children over 18, but we must ensure that the focus of the Bill is clear. I believe that the definition as drafted goes far enough in setting a minimum level of protection that employers that must adhere to when engaging with bereaved employees.

Mention has been made of ACAS and the support that it offers to employers managing bereavement in the workplace. I think there is also more to be achieved through further work with ACAS to explore the best ways of promoting the message that all employers should act sympathetically in respect of requests for leave for any bereavement. ACAS has already established guidance on managing bereavement in the workplace and has supporting content on its website; it also has a number of resources relating to parental rights. Officials from my Department recently met representatives of ACAS to discuss the guidance and the work that needs to be done to promote it further. Should the Bill receive Royal Assent, we will work further with ACAS to ensure that its content fully reflects the new provisions. The Government will consider how best we can work with ACAS to help raise awareness of the new rights and ensure that existing guidance on bereavement is updated, and that all employers feel confident in offering the appropriate support to their employees in all situations involving bereavement. Although death is something we all have to encounter in some way during the course of our lives, the Bill will provide support for those encountering death in the most challenging situation as a result of the loss of a child.

We do not for one moment underestimate the devastation that the loss of a child at any age can cause, but the Government are committed to supporting the Bill and so I ask hon. Members to withdraw their amendments and engage with ACAS and officials in my Department to establish better practices for all employers in supporting all bereaved parents.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 3:30 pm, 7th February 2018

The words that we started out with at the beginning of this process—perfect must not be the enemy of good—ring in all our ears, I am sure. I know that the Minister and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton understand that all anybody wants is to make the Bill the best that it can be. Absolutely nobody wants to kill it. It is important—we know it is fragile—that this Bill can proceed to the Chamber as soon as possible. However, I know the Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that in the light of what he has said and the fragility of the entire process, we will withdraw—not happily, but we will do it—amendments 6 and 7, but when the Bill reaches the Floor of the House, and I hope to God it does, some of the amendments will resurface. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 12, in the schedule, page 2, line 35, at end  insert

“, or a person with a lifelong disability and a recognised dependency over the age of 18”.—(Laura Pidcock.)

This amendment would extend the definition of “child”, for the purposes of parental bereavement leave, to those over the age of 18 with a lifelong disability and recognised dependency.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

I beg to move amendment 25, in the schedule, page 2, line 35, at end insert

“(see also section 80EE for the application of this Chapter in relation to stillbirths)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 26.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 26, in the schedule, page 4, leave out lines 29 to 35 and insert—

In this Chapter—

(a) references to a child include a child stillborn after twenty-four weeks of pregnancy, and

(b) references to the death of a child are to be read, in relation to a stillborn child, as references to the birth of the child.”

This amendment extends the provisions about parental bereavement leave to bereaved parents of stillborn children.

Amendment 8, in the schedule, page 4, line 30, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would give the Secretary of State a duty, rather than a power, to extend parental bereavement leave to cases where a child is stillborn after twenty-four weeks of pregnancy.

Amendment 27, in the schedule, page 4, line 37, leave out “, 80EE”

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 26.

Amendment 28, in the schedule, page 9, line 18, at end insert

“(see also section 171ZZ15 for the application of this Part in relation to stillbirths)”

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 29.

Amendment 29, in the schedule, page 10, leave out lines 40 to 46 and insert—

In this Part—

(a) references to a child include a child stillborn after twenty-four weeks of pregnancy, and

(b) references to the death of a child are to be read, in relation to a stillborn child, as references to the birth of the child.”

This amendment extends the provisions about statutory parental bereavement pay to bereaved parents of stillborn children.

Amendment 9, in the schedule, page 10, line 41, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would give the Secretary of State a duty, rather than a power, to extend parental bereavement pay to cases where a child is stillborn after twenty-four weeks of pregnancy.

Amendment 30, in the schedule, page 11, leave out line 3

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 29.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

It seems greedy to table so many amendments on such an important subject: the inclusion of bereaved parents of stillborn babies. The amendments are probing because I want the Committee to give the subject due consideration. For Members who are not aware, a stillbirth is defined as a child stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy. Anyone who suffers a stillbirth after 24 weeks is entitled to full maternity or paternity leave in the same way that any parent that loses a child who is technically born, who draws breath, is entitled to the same statutory paternity or maternity leave.

As the Bill is drafted, the parents of babies that draw breath would be entitled to statutory parental bereavement leave in addition to their statutory paternity and maternity leave, whereas the parents of stillborn babies would not. The Bill by its nature must have arbitrary cut-offs. We have just debated eligibility in terms of definition, and to some extent this is no different. There is currently a disparity between parents of a child who drew breath and those of a child who did not. Luckily, parents of all babies, whether stillborn or those who die neonatally, would be entitled to those rights afforded at present as part of the statutory maternity and paternity; the discrepancy is between a stillbirth and a live birth. There is a piece of work to be done on including parents of stillborn children, because at the moment there is an unfairness between them and those who lose a child neonatally.

There would be a financial implication from including parents who suffer a stillbirth as well as those who suffer a neonatal death, but it is worth considering nevertheless. For parents who lose a child neonatally, some would say, “Why should they get statutory paternity leave, because they are already entitled to their maternity or paternity rights?” I would argue that it would be bolted on in any event, but do not forget that a lot of parents—men in particular—may take paternity leave and lose their child after those two weeks. It is therefore right that fathers in particular should be entitled to those additional two weeks, and it should also be afforded to mothers in addition to their maternity leave. We should seriously consider including those parents who suffer a stillbirth in the scope of the Bill.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I am not entirely clear about the protocol, so I will ask your advice, Mr Gray. At various stages of the Bill, we have heard moving stories about lives lost of both children who have lived and those who were stillborn. Of course, many of those stories have come from members of the Committee, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury and for Banbury and the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester made an impassioned contribution. If I may, I would like to listen to further remarks before I make my contributions and we decide on any amendments.

Yes, it is perfectly in order to speak more than once.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I will be brief. Scottish National party Members have tabled amendments 8 and 9, but I begin by agreeing with everything the hon. Member for Colchester said. There should not be any differentiation between stillbirths and babies who are lost to their parents shortly after birth.

We tabled amendments 8 and 9 because we too are concerned about stillbirth. As the hon. Gentleman said, stillbirths are currently covered by maternity and paternity leave, but will the Minister respond with thoughts on when and why regulations regarding stillbirths will need to be made under the Bill, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out? I ask him—I am really probing him—in the schedule, page 4, line 30, to leave out “may” and insert “must” so that we can all be assured that, as the hon. Gentleman set out eloquently, the relevant regulations to ensure provision for cases of stillbirth are every bit as robust as those for the death of any other child covered in the Bill.

We all know—many in the room know to their cost—that a stillbirth is every bit as traumatic as losing a child at any other age. It casts a shadow over bereaved parents for the rest of their lives. I think it is essential, as I hope we all do, that all aspects of employment law that the Bill covers take full cognisance of that, for the sake of the thousands of parents bereaved in this particular way every year.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:45 pm, 7th February 2018

I hope I can give some comfort to the Committee. I begin by echoing the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton and pay tribute to those who have had the strength and courage to share with us some very moving experiences. Any death is difficult to comprehend, and stillbirth is no different.

My hon. Friend included in the Bill a power to extend the entitlement to include the parents of stillborn children, and explained, very clearly, the rationale for doing exactly that. I have thought about this long and hard, and I am supportive of the rationale and the position. The reasoning, to my mind, was clear, coherent and sound. I just add that, by including stillbirth—which affects 3,300 children a year—more than 6,000 additional parents will be covered by the provisions in the amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester was right to ask whether a line should exist in terms of the provision for a child who has been born still and a child who has taken a single breath and then died. What a conundrum, what a decision—to differentiate between the griefs of a parent whose child has taken a breath and one whose child has not. I speak as somebody who is eagerly awaiting that first breath. I cannot imagine the anguish and devastation that would come.

My hon. Friend was right to recognise that in asking that question. He did not have the answer, and therefore a delegated power was the most sensible option—I understand that. However, amendments have been tabled, and we have had the chance to further debate this, and I thank my hon. Friend in particular for the constructive way in which he has engaged with me, as the Minister, on the Bill, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton.

I have to say that the Government have changed their mind, and I have changed my mind. We have come to the point where we agree with my hon. Friend’s conclusion. Whether parents take time off is not a decision for any of us in this room to take; it is to be made by those in that position at the time. If they require the time, they should have the option to take that time. If they do not require that time, they do not have to take the time off. Following the decision of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton to accept the amendment, the Government accept it as well.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I am very grateful to the Minister for his consideration. This is something that we have discussed much in our deliberations, both with Committee members and in the House at various stages.

Stillbirth was first brought to my attention because of my constituents Annika and James Dowson—my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury and for Eddisbury are very aware of their case—and their little daughter, Gypsy. They said they had never heard their baby cry, which must be a desperate state of affairs for anyone who has been through those tragic events. They directed their grief into a very positive campaign to raise money to fund a bereavement suite at Scarborough hospital. It is tremendous to see the resilience and determination that people show in these circumstances; I am not sure I could do the same.

Luke and Ruthie Heron are also constituents of mine. Their little son, Eli, was brought into this world at 23 weeks and six days. He lived for two days. He was stillborn. Had he not lived for those two days, it would have been defined as a miscarriage. This is being discussed in relation to legislation going through the House at the moment. I have constituents who have experience of this.

I am delighted that the Government have agreed to support the amendments. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran was the first hon. Member to table an amendment on the matter. I am sure that the Government’s support for the other amendment is a purely technical decision, not a political one—it is about drafting. They have done a tremendous job of ensuring that we get the legislation right, so that we do not suffer any negative consequences later on. I ask the hon. Members for North Ayrshire, for Glasgow East and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North not to press their amendments and instead to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

I place on record my huge thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton. It is actually a bit of a surprise that the Government support my amendment, which I tabled relatively speculatively because there was a debate to be had. However, the fact that the Government have accepted the argument will be of huge benefit to the parents of the circa 3,000 children who are stillborn every year in this country. I hope that that number will go down year on year; the all-party group on baby loss is certainly working on that. I thank the Minister for his support and the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran for her amendments, which are in a similar vein to mine and would have largely the same effect. We are all on the same page, so I thank all hon. Members for their cross-party support.

Amendment 25 agreed to.

Amendments made: 26, in schedule, page 4, leave out lines 29 to 35 and insert—

In this Chapter—

(a) references to a child include a child stillborn after twenty-four weeks of pregnancy, and

(b) references to the death of a child are to be read, in relation to a stillborn child, as references to the birth of the child.”

This amendment extends the provisions about parental bereavement leave to bereaved parents of stillborn children.

Amendment 27, in schedule, page 4, line 37, leave out “, 80EE”.—(Will Quince.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 26.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

I beg to move amendment 4, in schedule, page 5, leave out lines 10 to 12.

This amendment would remove the condition that an employee needs to be with an employer for a continuous period of 26 weeks in order to receive parental bereavement pay.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 5, in schedule, page 6, leave out lines 15 to 21.

This amendment is consequential to Amendment 4.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

We are coming to the end, so I will not detain the Committee for long. The amendments, which I tabled with my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and for North Ayrshire and Arran, address how long someone needs to have been with an employer to fall within the scope of the Bill. I understand the position of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton that employment eligibility provisions for bereavement pay should mirror those for paternity pay and leave. However, today of all days, when the Government’s response to the Taylor report has acknowledged that people are in precarious and short-term work, I would like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on reducing the eligibility requirement.

It strikes me that rather than introducing a provision that mirrors existing legislation, we have a unique opportunity not just to send a message, but to give ultimate protection, including to people who have not been with their employer for a continuous 26-week period. The Committee has already discussed cut-off points. We know that a number of things can happen to children; in the event of a sudden death, it would be a crying shame if the parent had been with their employer for 25 weeks and six days. I ask the Committee to accept our amendments.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for why the circumstances he describes are different from most others. However, consistency is important from an employer’s perspective and certainly from a legislative perspective. Of course, grief cannot be measured in pound notes, but part of our responsibility when introducing legislation is measuring the cost. His amendment would mean our having to revisit the cost and impact for the taxpayer and the employer.

The hon. Gentleman put his case well. The proposal in the Bill is, in any case, a minimum signal; we would expect an employer to be just as sympathetic to someone in this situation in their first 26 weeks of employment as afterwards. We would expect employers to be sympathetic, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to be sympathetic to the most important task, which is getting the Bill through the House.

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

I want to echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Glasgow East and probe a bit further on this issue. I am obviously not going to talk about the Taylor review, but we want to think about day one rights. I am still not clear who will qualify for what. Were the amendment agreed, it would provide an exceptional right that could not be applied to other bits of legislation. I completely understand why holiday has to be accrued, but the provision is exceptional.

To ground the Committee, the right would apply to such a small amount of people in the grand scale of the population. It seems morally absurd that someone employed for 24 weeks, 18 weeks or even four weeks could not qualify. No one plans for their child to die. People take a job in the good faith that they can do that job. It would be remiss of us not to include the amendment. That is my feeling.

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

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton again for his comments on the amendments. I agree with the points he made. It is right that the Government maintain a consistent approach across employment rights, because that reduces familiarisation costs for employers and ensures that they are operating within a framework they understand. Let us keep it simple and straightforward.

The hon. Members for Glasgow East and for North West Durham are right. They mentioned the Taylor review. I am proud that this Government are trying to enhance the protections for workers and their eligibility to rights within the workplace. We are looking at day one rights within the work of the Taylor review. Taylor is looking at extending the break-in-service provisions from one week to four weeks, but the 26-week qualifying period will remain. Within Taylor we are consulting and looking to bring forward greater rights, but when dealing with this Bill it is important that we do not reference a Bill that is behind us in the sausage machine. We have to have consistency now. We can only be consistent with the legislation as it stands; we cannot look over the horizon at what might be coming.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport)

I understand the Minister’s point, but can he clarify one thing for me? A situation not dissimilar to this happened before I came to this place. If an employee happens to work for 15 years for one employer without a single day off—they are an exemplary employee—and then seeks to advance through employment elsewhere and works for that new employer for 25 weeks, they would not fall into the scope of bereavement leave. Another employee, who has been in employment for 27 weeks with an entirely blemished record—perhaps they have received verbal warnings or taken days off here and there without permission—would be covered by the Bill. Will the Minister clarify that that that would be the case?

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

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but he also must understand that there are costs involved with all these things. While in an ideal world—funds permitting—we would wish to extend all these kinds of benefits to allow greater access, we have to cut our cloth. While I understand his point, the qualifying periods are long established for many of these benefits. I hope he understands that.

In my capacity as the Minister responsible for small business, I keep on getting speeches that say I am the small business Minister. I told the Secretary of State for Wales that he was better qualified for that title than I, but he did not see the joke either. Because I talk to organisations such as the FSB on a daily basis, and to small and medium-sized enterprises up and down the country, I am particularly aware and conscious of, and attuned to, the effects that these amendments may have on small business. I think everybody in the room will be attuned to those too.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton raised an important point: that bereavement can be difficult for employers to deal with, especially those who have not had to manage it before. That is even more acutely felt in small businesses. Where there is a small team of two or three people, if that happens it can be devastating on the whole workforce. As a consequence, complicating employment law by making these amendments could make it harder for employers to deal with child bereavement in the workplace by making the provisions inconsistent with other paid leave entitlements.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury asked on Second Reading what steps had been taken to ensure that employers were ready for this impending legislation. As with all measures, we will communicate the changes in good time, consulting the relevant stakeholders where appropriate, and provide as much support and guidance as possible. Officials from my Department have already met with representatives from ACAS to discuss how Government can better support employers when dealing with employees who are struggling with the loss of a child. ACAS already has established guidance and supporting content on its website on managing bereavement in the workplace. It also has a number of resources relating to parental rights. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, we will work with ACAS to ensure that its content fully reflects the new provisions and will consider how to best promote the updated guidance.

First and foremost, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton has just mentioned that the policy is designed to support grieving parents. Mirroring existing legislation can also be of benefit to the employee. That is an important point. An inconsistent approach across family-related leave and pay entitlements could result in confusion over eligibility. It is essential to make it clear, to both the employee and their employer, who is entitled to take parental leave and receive parental bereavement pay. That clarity is essential, helping to avoid disagreements and challenges over eligibility at a sensitive and raw time. Otherwise, they could lead to a rise in employment tribunal claims—a situation that we all want to avoid, particularly at such a difficult time for the parents. Keeping family leave entitlements consistent will go some way to avoiding that confusion and conflict.

Ultimately, as my hon. Friend and I have said, the aim of the Bill is to make life a little easier for parents who have lost a child and are in the grieving process. We believe that providing them with a minimum of two weeks’ leave does that, which is why the leave entitlement in the Bill is a day-one right. It is about providing parents with time away from work if that is what is needed. Again, it is important to recognise that the Bill does not prevent employers from providing their own enhanced bereavement support for employees if they are able to do so. I believe the argument for withdrawal of the amendment has been well made, and I urge the hon. Member for Glasgow East to withdraw it.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 4:00 pm, 7th February 2018

I have listened to what the Minister and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton have said. At this stage, after consultation with my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and for North Ayrshire and Arran, I will not press amendments 4 and 5. We may return to this on Report, but for the purposes of getting the Bill through Committee, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

I beg to move amendment 1, in the schedule, page 7, leave out lines 4 to 6 and insert—

“(1) Statutory parental bereavement pay is payable at an employee’s full rate of pay.”

This amendment would remove the power to set in regulations the rate of parental bereavement pay. Instead, the employee would be entitled to parental bereavement pay at their full pay rate.

We come to the last amendment in this Bill Committee. I know that, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said, we have all been walking on glass to try to get to this point, and I will be brief. Amendment 1 would set statutory parental bereavement pay at the full rate rather than 90%. I am particularly grateful to CLIC Sargent, with which I have worked closely on this amendment. If hon. Members have not already seen it, I recommend the document “Cancer Costs: The financial impact of treatment on young cancer patients and their families”. There is a copy in the Library.

Currently, as we know, the Bill makes provision for parental bereavement leave pay to be the statutory flat rate or 90% average earnings, whichever is lower. We know from reading the report that having a child with cancer costs parents and they often struggle to meet those costs, particularly for funerals. Therefore it is my belief, and that of CLIC Sargent, that they should be entitled to full pay. I am particularly keen to hear what the Minister has to say about that. I guess this is probably more of a probing amendment, but it is just to say that we recognise that the exceptionally traumatic circumstances of the death of a child are really challenging. We often focus on the emotional aspect of that time, but particularly in the case of families where a child has had a life-shortening or life-limiting condition, there are costs to be borne after that as well. On that basis I seek the support of the Committee for amendment 1.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I am grateful for the hon. Gentlemen’s submissions and the opportunity to debate this matter fully. As drafted, the Bill allows the rate of parental bereavement pay to be set in regulations at a fixed or earnings-related weekly rate. This secures the flexibility to change or increase the rate of pay in the future. Of course, the main aim of the Bill is to ensure that bereaved parents who need time away from work are able to take that time without fear of suffering detriment from their employer as a result. A survey has shown that businesses that responded already provide bereavement leave and most of these companies offer more generous terms than we are stipulating in this Bill, as we have said a number of times before.

As I was asked before, I will not revisit all the arguments I made before about trying to move this Bill forward as much as we can in its original form, to prevent the need for us to go back and revisit some of the calculations that inevitably have to be made to determine effects on the taxpayer and employers, which clearly are important considerations. In the interest of consistency and cost, and also continuity, in that we would like this Bill to continue its progress through this Committee and through the other stages that it needs to go through, to get through the House as quickly as possible, I politely and respectfully ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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

I shall be brief. I probably will not speak again, so I want to place on record again my thanks to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton for this Bill and the passion and discipline that has been shown to try to get it through Parliament. I agree that something is better than nothing—for those in the grieving period, £148.98 is definitely better than £0 in a week—but I want to place on record that we must acknowledge that for the lowest paid, taking that time, just like going on to statutory maternity pay, has a financial impact and that exacerbates the difficult situation people may already be in. We also have to acknowledge that in the worst case situation, some people might not actually take that entitlement at all, because they could not afford the impact on their pay in that week. We have to acknowledge that, however brilliant the premise and skeleton of this is, it will exclude some people on the lowest pay for financial reasons.

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton raised a good point about mirroring existing legislation in order to make the familiarisation process for employers more straightforward. We have heard that time and time again throughout this Bill. It is an important point and one I agree with. Managing bereavement in a workplace is not an easy task, so keeping it simple, stupid, is a good mantra. The Bill should be viewed as a base-level right for those who find themselves in this position. My hon. Friend said quite clearly that this Bill does not prevent employers from enhancing their offer, if they would like to make full pay. I hope that hon. Members will agree that this amendment should not be pursued and that the hon. Member for Glasgow East is content to withdraw it.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

I have listened to what the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton and the Minister have said. On that basis I am happy to withdraw the amendment. This is probably the last contribution that I will make in this Committee. I found serving on this Committee a challenging experience for a number of reasons, but I want to pay tribute to all members of the Committee. This has been an incredibly difficult topic to go through and on the whole it has been done with a degree of courtesy on all parts. I look forward to the Bill returning to the House. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: 28, in the schedule, page 9, line 18, at end insert

‘(see also section 171ZZ15 for the application of this Part in relation to stillbirths)’

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 29.

Amendment 29, in the schedule, page 10, leave out lines 40 to 46 and insert—

‘171ZZ15 Application in relation to stillbirths

In this Part—

(a) references to a child include a child stillborn after twenty-four weeks of pregnancy, and

(b) references to the death of a child are to be read, in relation to a stillborn child, as references to the birth of the child.’

This amendment extends the provisions about statutory parental bereavement pay to bereaved parents of stillborn children.

Amendment 30, in the schedule, page 11, leave out line 3.—(Will Quince.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 29.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.