The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill 2022-23 is a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by SNP MP Stuart C McDonald who came first in the Private Members’ Bill ballot for the 2022-23 session.
The Bill had its first reading on 15 June 2022 and passed second reading on 15 July 2022. The Bill completed its committee stage on 7 September 2022, with four amendments, all in the name of the sponsoring member and agreed without division. It is listed for remaining stages on 20 January 2023.
The explanatory notes for the Bill were drafted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
There have been calls since at least 2014 to extend parental leave and pay for parents of premature babies in receipt of neonatal care. Two charities dedicated to supporting parents with premature babies, Bliss and The Smallest Things, submitted a joint petition calling for the Government to extend parental leave for parents of premature babies in 2015. Both Bliss and The Smallest Things have continued campaigning on this issue in the years since.
In 2019 the Government launched a consultation, Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families which included proposals to introduce neonatal care leave and pay, the former as a day one right and the latter subject to the same service requirements as maternity pay. The Government responded to this part of the consultation in March 2020, committing to introduce neonatal care leave and pay.
Measures to introduce neonatal care leave and pay were included in the Employment Bill proposed in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech. The Employment Bill was not ultimately introduced in the 2019-21 session and did not reappear in the 2021 or 2022 Queen’s Speeches. However, then Labour Markets Minister Paul Scully stated in response to a Parliamentary Question on 25 May 2022 that the Government remained committed to introducing neonatal leave and pay.
What does the Bill do?
The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill would introduce two new rights: neonatal care leave and statutory neonatal care pay. Both rights would require the Secretary of State to pass regulations in order to bring them into force and specify the details of how they operate.
The right to neonatal leave would be a day one right, available to all employees. It would apply to parents of children who spend at least one week in neonatal care. The maximum duration of the leave and how and when it must be taken would be set by regulations but would be at least one week and the period in which it has be taken would last a minimum of 68 weeks starting from the date of the child’s birth.
The right to neonatal care pay during periods of neonatal care leave would be available to all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service and whose weekly earnings are at or above the lower earnings limit (currently £123 per week for 2022-23). The level and duration of pay would be set by regulations but the limit that could be claimed would be at least 12 weeks.
The new rights would apply to England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland where employment law is a devolved matter.
Second reading and committee stage
At second reading on 15 July 2022, the Bill’s sponsor, Stuart C McDonald, explained the purpose of the Bill as being to ensure that parents of premature babies are able to be present to care for their babies, on and after being on neonatal units, without suffering financial hardship. All members who spoke were in favour of the principle of the Bill and some shared stories of their own, relatives or constituents’ experiences with premature babies. The Bill passed second reading without a division.
The Bill was considered by a Public Bill Committee on 7 September 2022. Four amendments were tabled in the name of the Bill’s sponsor, Stuart C McDonald. Amendments 1-3 remove a Henry VIII power to amend primary legislation by regulation in Clause 2 of the Bill, converting it into a power to amend secondary legislation only. Amendment 4 changes the definition of “relevant week” to better align with other forms of statutory leave.
All contributions were in favour of the Bill and all four amendments were agreed to without division. Some members raised concerns about the length of time the Government was expecting to take for implementation of the Bill.