MPs Have Criticised The "Mess" Of "Narrow" Maternity Rights In Parliament
Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt
Minister Penny Mordaunt has admitted a new maternity bill for Cabinet ministers is "narrow" and "limited" as MPs lined up to criticise maternity provisions for Parliamentarians.
The landmark new maternity leave rights set to be afforded only to Cabinet ministers, but not other sitting MPs, were described as a response to a “mess” that still suggests maternity leave is a “perk”.
The proposed Ministerial and Maternity Allowances Bill is being debated today in a bid to ensure heavily pregnant Attorney General Suella Braverman can take six months paid leave without having to quit the Cabinet. If passed it would give future maternity provision for 115 people.
"The beneficiaries of this bill are very narrow," said Penny Mordaunt, the Paymaster General, told the Commons on introducing the Bill.
“I am very conscious that it relates to a sub-set of ministerial and opposition officers holders, a pay-roll of just 115 people. It is also solely concerned with maternity leave."
On paternity leave, she said that new fathers in Parliament might want to take more time off than the statutory two-weeks, and said this is being looked into.
“We will bring forward proposals to address those outstanding issues. Many of those issues we looked at putting in this bill – it has not been possible - but we do want to address them swiftly.”
However female MPs, including mother-of-the-house Harriet Harman, who had three children in her early years in the Commons in the 1980s, MP Stella Creasy who is pregnant with her second child, and Tory Caroline Nokes, lined up to highlight that the Bill had been drawn up to help one woman alone, and there are many outstanding issues when it comes to maternity rights.
Creasy said the Bill only benefits a very small number of women and is a missed opportunity to help others who have terrible maternity rights.
“We are sending a message that maternity leave should be a perk, conferred by your employer as a benefit, just as a company car would be,” she said.
“We must act for every women to have maternity leave. And give every woman in this place [Parliament] the same rights we are giving the Attorney General.”
Cabinet ministers are currently not entitled to paid maternity leave, and Braverman would have had to resign as the country’s chief law officer in order to take time off to look after her baby, or be demoted. Junior ministers can take maternity leave and keep their jobs.
Conservative MP and chair of the women and equalities select committee, Caroline Nokes, criticised the rules for being outdated and discriminatory.
“No woman, whoever she is, should resign from her job to take maternity leave. It is 2021. That principle is absolutely beyond question," she said.
“What a mess. That it is well into the 21st century before we have had to face this situation and why did it not cross nobody’s mind that we might need to address this, prior to having the urgency it now does?
“Is it really that unthinkable, that a secretary of state, or one of our law officers, becomes, heavens above – pregnant.”
Nokes said the Government Equalities Office should have the ability to forsee these issues and act before the come to a head, as in the Braverman case.
Swift action around adoption and surrogacy leave needs to be made, and she believes the Ministerial and Maternity Allowances Bill should be flexible enough to have paternity leave added into it now.
She said: “We have to do this now. We could have done a great deal more. There is still a great deal of work left for them to do on maternity rights but this is a crucial step for now.”
The Bill allows for people to take leave, receive full pay, and for another person to be paid to cover their work. Previously the limits on the number of people allowed to be paid salaries by the government meant that no-one could cover a minister's work and receive a salary while the original office holder is in post.
Included in the Bill is six-months paid maternity leave for the leader of the opposition, the chief whips of both houses and up to two assistant whips.
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