Jane Hunt – 2022 Speech on the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill

The speech made by Jane Hunt, the Conservative MP for Loughborough, in the House of Commons on 21 October 2022.

Gosh—follow that! That was extremely moving from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey). I am grateful to him for his articulation of his experience, which was superb.

I very much thank the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for introducing this important Bill, which will ensure better protections for women and families with new babies. It was a pleasure to work with him, albeit briefly, to help drive this Bill forward in my former role as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and I would like to emphasise my continued full support for it.

The hon. Member talked about being proud of this Bill, and I feel sure he is quite right to be so. I certainly feel proud to have been involved. The current Minister has done a huge amount of work to support it, as indeed did the previous Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully). He did a great deal of work on this, and also on many other Bills, which I will refer to a bit later. What we are looking at in the Bill is part of a matrix of workers’ rights, and it is right, good and proper that we are doing so.

It is shocking that, in 2022, new parents—mothers in particular—are still being forced out of their jobs through either dismissal or compulsory redundancy when others in the workplace do not face that, or are being treated so poorly that they feel they have no choice but to leave. A 2020 survey by Pregnant Then Screwed found that 11.2% of women on maternity leave had been made redundant, or expected to be made redundant, and 60.7% of them believed that their maternity leave was a factor in the decision. A more recent 2021 survey found that 20% of mothers have experienced discrimination from an employer.

I turn to the background to the Bill. Research published in 2016 commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that about one in nine mothers—11%—reported that they were either dismissed, made redundant or treated poorly and therefore had to leave their job. The publication of that research was followed by a Women and Equalities Committee inquiry and report on pregnancy and maternity discrimination in August 2016. One of its key findings was that mothers returning from maternity leave still faced discrimination. It therefore recommended that the Government should take steps to provide

“additional protection from redundancy for new and expectant mothers”.

It recommended that enhanced protections should apply throughout pregnancy and for six months after a woman’s return to work.

The Government published their response to the report in 2017. They acknowledged the scale of pregnancy and maternity discrimination experienced by new and expectant mothers and committed to

“consider further and bring forward proposals to ensure that the protections in place for those who are pregnant or returning from maternity leave are sufficient.”

The Committee said:

“We are persuaded that additional protection from redundancy for new and expectant mothers is required. The Government should implement a system similar to that used in Germany—

that was referred to earlier—

“under which such women can be made redundant only in specified circumstances. This protection should apply throughout pregnancy and maternity leave and for six months afterwards. The Government should implement this change within the next two years.”

In January 2019, the Government published a consultation seeking views on extending current redundancy protections for pregnant women and new parents. It recommended that the Government extend the current redundancy protection afforded to women during maternity leave under the Maternity and Paternity Leave etc. Regulations 1999 to cover a woman’s pregnancy and a period of up to six months after returning to work. The consultation also acknowledged that those returning from forms of leave comparable to maternity leave may have been away from work for long periods and therefore might similarly face discrimination or be prone to less favourable treatment.

The Government response, published in July 2019, made two commitments: to extend the redundancy protection period to include pregnancy and six months after a new mother has returned to work; and to provide the same enhanced protections to those returning from adoption leave and, crucially, shared parental leave.

It is unacceptable that anyone should be penalised for deciding to have a family. I welcome the fact that the Government have acknowledged the scale of pregnancy and maternity discrimination experienced by new and expectant mothers. Given the scale of the problem, it is clear that current legislation does not go far enough to protect new parents. We have talked about that in earlier speeches and interventions. The Bill caters for pregnant women working in all types of employment. There are women throughout the whole of the workplace, and all such people will benefit from the Bill.

I am particularly grateful that the Bill covers those on adoption leave and shared parental leave. The Bill dovetails wonderfully with the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill introduced in July by the Scottish National party hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), working closely with the Government and BEIS, as well as with the Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), which has yet to have its Second Reading, and the shared parental leave Bill that we have discussed. There is a matrix being formed of support and business guidance to ensure that businesses are helped to do the right thing to support their employees, women and parents. There should be no barrier to any parent having the opportunity to get to know their child and bond with them at the earliest opportunity.

I welcome the fact that in 2019 the Government consulted on the proposals to extend redundancy protections for pregnant women and new parents. The majority of responses showed support for measures to extend the redundancy protection period once a new mother had returned to work, and to extend protections to adoption and shared parental leave. That consultation was undertaken in January 2019 and BEIS reported

“that 6 months would be an adequate period of ‘return to work’ for redundancy protection purposes”,


“that protection should be extended to parents who have taken adoption leave and shared parental leave”,

which I think is crucial.

The Government responded to the consultation on 22 July 2019, including a series of commitments to increasing redundancy protections in this area, first to

“ensure the redundancy protection period applies from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant, whether orally or in writing;”

secondly, to

“extend the redundancy protection period for six months once a new mother has returned to work. We expect that this period will start immediately once maternity leave is finished;”

thirdly, to

“extend redundancy protection into a period of return to work for those taking adoption leave following the same approach as the extended protection being provided for those returning from maternity leave—it will be for six months;”,

and fourthly, to

“extend redundancy protection into a period of return to work for those taking shared parental leave, taking account of the following key principles and issues: the key objective of this policy is to help protect pregnant women and new mothers from discrimination; the practical and legal differences between shared parental leave and maternity leave mean that it will require a different approach; the period of extended protection should be proportionate to the amount of leave and the threat of discrimination; a mother should be no worse off if she curtails her maternity leave and then takes a period of Shared Parental Leave; the solution should not create any disincentives to take Shared Parental Leave”.

The Bill before us would enact those crucial changes and clearly has the backing of many. I recognise the cross-party agreement we have seen across the House; in my opinion, we are at our best when we have that. The Bill is a welcome extension of the framework of workers’ rights in general and crucially allows family leave to be included in legislation. The German model is a good one, but I believe we must reach a compromise between the needs of businesses and the needs of families and pregnant mothers.

Shaun Bailey

Looking at other models and the broader matrix my hon. Friend talks about, does she also believe that the legislative framework we are trying to bring in needs to be an evolving one? The likelihood is that we will need secondary legislation or even further primary legislation, but as part of that we must ensure that the framework continues to evolve and adapt as the workplace landscape changes.

Jane Hunt

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. This Bill provides a framework that the Secretary of State can adapt to meet future needs for both pregnant women and those on adoption or shared parental leave. It sets up a matrix that can be filled as required.

In conclusion, I welcome this Bill. I truly believe it is something we should do and are able to do. I feel that the Minister will do a wonderful job in bringing this all together and I wholeheartedly thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central for bringing the Bill forward.