On Friday 11th May the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill was debated in the House of Commons and I was present in the Chamber to lend my support.
The Bill will give a right to parental bereavement leave and ensure employees with a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous service will be eligible for statutory parental bereavement pay. For the first time, employed parents who lose a child under the age of 18 will have the right to two weeks’ paid leave to allow them time to grieve. The Bill delivers on a commitment made in the Conservative Party Manifesto during last year’s election, which was to "ensure all families who lose a baby are given the bereavement support they need, including a new entitlement to child bereavement leave."
The debate focused on proposed amendments to the Bill which covered issues such as the period in which the leave could be taken and the age of the children covered by the legislation.
I expressed his sympathy for allowing flexibility on when the leave could be taken, telling the House that grief affects all of us differently, and while it may suit some bereaved parents to take two weeks off work in one go, this will not be true of them all. I also pointed out that the intent of the Bill is to provide additional support to parents mourning a loss and in order to be truly beneficial, there should be some flexibility in the entitlement so that parents could use it in a way that best suits their individual needs.
I acknowledged that the desire for flexibility should be balanced against the need to minimise the disruption to employers and the practical considerations of arranging payment of the statutory pay if the leave is not taken in one go. I mentioned the Government’s ongoing consultation on the regulations to accompany this Bill, and urged them to consider carefully responses on this point.
I also expressed sympathy for those who were calling for the definition of children to be broadened so that parents mourning the loss of a child that was over the age of 18 would be covered by the Bill too. I told Ministers that broadening the scope of the legislation was worthy of their consideration, especially given the comparatively small cost it would incur to the Exchequer when considered as part of the Government’s overall expenditure. I did say, however, that if it is determined that a maximum age should be set in the legislation, my instinct was that 18 is the right age at which to draw the line.
I hope I never have to go through the anguish and pain that far too many of my colleagues and constituents have had to go through by losing a child but I think it is absolutely right that we passed this law today to show that we stand with them, and with anybody who suffers this huge pain in the future, and that the Government is on their side.