Politics UK: Culloden

Full Version: The Parenthood (Post-Natal Leave) Bill 1992
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Mr Speaker I beg leave to introduce the following Bill:


Mr Speaker,

This legislation is the next step in this Government's pro-family, pro-women, and pro-parent agenda. Under the previous, and splendid, leadership of my Right Honourable Friend the Member for Lewisham East this Government delivered two landmark cornerstones of the new deal for families that we pledged in the Family Hubs, delivered at the Budget by my Right Honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Children and Families' Commissioner Act, passed by this very House last year. We have taken tough new enforcement action, reducing the threat posed to our children by drugs with the passage of our Misuse of Drugs Act. Finally Mr Speaker we have passed legislation to protect women from sexual assault with the Sexual Offences Act, providing both clear prosecution guidance and greater statutory rights for the victims of sexual assault such as statutory anonomity.

Mr Speaker it is against this backdrop of societal progress that the Government moves to present the next phase of our plan for families, women, and parents, the Parenthood (Post-Natal Leave) Bill. This Bill is aimed specifically at families experiencing the most wonderful joy in the whole of creation, the birth of their child. It is aimed at allowing time for the mother to bond with her child and for the father to support them both, it is aimed at providing the happy couple with time to prepare for the child's arrival, and it is aimed at providing a generally less stressful time before, during, and after labour. Mr Speaker this Government is protecting the nuclear family, so central to our society, and encouraging it to flourish during the early, and crucial, bonding time for the new unit. I commend this Bill to the House and beg that it be printed and read a second time.

Second Reading!
Mr. Speaker, I thank the Prime Minister for offering this bill to the House. However, I do have to note, yet again, that this bill, like so many others introduced by this Government and its predecessors, does not go far enough in fixing the problems we are dealing with.

Maternity and paternity leave are great - Labour has been calling for the enactment of things like this for years, but this bill would only offer a little over three months. Comparatively, Sweden offers a whole year of parental leave across the board, allowing both parents to take their share in childrearing and bonding.

Additionally, the gap between maternity and paternity leave is troubling, as, while it certainly gives women in the workplace one step forward, I am concerned that it might also be one step back, as this increased amount of time compared to men might make them be seen as a burden by employers, especially as it is still legal in the workplace to discriminate against women on the grounds of pregnancy. Before I can support this bill wholeheartedly, I must ask the Right Honourable gentleman to support the following amendment:

adding the following as "Section 3 - Ending Gender and Pregnancy Discrimination" and renumbering accordingly:

1. Discrimination against women on the job market or in the workplace due to their gender and/or ability and potential to give birth is illegal.
Mr Speaker I welcome the Right Honourable Gentleman to the House and welcome his cautious support for the Bill before it today.

Mr Speaker I draw the attention of the Right Honourable Gentleman to Section 1(1)(a) of the Sex Discrimination Act which reads: "(1) A person discriminates against a woman in any circumstances relevant for the purposes of any provision of this Act if— (a)on the ground of her sex he treats her less favourably than he treats or would treat a man." Now Mr Speaker I believe I speak for the whole House, and the vast body of medical science and fact, when I say that it is patently ridiculous to suggest that anyone but a woman could possibly give birth, I suspect I could walk into every maternity ward in the country and find the only men there would be fathers or staff. To my mind then that means that the law when it comes to pregnancy related discrimination is covered by this section of this Act. Indeed this legislation covers direct discrimination, such as firing a woman for being pregnant, but also covers indirect discrimination such as the blanket statement that people who are pregnant need not apply. Anti-pregnancy discrimination is by its very definition anti-woman discrimination as well as anti-family and frankly indecent, there can be no room for it in modern society which is why I am pleased that it is covered by existing common and legislative law.

Mr Speaker the test for discrimination is the "but for" test and it was laid out in the case of James v Eastleigh Borough Council, the crux of it can be described simply as "but for the protected characteristic would this person have been treated this way". So in this case it would be "but for this worker being a woman would she have been fired?" The obvious answer being no because men can't get pregnant. I know as well the disdain that the party opposite have for Europe but here is a great example of why we must be in Europe and leading it because there is also the 1990 ECJ decision of Dekker v Stichting Vormingscentrum voor Jonge Volwassen (VJV-Centrum) Plus. This landmark judgement, which is binding on all EEC/EU Member States and their courts, reaffirms the illegality of pregnancy-based discrimination and makes it easier to prove such discrimination and act to counteract it. There is further ECJ caselaw outlawing the treatment of a pregnant lady in the same way as a sick man and claiming that the two situations are comparable, pregnancy is not illness after all and should not be treated as such.

Mr Speaker I appreciate the Right Honourable Gentleman's attempt to strengthen the legislation but the unfortunate fact of the matter is that such a clause is unnecessary because it is already covered by UK statute, UK common law, and European case law so I reject his amendment as unnecessary.
Mr. Speaker, 

I would like to take time to thank both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition for their contributions to this debate: we must be unashamed to declare that women’s rights and the rights of parents should be a priority in this and the next Parliament. That the Prime Minister has introduced the bill and it has been responded to by the Leader of the Opposition shows that there has been significant progress on all sides. That is to be applauded. 

I do think, however, more female voices need to be heard in this debate, and I do call on more women Members of this House to speak out on their experience and thoughts if they can do so. 

It should come as no surprise that I echo the sentiments of the Leader of the Opposition wholeheartedly. Now, the Prime Minister and I have discussed this issue extensively outside of the House, so this may sound like a broken record but I did feel it necessary that the House be informed of the developing debate: 

I have made clear I disagree with the Prime Minister’s assessment that all the relevant safeguards against pregnancy discrimination are in place. While his assessment of European law is wholly correct, the examples he has cited in this House in regard to British law are related to sex discrimination, not pregnancy discrimination. 

The Prime Minister’s appeal to common sense is not what I wish to object to. But however much he may appeal to it, there are still women’s rights campaigners and legal experts who have expressed anxiety that, in the statute book and in British law, an employer may attempt to argue a woman’s pregnancy is a separate entity to her sex. And thus, that they can discriminate against her on the basis of pregnancy. That may be laughable to Members of this House as it is to me – but it remains a possibility. 

Labour has proposed an amendment to address this. I do not completely accept the Prime Minister’s argument thereafter that this will spread rights and distribute them in a confusing or disjointed manner. However, I will not let silly technical squabbles prevent me from congratulating the government on taking such important steps. 

The Prime Minister has also, to his benefit, acknowledged these concerns from women campaigners and has said he will look to redress this. I don’t particularly care how he redresses it, I just care that the problem is solved. Labour’s amendment is a quick and easy solution the Prime Minister can take, though if he would rather find other means of doing so for some reason I cannot explain I will not begrudge him.
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