Fatalities in Childbirth: Statutory Leave and Pay

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 6 December 2023.

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Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe 4:30, 6 December 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered fatalities in childbirth and statutory leave and pay.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I start by thanking those who are here to speak. This is an incredibly important topic, so I am grateful to all those who have given up their time to be here. I extend my thanks to my hon. Friend Theo Clarke, who has launched the all-party parliamentary group for birth trauma and who does vital work in this area. My hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory, who sadly could not be here, does incredibly important work as part of the APPG on baby loss. I am glad to see Jim Shannon, who has spoken passionately on the topic since he was first elected.

I will focus my remarks on losing a partner during childbirth. The reason I called the debate is down to Aaron. Aaron was a constituent who came to see me at a constituency surgery in Stapleford with his three-week-old baby Tim in his arms. Tim’s mother Bernadette tragically passed away in childbirth. As I have stated previously, Bernadette would no doubt have been the most loving and dedicated mother, who also had ambitious plans for continuing a long career in the NHS. She is missed tremendously by her loved ones.

Aaron brought to my attention the fact that there are circumstances in the event of the death of a child’s parent during childbirth in which the surviving partner is not entitled to parental leave. Aaron found himself in the agonising position of losing a loved one and having to raise a new-born child alone. That situation was made worse when he realised he did not qualify for shared parental leave and pay. Aaron was fortunate in that he worked for an incredibly understanding employer, who allowed Aaron the leave and pay he required to look after Tim. Others may not be so lucky.

It must be entrenched in law that people can have time with their newborn and time to grieve without the fear of unemployment. I previously presented a ten-minute rule Bill on this topic called Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Bereavement) Bill to try to make a vital change to the law. Unfortunately, I was unlucky in the private Member’s Bill ballot, but I am delighted that, after he was successful in the ballot, my hon. Friend Chris Elmore has presented a private Member’s Bill that would create that change. I am incredibly grateful to him for doing so, and I look forward to following and supporting the Bill as it progresses.

This truly is a non-partisan issue, and I have been incredibly grateful since starting my campaign on this topic to have had support from hon. Members across all major political parties. It is incredibly important to state that although this is not an issue that affects thousands of people across the country, for those it does affect the consequences are huge. Changing the law to ensure that leave and pay are available to those who find themselves in situations such as Aaron’s will ensure that no other parent is faced in the devastating position of having to raise a child while grieving and doing so in the shadow of avoidable job insecurity.

In cases such as these, the people whom shared parental leave was created to help are often the ones who are missing out. When faced with this life-altering set of circumstances, Aaron was confronted with having to cope with the challenges of being a new parent and the prospect of job insecurity, all in the midst of extraordinary grief. That is more than most of us could handle.

Parental leave in the UK is something we should be proud of. Since the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999, entitlement and access to maternity leave and pay have existed. On a similar note, entitlement to paternity or shared parental leave, though more limited, is fairly straightforward to access. However, a small change can close the existing gap. Shared parental leave was established in 2015. When it was introduced, the Government stated that it had been created in order

“to move away from the current old-fashioned and inflexible arrangements and create a new more equal system, which allows both parents to keep a strong link to their workplace.”

Shared parental leave was introduced to allow parents access to their workplace and their family. Now that is precisely what is being prevented in cases such as Aaron’s. In such cases, it seems that the people shared parental leave was created to help are the ones missing out. When faced with this life-altering set of circumstances, Aaron was confronted with having to cope with the challenges of being a new parent and the prospect of new job insecurity, all while in the midst of extraordinary grief. That is more than many of us could handle.

Changing the law around shared parental leave in cases of bereavement is not contentious. It simply seeks to allow individuals the right, due to circumstances beyond their control, to take leave and be with their child.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

Thank you, Mr Sharma, for allowing me to speak; I apologise for being late. The hon. Gentleman has said several times that this is cross-party. It is not a political issue; it is basically one of conscience. Allowing such a change does not impact thousands of people. I hope that in the course of the passage of my private Member’s Bill we can work constructively.

If he will allow me, I would say to the Minister that he and I have worked together on many issues during my time in this House. I genuinely hope we can come to a position where the Bill can be passed and bring about this change, not just for Aaron and his family but for those who will sadly follow him in those circumstances. I hope we can do that in the cross-party process, and that the Minister would agree.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, with which I certainly agree. As I mentioned, he has campaigned a long time for something similar to be done. I am glad he is taking this issue on board, which is truly cross-party. All major political parties signed my Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Bereavement) Bill. I thank him for his intervention and agree with him on that point.

The businesses that employ individuals in such circumstances are being negatively impacted. That is a topic I have heard raised as a concern. I believe some may have trepidation that such a change in law could cripple small businesses, which cannot afford that type of leave. To that point, I would say that an incredibly small number of people and businesses would be affected. It is not an issue that affects thousands.

Furthermore, if such leave is not allowed, those businesses could be faced with losing their valued employee—a situation that I am sure many would seek to avoid. I hope the effect that a change would have on businesses would be small in comparison with the benefit gained by the individual receiving leave and pay.

To be eligible for shared parental leave and statutory shared parental pay currently in the UK, both parents must share responsibility for the child at birth and meet work and pay criteria. Those are different depending on which parent wants to use the shared parental leave and pay. For the mother’s partner to take shared parental leave and pay, the mother must have been working for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before the week the baby is due—the 26 weeks do not have to be in a row—and in addition, to have earned at least £390 in total across any 13 of the 66 weeks. The mother’s partner must have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date, and stay with the same employer until they start their shared parental leave.

Practically speaking, a surviving partner could be entitled to take shared parental leave, but they would need to meet the criteria I have just mentioned. Aaron did not. That means that under the current requirements many will not qualify for shared parental leave and pay. I am determined that we introduce a day-one right for a parent to access both leave and pay in the circumstance of losing their partner in childbirth.

As a father, I know that being a parent to a newborn is a huge undertaking at the best of times. I cannot imagine being in that position while facing the fact that your partner has died in childbirth. I desperately want to ensure that people like Aaron are never in the position of being without support. I truly hope that no one has to find themselves in the same position as Aaron, who was unable to share the beginning of Tim’s life with his loving wife. However, a change in the law would mean that those who do would not be without the law behind them.

I thank those who have come here to speak on the issue. I look forward to hearing everyone’s contributions.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:40, 6 December 2023

Thank you for calling me, Mr Sharma. May I say what a joy it is to follow Darren Henry and wish him well in his endeavours to make this law? I did not know until now that Chris Elmore had kindly donated his private Member’s Bill to the hon. Gentleman for this purpose. I thank him for that and hope that, with that consensus from Members from parties on both sides of the House, the Government will put their hands up and say, “Let’s go with it and let’s do it.” That would please both hon. Gentlemen, as well as every one of us who signed the 10-minute rule Bill, which I did last year.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe is right that I have a particular interest in the matter. I am proud to be a signatory to the ten-minute rule Bill and to stand in Westminster Hall today alongside him and friends from a variety of parties. I know that the shadow Minister for the Scottish National party, Patricia Gibson, has a particular interest in the matter as well. Indeed, I believe the hon. Lady may have had a ten-minute rule Bill on the subject in the past. We have a real consensus of opinion from everyone in this room.

This is a topic that is not and cannot be forgotten. I know that my colleague, the hon. Member for Broxtowe, is determined to see that the requisite changes are made to ensure that those going through the most immense, unspeakable and, for us, unimaginable pain have the level of support that they are entitled to. It is indeed unimaginable that the letter of the law would have the support designated for grieving parents circumnavigated, as the hon. Member for Broxtowe outlined. With the greatest respect, I cannot understand how it is possible that somebody who has lost both their partner and their child could not be eligible to receive the highest level of support. I can only imagine that that has been unintentional.

I try to be respectful in my comments, so I am sure the Minister will indicate the direction in which Government will go on the private Member’s Bill, which was kindly donated. The hon. Member for Ogmore did so in an attempt to rectify the mistake and I wholeheartedly support him in his aim, yet again along with other hon. Members here in Westminster Hall.

Interestingly, businesses are also asking for these changes to enable them to acknowledge the depth of pain that someone is going through and help in whatever way they can. If we have that request from individuals who have suffered and are in terrible pain, and we have businesses that support that, it seems to me that a consensus is building. Hopefully, that will make it much easier to acknowledge the depth of pain that someone is going through and help them in any way possible. For that purpose, we look to the Minister. He has compassion and responds to such things. I know by his very nature the type of person the Minister is and I hope—as I always do—for a positive response.

The fact is that since Government ceased part-funding sick pay, it has been coming solely from businesses, and small and medium businesses can find themselves struggling to offer support when their finances are tight. The change would enable businesses to allow the small amount of time off or the shared parental leave with no burden on the company itself. As the hon. Member for Broxtowe said, that is a small request and a small ask, but one that would made a significant difference to people.

As a father, and a grandfather to six grandchildren, the subject of this debate honestly strikes me in the very pit of my stomach. I may not really understand the pain felt by those who have lost loved ones, but I do know without any doubt that they need support and help to process and deal with that pain.

I want to tell a story that I know will resonate in particular with the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, because I know some of what she has experienced in her life. One of my beloved constituents—I call her that because it is true—was attempting to find out where her stillborn son had been buried some 58 years ago when she passed away. She never did get to see the place, get answers or hear what had gone on. The pain that that lovely lady experienced over the years has always preyed on my mind. She was trying to find that information because she had not been able to process the grief at the time, and it stayed with her until the week she died—for all those 58 years. I knew her very, very well; I have photographs of her in my office. The system in place at the time basically told her that nothing had happened, and to forget it. That is the way it was dealt with years ago. She could not forget it, of course, and she lived with her grief every day of her life.

This debate is about not only giving financial support to people who have suffered this loss, but ensuring emotional recognition of their loss as meaningful and worthy of support, to allow them to process their grief while receiving financial help for that limited but vital time. The hon. Member for Broxtowe has done this House proud, and I thank him for securing this debate. I also thank the hon. Member for Ogmore, who was here one minute and away the next, for his contribution. I really do look forward to something coming from the consensus of opinion we have had across Westminster Hall today, and I look forward to working alongside the Minister to make that happen—I hope we will be able to do so. I also look forward to hearing from the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, and the shadow Minister, Justin Madders; their contributions will add to the debate and reinforce the consensus of political opinion. We all want the same thing for our constituents—let’s do that.

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 4:47, 6 December 2023

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate my hon. Friend Darren Henry on securing today’s important debate on fatalities in childbirth and statutory leave and pay, and particularly on his very moving speech. I was saddened to hear about the personal circumstances of my hon. Friend’s constituent, which inspired him to take action on this issue, and I commend him for the work he has done on drafting the Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Bereavement) Bill, to which I am very sympathetic. I am delighted that it was picked up by the Opposition in the recent private Member’s Bill ballot.

I welcome the work done by the Minister, my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake, who introduced the right to paid statutory parental bereavement leave back in 2018, which was very welcome. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory, who has done such fantastic campaigning on stillbirth certificates, and fantastic work as chair of the APPG on baby loss. We work very closely together on issues affecting parents across the country.

Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe, I absolutely agree that there is so much more that the Government could do in the very specific circumstances that he outlined. It does not seem right that my hon. Friend’s constituent was not entitled to leave, given that his wife tragically passed away while giving birth to their son. I hope that the Government consider that there should be shared parental leave in the very specific case in which one of the child’s parents has died.

I am here, as chair of the APPG for birth trauma, specifically to speak up for fathers who have been affected by this issue. Since sharing in the Chamber in October the story of the traumatic birth of my daughter, I have been inundated with stories from mothers from across the UK, who have written to me about their birth trauma. Interestingly, it was not just mums but fathers getting in touch, and that is who I would like to talk about today. From reading the many personal and harrowing stories I have been sent, it is clear to me that fathers also feel that they are not being listened to. They are often very traumatised after witnessing a traumatic birth, especially after the death of their partner or baby.

Birth trauma is caused by traumatic events or complications in birth. The term can apply to those who experience symptoms of psychological distress after childbirth or physical injuries sustained during delivery. Those events and complications can include surgical procedures—for example, when a sudden emergency requires a caesarean section—a long labour in severe pain for many hours, or of course the sad loss of a child. With permission, I will share examples from emails that I have received. I thank the Birth Trauma Association for all its support for my birth trauma campaign, and for helping me to collate these stories. One mother wrote to me about her experiences at King’s College Hospital in London:

“I had been told to lie as still as possible, so I got my husband’s attention, and he started shouting to get someone’s attention as our baby had gone blue. She was exhausted and had been placed face down on my chest and stopped breathing. We had to shout several times to get somebody’s attention and alarm bells were then rung and my daughter was taken away to be resuscitated. My husband suffered PTSD for months after”.

Another wrote:

“There was also a lack of support for my partner. He was left on his own for very long periods of time and wasn’t kept informed. No one checked in on him. Considering what was going on with me, he wasn’t a priority when it was a very traumatic experience for him as well.”

Imagine the terror that you would feel if your partner was going through that traumatic experience. It is clear that birth trauma does not only affect mothers, who have often suffered significant birth injuries like mine, as well as psychological trauma, which can stay with them for a long time.

I welcome the fact that in my recent debate on birth trauma, the Government announced the roll-out of the obstetric anal sphincter injury care bundle to all hospital trusts to reduce the risk of injuries in childbirth, but the Government could do so much more to help mothers with their aftercare. We must not forget that partners and fathers also need our support. That is why in our recent meeting I called on the Government and Health Secretary to: add birth trauma to the women’s health strategy, not just in one line, but in a meaningful way; recruit more midwives to ensure safe levels of staffing in maternity care; ensure that perinatal mental health services are available across the UK, so that we end the postcode lottery; ensure that the post-natal six-week check with a GP is offered to all mothers, and includes questions about the mother’s physical and mental health, as well as about the baby; ensure better education for parents, so that there is informed consent; ensure proper continuity of care; provide national post-birth services; and give parents a safe space to speak about their experiences of difficult childbirth.

The Government are to be commended for their support for my birth trauma campaign so far, and I am delighted to support my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe. I hope that today’s debate is a reminder of how much more there is for us to do.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs) 4:52, 6 December 2023

I am delighted to participate in this debate on statutory parental bereavement leave and pay for those whose partners have died in childbirth, given that I almost died in childbirth. In fact, my husband was informed that I would not survive. I did, but sadly my baby was stillborn, so this issue has particular personal resonance for me.

Over the years, I have championed the cause of statutory parental bereavement leave and pay, and worked across parties and constructively with Ministers, including the Minister here. Two weeks’ paid bereavement leave for all parents who lose a child up to the age of 18 was a huge, important step in improving bereavement support. I was delighted that the Government accepted my amendment, which said that the two weeks should extend to those who suffered a stillbirth, and be in addition to their maternity and paternity leave. The Minister will recall that the passing of the legislation was a very emotional moment. For those who had invested so much in the measures, their coming into effect in 2020 showed this Parliament at its best. I was heartened by the support that they offer bereaved parents, and will continue offer them in years to come.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald, who successfully brought forward a Bill to ensure additional leave—beyond statutory paternity and maternity pay—for new parents who have a sick or premature baby. It is now the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023.

The ask today, for one day’s statutory paid leave for those whose partner dies in childbirth, is certainly one that I would support; but as I think the Minister knows from previously sparring with me on these issues, I would go further. Last year, I brought forward a private Member’s Bill—the Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill—that would provide two weeks’ paid bereavement leave for all those who lose a close family member. We can debate what we mean by and how we define the term “close family member”, and I am happy to do that, but the principle that as a society we should recognise the impact of grief, which can be so debilitating and profound, seems to me to be right.

I believe that this is an idea whose time has come. It cannot be right that when we suffer the loss of a close relative, our right to leave, paid or otherwise, should be entirely down to the discretion of the employer. Thousands of employees are unable to take leave without fearing that it will undermine their job security. Those in less well paid jobs are far less likely to receive any discretionary time off with pay when they suffer a bereavement, or to have any compassionate leave at all, which is grossly unfair. That is why I brought forward my private Member’s Bill to address the issue. I tabled motions, secured debates, presented petitions and brought forward the private Member’s Bill, none of which, I am sorry to say, managed to persuade the Government, so I hope that the hon. Member for Broxtowe has better luck than I did.

I have long campaigned on better statutory bereavement support. My Bill last year seemed timely, given that we had come through a pandemic, in which loss and grief touched so many people. Rather than proposing a specific provision for those who lose their partner in childbirth, although that is a laudable idea, I think that the scale of loss for all those who lose a close family member means that they deserve statutory paid leave provision, and two weeks is not an unreasonable ask. On compassionate grounds, on economic grounds—the right support at the right time can ensure that people do not fall out of the workforce altogether and become economically inactive—and on mental health grounds, providing that is the right thing to do, because the impact of profound and complicated grief is truly debilitating, so I support the hon. Gentleman’s proposals in principle, but as I said, I would go further.

I believe that one day there will be statutory paid leave for all those who lose a close family member. For now, the Government remain unconvinced of the arguments on financial grounds, but there is plenty of evidence that ultimately this statutory paid leave would be an investment in our workforce that would more than pay for itself. Research shows that grief experienced by employees who have lost a loved one costs the UK economy £23 billion per year and costs the Treasury nearly £8 billion per year, but those costs could reach as high as £49 billion to the economy and £18 billion to the Treasury, so even if we judge the proposal for improved statutory leave and pay entirely on economic grounds, which I know the Treasury tends to do, it still makes financial sense, so I will keep making the case until it is delivered. In the same spirit, I support calls today for greater recognition of the impact of loss and bereavement, and for much greater support for those affected by it.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections) 4:58, 6 December 2023

It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mr Sharma, and it has been a pleasure to listen to this debate, because it has shown the best of Parliament. People have brought their personal awful experiences to the fore to try to bring about change for the better for everyone. I certainly congratulate Darren Henry, first on securing the debate, but also on his tireless and passionate campaigning in this area. We heard how his conversations with his constituent Aaron about the tragic loss of his wife set him on this path. As Theo Clarke said, it does not seem right that he was not entitled to any leave in those awful circumstances. That succinctly puts into words where most Members are on this issue. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stafford for her leadership and courage in this area, and to Patricia Gibson, who has been a tireless campaigner on the issue, bringing her own experiences to the fore.

I return to the tragic story of the constituent of the hon. Member for Broxtowe. We extend our deepest sympathies to Aaron and his family. What the hon. Member said today and in his previous interventions has brought the issue to the fore. While he has not been successful in the private Member’s Bill ballot, we have had positive indications that my hon. Friend Chris Elmore will bring forward a similar Bill. I encourage the Minister to meet my hon. Friend in due course—I am sure he will—to ensure that we can get the Bill over the line.

As has been acknowledged, the circumstances in which Aaron found himself are thankfully very uncommon. The number of mothers who sadly passed away within 42 days of giving birth between 2019 and 2021 was 261, but that is 261 is too many. It goes without saying that each and every death is a tragedy, and I put on record our sincere condolences to all families who have faced those extremely difficult circumstances and that unimaginable heartbreak.

It is apposite to take this opportunity to look at the UK’s comparative maternal mortality rate. Recently published research found that the UK had a maternal mortality rate many times higher than some of its European counterparts, and it performed second-worst in a study of eight European countries. Those figures are clearly concerning, but I appreciate that that is not for the Minister to address; it is more a matter for his counterpart in the Department of Health and Social Care. In many respects, national comparisons do not get across just how difficult it is for people like Aaron who face this devastating situation. However, the fact that they can fall through the cracks in the way that we heard today shows that there are deeper problems with the protections afforded to workers in this country. In that example, the gaps are evident.

As we have heard, at present the only right to statutory bereavement leave is for parents who have lost children up to the age of 18; in those circumstances, they are entitled to two weeks of leave. Leave is a day one right, but the entitlement to pay is conditional on having been in employment for at least 26 weeks and having earned at least £123 over eight weeks. Paternity leave and paternity pay have similar requirements, and sometimes a person can have been in a job for 26 weeks before they are entitled to any support at all. Shared parental leave and pay provisions do not really help people in Aaron’s situation. Not only is there a time restriction on access to them, but income requirements can differ for a mother and a partner. Frankly, the system is very complicated, and I am afraid that the evidence is that that has discouraged families from taking up shared parental leave. It was introduced with the aim of enabling more equal parenting, but the latest figures show that only 2.8% of partners decide to take it up, so we need to do better on it.

That is why we want paternity pay, paternity leave, maternity leave and shared parental leave to become day one rights. Then those facing the tragic circumstances that Aaron faced would not risk falling through the legislative cracks, on top of facing personal tragedy and an extremely difficult situation.

Many good employers already choose to go beyond their statutory requirements, but it is clear that many do not. That is why the law needs to step in. This debate has highlighted an injustice, and it seems to me that everyone is of the same view—that this needs to be put right. It is clearly unacceptable that individuals facing some of the most tragic and difficult circumstances are allowed to fall through the cracks in this way. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister on what the Government propose to do about that. Can he inform the House of any research undertaken into the issue?

It would be interesting to know, if a figure is available, exactly how many parents in Aaron’s situation would be supported by the legislation we are talking about. That would clearly help with an assessment of the costs involved. I know the Minister has discussed the matter previously with the hon. Member for Broxtowe, but I wonder whether he has had an opportunity to consider draft legislation. I appreciate that we are not always able to get a definitive answer from Ministers on private Members’ Bills, but will the Government support the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore? That would clearly be a welcome step forward. We have heard a compelling argument for reform today, so it is about time we got on and delivered it.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) 5:05, 6 December 2023

It is always a pleasure to see you at any time, not least in the Chair, Mr Sharma. I congratulate my hon. Friend Darren Henry on securing today’s debate. I am grateful to him for bringing this important issue to the attention of Parliament and for his ongoing and wholehearted commitment to improving the support available to those experiencing a bereavement. I assure him that the Government are deeply sympathetic to anyone experiencing the loss of a family member or loved one. The death of a child is a truly traumatic experience for any parent, and the effects can be devastating and everlasting.

It is for those reasons that I personally brought the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill to the House in 2018 and was delighted when the entitlement came into force in 2020. It was my pleasure to take up the mantle of my hon. Friend Will Quince, who campaigned on this issue long before me. I am also very grateful for the support I received for that legislation from across the House, not least from Patricia Gibson. I am not surprised that she challenges me to go further than the legislation has already taken us by extending parental bereavement to close relatives. We have discussed that matter before, and the Government have a slightly different position, but I absolutely commend her for her campaigning on it.

We introduced parental bereavement leave in recognition of the particularly tragic circumstances of losing a child before they have had the opportunity to reach adulthood. We believe it sends an important signal to employers that bereavement in the workplace should be acknowledged, and that we expect them to respond to all such circumstances sensitively and compassionately. We will continue to engage with the hon. Lady on her objective to get her proposal into legislation.

Parental bereavement leave and pay gives eligible parents a statutory right to take two weeks of paid leave to grieve the loss of their child. The entitlement to leave is a day one right, which means that it is available on the first day of someone’s employment. The two weeks can be taken together or separately, to give parents the flexibility to grieve in their own way, without having to worry about work.

In the tragic event of a stillbirth, eligible parents retain other pre-booked parental leave and pay entitlements, such as maternity, paternity and/or shared parental leave and pay. That ensures that parents have the time they need to grieve the loss of their baby. Importantly, it sends a signal to employers that bereavement and other types of personal loss should be acknowledged in the workplace.

As with all entitlements, employers are encouraged to go further whenever they can afford to and to support their employees in unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances. Since its introduction, parental leave and pay has supported thousands of parents during one of the most devastating periods of their lives, and I am proud to have played a role in passing that legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe spoke eloquently and passionately about the struggles of managing a bereavement and employment while caring for young children, in particular in the case of Aaron, Bernadette and Tim. Of course, the majority of fathers or partners who find themselves in the dreadful situation of the child’s mother having died at or soon after birth are likely to qualify for shared parental and paternity leave, as they will have completed the six months of continuous service with their employer necessary to qualify. Qualifying for shared parental leave gives eligible fathers and partners access to 52 weeks of leave to care for their child. I can say in response to the shadow Minister that we anticipate that covering about 100 cases where the mother has passed away per annum. The vast majority of those will be covered because the father has the relevant level of service—26 weeks—which gives them entitlement to take leave.

We think that the number of people who would be affected as Aaron was is around 10 per annum. Of course, each one of those cases is devastating. It was my pleasure to meet with Aaron almost a year ago, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe, with whom I worked on his private Member’s Bill to make leave and pay a day one right. It was good to hear that Aaron’s employer was benevolent and did help. I think that most employers would in those circumstances. However, I quite understand the my hon. Friend’s campaign on this. He made a very compelling case with his point about the combination of being a new parent in a new job and going through extraordinary grief. I congratulate him on securing the support of Chris Elmore. I am very keen to meet with both of them to talk about how we might help in this case.

I thank my hon. Friend Theo Clarke for her fine words, yet again—she won “Speech of the Year” at The Spectator awards; a wonderful accolade—but most of all for her campaigning on birth trauma and her historic debate back in October, which was the first of its kind in Parliament’s history. As a father of four children, from my perspective, every birth is traumatic. With the circumstances and cases she describes in her speech, she absolutely makes a compelling case for the work she is doing. She challenges us to describe the support that families receive following the death of a mother in childbirth. We continue to work to address the recommendations set out in the UK Commission on Bereavement’s report. To do this, we have established a cross-Government bereavement working group, with representatives from over 10 Departments, to improve bereavement support and ensure that it is more cohesive across Government. I also thank, as she did, the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss and the all-party parliamentary group for birth trauma.

Many employers go above and beyond their statutory duties and provide paid or unpaid compassionate leave. We would always encourage individuals facing difficult personal circumstances and their employers to have an open discussion to determine what solution best balances the needs of both parties. It is vital that we continue to promote a culture of compassion and understanding to the select few employers that do not respond appropriately to their employees’ requests for time off work. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe challenged us to legislate in this area, and I am very sympathetic to his pleas. Our only nervousness was set out by Jim Shannon. We are always cognisant of the impact of any legislation on businesses. However, it is fair to say in this case, with the small number of people who are affected, that this is something that merits very close consideration, if I can put it that way.

In this Parliament, we have already supported several private Member’s Bills that will offer new entitlements and additional support for employed parents and families. This always has to be balanced against the burden on business and the Exchequer—the costs, as Justin Madders set out. For example, in July 2023, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 gained Royal Assent. That legislation will give millions of British workers more flexibility on where and when they work. Flexible working arrangements will be particularly useful to individuals trying to re-establish a routine after a difficult personal life event such as bereavement. We have also legislated in many other areas, including carer’s leave, neonatal care, predictable working patterns and the tipping Bill to enhance worker’s rights during this Parliament. As I say, given such a small cohort—sadly, 100 mothers lose their lives in this way—only 10 would be covered by the legislation that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe and the hon. Member for Ogmore are considering. I am happy to meet them to discuss their proposals in more detail.

We will of course continue to support the participation and progression of parents in the labour market without adding additional regulations where we can avoid doing so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe for organising today’s debate and to all those who contributed to it. I am keen to work with him to see how we can take matters forward.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe 5:15, 6 December 2023

I thank everyone for their participation in this debate. It is a difficult subject that has been handled with great sensitivity and care. I thank the Minister, whom I have met about this topic on multiple occasions. He has always given valuable advice to me, and I am extremely grateful for that. I also thank the shadow Minister, Justin Madders, for his non-partisan remarks and support. I thank Jim Shannon for his support for my Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Bereavement) Bill, which I introduced under the ten-minute rule. I know that, as a father and a grandfather himself, he is sincere in his support. I hope the Minister heard his words about how much cross-party support there is for a change.

I thank Chris Elmore, who is not in his place, for introducing the Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Bereavement) Bill as a private Member’s Bill. I also thank my hon. Friend Theo Clarke for her remarks about birth trauma, and about the help for mothers with their aftercare and healthcare added to the Government’s health strategy as well. I also thank Patricia Gibson for her contribution. She is clearly passionate about this topic.

I hope that I have been clear that a change in our laws must be made to ensure that leave and pay is a day one right for those who lose their partner in childbirth. Once again, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore, whose Bill seeks to bring that about. I will be sure to support his Bill through each of its stages in the House. Loss in childbirth, of a partner or child, is one of the most devastating circumstances a family can face. It is vital that we put in place all the support that we can.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered fatalities in childbirth and statutory leave and pay.

Sitting adjourned.