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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 21 December 2016

Agenda: Oath, Portfolio Question Time, Premature Babies (Maternity and Paternity Leave), Illegal Puppy Trade, Protecting Scotland’s Livestock, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Premature Babies (Maternity and Paternity Leave)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-03029, in the name of Alison Johnstone, on extending maternity and paternity leave for parents of premature babies. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the campaign, the Smallest Things, which is calling on the UK Government to extend maternity and paternity leave and statutory maternity pay for parents of babies who are born prematurely; understands that, according to research by Bliss, there are an estimated 5,800 babies born every year in Scotland who require specialist neonatal hospital care; further understands that this extended period of care can have a serious impact on the health, wellbeing and financial security of the families concerned, including those in Lothian, and notes the introduction of the Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill in the House of Commons, which is a private member’s bill that seeks to extend leave in these circumstances.


Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I am very glad to have the opportunity to lead this debate. I thank Catriona Ogilvy and Karen Stirrat, whose campaigns and petitions have gathered so much support. I also thank Bliss Scotland, the national charity supporting premature and sick babies, and the many local charities that help families and raise funds for neonatal units, including the members of Simpsons Special Care Babies in Lothian who are here in the public gallery.

I want to focus on two important matters: the Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill, which is a private member’s bill in the House of Commons that seeks to extend maternity and paternity leave and pay for the parents of premature babies; and the steps that we can take in Scotland to improve financial support for families whose babies are born prematurely or require neonatal care.

I express my heartfelt support for Steve Reed’s private member’s bill in the Commons. Legislation relating to parental leave and pay is currently a reserved matter, but I am sure that many of us here wish every success to the campaign to extend parental leave and pay for the parents of premature babies. I understand that the bill will seek to extend paid maternity leave when babies are born before 37 weeks, allowing an additional week of statutory maternity pay for every full week the baby is born before term. That additional maternity leave could be used as shared parental leave between mothers and fathers.

Campaigners have been calling for such changes to parental leave legislation for years. Currently, parents of premature babies are not entitled to any additional maternity or paternity leave in the difficult, distressing, unexpected period between a premature birth and a baby’s anticipated due date, which is time spent in a neonatal hospital ward. Research by Bliss estimates that families with babies in neonatal care can be faced with an average additional expense of around £218 a week, when extra costs such as childcare and travel are taken into account. Those costs can impact on the number of visits that parents can have with their premature baby.

Premature birth can also mean that mothers lose out on their last few weeks, which are the weeks when they were expecting to work for the wages that families rely on when they are budgeting for their baby. Families often count on those savings to cover the gap between the end of statutory maternity pay and returning to work. That degree of financial pressure can force parents to return to work earlier than they would like and before they feel their baby is ready for childcare. In some cases, it might not be appropriate for a baby to go into childcare. A baby born very prematurely—between 28 and 31 weeks of pregnancy—might spend, on average, 44 days in neonatal care, which is over six weeks in hospital: six weeks of parents not knowing when or if they will be able to take their tiny baby home.

New mothers can take 52 weeks of leave, but statutory maternity pay is available for only 39 of those weeks. A mum of a very premature baby returning to work after paid leave finishes would have had, on average, just 33 weeks at home with the baby, a far shorter time than the year of leave that many parents plan to take. Premature babies can take longer to reach developmental milestones during maternity leave. It cannot be right or fair that parental leave in the United Kingdom does not accommodate that difference. Additional paid parental leave is already available to parents of premature babies in a number of European countries, including Finland and Spain.

Extending leave and pay is the simplest and fairest way to address those problems. However, if the bill in Westminster does not progress, it is incumbent on us here in Scotland to listen to the clear message that campaigners are sending and find alternative ways of supporting the parents of premature babies and, indeed, parents of all babies in neonatal care. I ask the Scottish Government to do all that it can to deliver financial support to all parents whose babies need prolonged hospital care.

National health service paediatric hospitals lead excellent work that supports those who need help with the unexpected cost of hospital care. However, the Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Parliament the power to provide assistance with maternity expenses, and we have the power to create some new benefits. I ask the Scottish Government to heed the campaign and make support for parents in those circumstances as robust as possible.

We do not have the latitude to replace pay, but we could introduce a premature birth maternity grant or a neonatal care maternity grant to help parents with additional maternity expenses and take the financial shock out of a situation that no parent can prepare for. Let us build on the good work that is happening with the baby box scheme.

Sadly, up to 40 per cent of the mothers of premature babies are affected by postnatal depression. I am glad that the draft mental health strategy makes perinatal mental health a priority and that we will finally have a managed clinical network for perinatal mental health, but I would like more clarity on how front-line perinatal mental health services will be resourced. I note that Wales has already ring fenced Barnett consequentials that are related to perinatal mental health. The forthcoming review of maternity and neonatal services should highlight opportunities to improve maternal health.

Boosting the income of pregnant women is one of the best ways to improve their nutrition, mental health and overall wellbeing, and the healthier, wealthier children initiative is a well-evidenced approach to income maximisation. Midwives and health visitors have helped more than 10,000 families to gain over £11 million in benefits that they were entitled to, but which they did not know about. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has already given me a commitment to roll that out across the country. The urgent need to deliver that is made only too clear by today’s annual report on child poverty in Scotland, which shows that 20,000 more children lived in poverty in 2014-15. That is a 14 per cent rise.

The parents of premature babies in particular face financial uncertainty while being deprived of valuable and precious time bonding with their new babies. Too many are forced to choose between putting their babies in childcare before they think that they are developmentally ready, or leaving work altogether. Extending paid leave for those parents is a matter of equality.

We cannot simply leave the matter to Westminster. We must look for alternative ways of supporting those families while we continue to push the UK Government to do the right thing. Let us do all that we can as a Parliament to help those parents and families.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I congratulate Alison Johnstone on bringing this debate to the chamber and, of course, I commend Catriona Ogilvy for launching her Smallest Things campaign and Steve Reed MP for introducing his bill in the House of Commons.

As we are all aware, employment matters, including parental leave, are reserved. The UK Parliament will have to decide whether and in what form to pass the proposed bill. However, it is still worth discussing these matters in the Scottish Parliament, and the debate rightly acknowledges that.

I also pay tribute to everyone who is involved with Bliss. I recognise the excellent work that it does to support families who are dealing with premature and vulnerable newborns.

Most of my constituents who give birth do so at Crosshouse hospital in Kilmarnock or at the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley. It is reassuring to know that Bliss has a presence in both hospitals through Bliss champions, who provide information and emotional support to parents whose babies are in neonatal units, and that the support does not stop the moment that their babies leave the hospital.

Even in ideal circumstances, welcoming a newborn baby into the world is an intense and exhausting experience, but how often have mothers said that all the trauma of labour and delivery melts away the moment that they hold their new baby in their arms for the first time? For around 5,800 babies each year, their parents do not get to experience that euphoric feeling, as their baby requires immediate neonatal care simply to keep it alive as soon as it is born. Instead, there is the heartache of not being able to hold the baby straight away and of not knowing whether their child will survive and how the premature arrival will affect the child’s development as it grows up. In some cases, the mother will require medical care, which exacerbates the stress that the family is already under.

Aside from the desire that parents feel to be close to their newborn baby, the importance of early physical contact cannot be overstated, as it has been proven to have a significant and far-reaching impact on the child’s mental and social development.

As a father, I was particularly struck to learn that nearly 70 per cent of fathers of premature babies end up having to return to work before their baby has even left the hospital’s neonatal unit. I am therefore glad that the importance of the presence of babies’ fathers is acknowledged in the scope of the bill.

Although parental leave is not devolved, there are things that the Scottish Government can do to increase the uptake of parental leave and reduce the trauma that often accompanies premature births. The Scottish ministers are considering ways to encourage parents to take up more of the parental leave to which they are entitled under the existing legislative framework. They are also in the process of carrying out a review of maternal and neonatal services—as Alison Johnstone pointed out—with a view to improving the care that is provided.

After extensive consultation with a variety of experts, patients and other stakeholders, the review group is now finalising its report, which is expected to be presented to ministers any day now. Indeed, perhaps the minister already has the report. I look forward to reading its findings and recommendations so that services can be further developed to meet the changing needs of babies and their parents.

When it comes to the start of a life, having excellent neonatal care alone is not enough. Babies need to be with their parents, and it is simply unfair that a premature date of birth eats into parental leave. A baby born at 28 weeks will on average spend the first 44 days of its life in a neonatal unit. One would think that a baby who has spent the first three months struggling to stay alive needs their parents to be around for a longer time, not a shorter time, once life really begins. With none of the euphoria that I described earlier, does it not seem unfair and damaging to send parents back to work three months earlier than other parents after their due date? That is no doubt why there are such high levels of postnatal depression, as Alison Johnstone mentioned.

People who have cheated death are often said to be living on borrowed time after that point in life. Taking the view that premature babies live on borrowed time until the day when they were meant to be born, starting the clock on parental leave any sooner than that simply makes no sense. [Interruption.]

I urge the Scottish Government to do all that it can to assist the parents of premature babies.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Gibson. I think I heard the sound of a naughty mobile phone, but it has no doubt gone away.


Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I warmly welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I thank Alison Johnstone for lodging the motion for a members’ business debate.

As a father of three young children, I recognise the supreme importance of parents being close to their children at birth and during the earliest stages of their development. I for one will never forget that moment of a child being born, with that heady mix of emotions: relief, elation, joy and exhaustion—even as a bystander.

For many parents, the days and weeks afterwards are exciting and daunting times, involving ensuring that their newborn receives round-the-clock care. We have been very lucky. All our children were born at term, and they were born healthy. I was able to hold my children and to give them that physical contact that Kenneth Gibson spoke about.

For some babies, sadly, much more support is required. Babies born with a severe or minor disability—and in this instance babies born prematurely—of course require extra attention, not just from their parents but also from clinical specialists. Frequently, they require intensive hospital care.

According to figures from Bliss Scotland, about 5,800 babies are born in Scotland every year who require specialist neonatal care. Almost half of that number are born prematurely. Depending on the time of birth, neonatal care can last anywhere between four and 93 days. It is therefore vital that our NHS has the facilities and staff who are able to ensure that babies requiring additional neonatal care receive the best possible treatment.

We are incredibly fortunate to live not only in a country where parental leave is supported but in a country that affords both parents the opportunity to take a period of leave from work so that they can care for their new offspring. For many years it was only the mother who was entitled to a full period of maternity leave, but the UK Government introduced the shared parental leave law, which allows parents the opportunity to share leave over a 50-week period. Moreover, if a child is born prematurely, statutory maternity leave commences the day after the child is born.

We are also fortunate to live in a country where leave is supported financially. Working parents are able to receive 90 per cent of average weekly earnings before tax for the first six weeks and thereafter either approximately £140 per week or 90 per cent of average weekly earnings. I fundamentally believe that those things are the sign of a country, a government and a society that support parents when they need it most.

Parental leave is of course a matter reserved to the UK Government, but we on these benches will do our utmost to ensure that the terms of the motion and the sentiments expressed in the chamber today reach the relevant people in Westminster.

Although the motion concentrates on parental leave, it is worth recalling that there is also an issue around funding the right neonatal and maternity services in our NHS. Much can be done. For example, in England, funding has been invested to improve facilities in maternity and neonatal care units across the country, creating projects that allow parent accommodation to be built, with bedrooms, kitchens, en suite facilities and so on, all designed to improve the environment for the parents and families of children receiving vital neonatal care.

I recognise that maternity staff in NHS Scotland do an incredible job in supporting babies and their families and I commend charities such as Bliss for all the work that they do in this area. However, let us ensure that our NHS here in Scotland receives adequate funding, that it has the staff to cope with increasing demand, that parents can access maternity services as close to home as possible and that our NHS hospitals have the necessary equipment to care for children who require specialist care at birth.

I hope that all the speeches in this debate will feed into the overall debate about how we support parents and babies. In that vein, I eagerly anticipate the Scottish Government’s review of maternity and neonatal services so that we can plan how we will deliver this kind of care in the years ahead.


Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Alison Johnstone for lodging her motion and so paving the way for this important debate.

It is often said that the measure of a society is how it treats its very oldest and its very youngest members. There are no younger members of our society than babies who are born prematurely in neonatal care, so the treatment of them and of their parents should be a matter of concern to us all. One of the single most important roles of this Parliament is to give voice to the voiceless, so let us speak up for the rights of those who may not yet speak and let us listen to those whose voices all too often go unheard.

In Scotland, nearly 6,000 babies are born each year who are admitted to a neonatal unit for life-saving care. For those babies, there is usually an early life of operations and high-dependency care, so there is an early life spent not at home but in hospital. As well as the emotional trauma that that brings many families, it means extra costs to travel to and from hospital and, in some cases, for additional childcare. For many, all too often it is a story of wages forgone because one or both parents can no longer meet the demands of their job and they go on unpaid leave. For some, ultimately, it is not just wages that are forgone, but jobs and careers too, as too many parents are forced to give up work or, indeed, are dismissed.

More costs and reduced income is a combination that plunges too many families into debt, and the cost, of course, is not just pecuniary. Four out of 10 mothers of premature babies will suffer postnatal depression compared with one in 10 mothers of full-term babies, and that is not the end of it. Let me share with Parliament this afternoon the real-life example of constituents of mine, Donna and Gavin McColl and their daughter Mirren.

Mirren was born 10 weeks early and required two major operations. As a result, she was in hospital for the first four months of her life. Although Mirren is now at home, she still has to attend hospital regularly, with three hospital appointments this month and two next month, at Wishaw general, Monklands district general, the Royal hospital for sick children and Hairmyres. As Donna McColl said to me this week,

“hospital staff are great at keeping in touch, however community based i.e. health visitors and clubs are not prepared or trained enough.”

She also highlighted that the

“Aftercare and support available to families is poor.”

She takes Mirren to clubs—including massage, music and sensory classes—to help to minimise any developmental delay, but they all have to be paid for; none is free.

Because Mirren was in hospital for the first 16 weeks of her life, as Donna describes it, only five of her nine months’ maternity leave have been spent with her daughter. That is the central point of this debate. The law on maternity and paternity leave assumes that babies are born at full term, but so many are not. That is why I, too, am pleased that a Labour MP, Steve Reed, has introduced the Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill in the House of Commons. The bill will go for a second reading in March next year and I am pleased that it has cross-party support, although I gently mention that no SNP MPs are recorded as having supported it at first reading—I am sure that that will be corrected in time for the second reading. In my view, the bill should have the support of every right-thinking member of Parliament and every right-thinking member of our society. As Alison Johnstone pointed out, it is not without international precedent.

Presiding Officer, I conclude by paying tribute to Bliss, which has campaigned since 1979 for babies who are born prematurely. It is—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Yes—you must conclude, I am afraid. You have gone over four minutes.

Richard Leonard

Okay. Thank you.


John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank the various groups who supplied briefings for the debate for those and for the outstanding support that they provide, which members have mentioned. I congratulate my colleague Alison Johnstone on securing the debate.

In a previous life, I was involved in dealing with the terms and conditions of police officers, which included maternity and paternity leave, in relation to which we had to put into practice hard-fought-for terms and conditions. It was a very male-dominated environment, particular in the senior ranks, and implementing the changes required a sizeable change in attitudes.

To this day, terms and conditions can be regarded as politically correct, trendy or downright frivolous, but many things that were regarded in that way in the past are now mainstream, such as those in relation to protected duties and reasonable adjustments. Things are far from perfect, but there has been progress in the past few decades, which I hope continues.

It is important that knowledge and understanding go hand in hand with such progress. Parents of premature babies are not entitled to additional maternity or paternity leave. Donald Cameron set out what parents are entitled to, but the significant point is that there are additional burdens and pressures on parents of premature babies, and the commendable proposal that is being considered at Westminster is for additional leave entitlement.

Dads are currently entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave. Any objective assessment of the impact of the Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill, if it were to be passed, would demonstrate that the beneficiaries would be not just the mothers, the fathers and the babies but the siblings, all of whom will require physical, psychological and social support. It is also the case that the approach would benefit employers—not that that is how I view the issue.

Many of the problems of delivering healthcare are compounded by rurality, and the proposed approach would go some way towards offsetting some of the challenges in that regard—I accept that there are challenges regardless of geography.

Scotland rightly lauds the importance that it accords child development. I hope that the bill will be supported for the right reason: in the interests of the wellbeing of parents and premature children. All the evidence is that a positive approach to terms and conditions reaps benefits for everyone, including progressive employers.

There is talk of the future introduction of shared parental leave and what that will mean. The approach will bring challenges. I agree that Scotland needs to listen to the clear message that campaigners are sending and find person-specific alternatives. We forget at our peril that the parents whom we are dealing with are individuals with individual circumstances and support needs. We can improve the law for the parents of not just premature babies but all babies in neonatal care.

I was reassured to hear Donald Cameron say that he will share the content of this debate with colleagues. That is important. Until he said that, I was very ready to intervene to ask what his position is. It is positive that members are making suggestions.

When I was researching the topic for this debate, I found an article from The Guardian entitled, “Mothers of premature babies also need care—as I know too well”. The article was written last year by Joanna Moorhead, who concluded by saying:

“It’s not the time to fall apart, and a little bit of support can make all the difference.”

The proposed measure could help many people, and I commend Alison Johnstone for bringing it to our attention today.


Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I congratulate Alison Johnstone on securing today’s debate, in which I am pleased to take part.

I commend the excellent work of the staff of Bliss Scotland, whom I was pleased to meet recently. As the motion says, around 5,800 babies who need specialist neonatal care are born in Scotland each year, with half of those being born prematurely. Bliss Scotland plays an important role in supporting many families with sick and premature babies, including in the Lothian region that Alison Johnstone and I represent. I pay tribute to all those who work for and volunteer for this valuable charity, including—as Kenny Gibson outlined—the Bliss champions who work in hospitals across the country.

I recognise that parents of sick and premature babies who require extended periods of specialist hospital care will often experience immense worry and stress and face substantial extra financial pressures. Many parents in those circumstances talk about the difficulties of spending weeks or months in hospital unexpectedly when they had been looking forward to bonding with their new babies at home. The impact of that on parents’ mental health is really significant and is something that we also need to mention in the context of the debate.

We will all have genuine sympathy for parents in these circumstances. I am also very aware that many premature babies will have on-going health problems that make it more difficult for parents to return to work, with many babies requiring repeated hospital appointments after they come home.

Although statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks across the UK, parents who have been employees with the same employer for over a year have the right to a separate entitlement of parental leave of 18 weeks unpaid leave per parent per child up to a child’s 18th birthday, of which up to four weeks can be taken in one year.

I am aware that some employers—who are to be commended—already try to be as flexible as possible with parents of premature babies by offering extra compassionate leave, sick leave, or the use of annual leave. However, I accept that parents, as well as Bliss and other charities, want to see more than just those informal arrangements and that we need to look at an extension of formal maternity and paternity leave and statutory maternity pay.

As Donald Cameron said, these matters are clearly within the remit of the UK Government. In light of today’s debate and ahead of the second reading of the member’s bill on this subject in the Commons next March, I will also be writing to the UK Government, asking it to take account of this debate and whether it will be conducting any further review in this area.

Although we must consider very carefully the financial consequences of extending statutory maternity pay and the potential impact of that on business—especially small businesses in Scotland—there are strong arguments that more can and should be done to support the specific needs and requirements of parents with premature babies.

I congratulate my colleague Alison Johnstone on bringing this important issue to Parliament and I hope that we can make further progress in the new year.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Briggs. Mr Balfour—I can give you two minutes, if that is all right. That is all the time I have left.


Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

I thank Alison Johnstone for her speech. I want to make just a few brief comments, as someone who has experienced here in Edinburgh the care that we have been talking about. The experience that my wife and I had at the Simpson centre for reproductive health was exemplary. We were fortunate to have twin girls, who were born at 34 weeks. It came as no surprise that they needed to be born early, but when they were rushed away into special care, the sense of loss and the fear that came with that were great. However, the care that they received, and that we received as a couple, was exemplary. I congratulate the Simpson centre on the support that it has given to many parents, and I congratulate Bliss on its work.

As Alison Johnstone, Kenneth Gibson and others have said, often when children are born prematurely the mother suffers greater postnatal depression. There are many good organisations across Scotland that offer support. Here in the Lothians, Juno perinatal mental health support has been offering volunteer support since 2015 by mothers who have suffered from the condition and have then gone on to support other mothers. Such organisations need to be welcomed and supported.

Clearly the birth of a child is the highlight of most parents’ lives. It is so important to have support and help. As my two colleagues Miles Briggs and Donald Cameron will, I will be writing to the UK Government to ask it to look at the issues that have been raised today. Thank you, Presiding Officer, for fitting me in.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you very much, Mr Balfour. I am glad that I managed to fit you in. Jamie Hepburn will respond for the Government.


The Minister for Employability and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

I join other members in thanking Alison Johnstone for securing the debate. I also thank members who have spoken in the debate and people in the gallery who have come specifically to witness the debate.

I acknowledge the importance of the matter that we are debating. I doubt that any of us in the chamber will not know a family that has been touched by the experience of premature birth. Donald Cameron and Kenny Gibson spoke of their experiences as fathers and the early contact with their children. I am a father, too: I know how important that early contact was for me. Our hearts go out to people who are denied that experience; it is incumbent on us to consider how we can better support such individuals.

The motion is in two parts: one refers to the Smallest Things campaign, which I will turn to in a minute, and the other refers to the Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill, which has been introduced in the House of Commons. I understand that the second reading of the bill was originally scheduled for last week, but there was a debate on the Istanbul convention—the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women—on that day, so the second reading will now take place in March. I will watch those proceedings with considerable interest. We have not seen the full details of the bill, but the Administration in Scotland is sympathetic to the general fair-work focus within it.

I welcome the Smallest Things campaign and the research that has been undertaken by Bliss, which recognises the specific extra challenges that parents of premature babies can face. Virtually every member who has spoken touched on those challenges. Members have spoken of the review of maternity and neonatal services that was announced by the Minister for Public Health in early 2015. Bliss was involved in that review, which examined the choice, quality and safety of maternity and neonatal services in the light of current evidence and best practice, in consultation with the workforce, the health boards and—of course—people who had been patients and had utilised such services. Mr Gibson asked whether I have had sight of the report. I confirm that I have not, but I know that the health ministers will update Parliament in due course on what it says.

As members have rightly reflected, the Scottish Government does not have responsibility for entitlement to maternity leave or statutory maternity and paternity pay. However, we do not let such things inhibit us in trying to make improvements; I have referred to the review of maternity and neonatal services. We also want to utilise some of the newly devolved social security powers that are coming our way and have set out that we will put in place a best start grant to replace the current sure start maternity grant. The new grant will provide increased financial support to eligible families with young children at key points throughout the early years of the child’s life, which will mean significant improvements in support for young families.

Starting in two pilot areas from 1 January, with roll-out across Scotland from the summer of 2017, every newborn in Scotland will receive a baby box of essential items, including clothes, nappies, bedding, books and baby-care items. That initiative is very much informed by the experience of other European countries—which Alison Johnstone spoke about—especially Finland, which has seen a significant reduction in infant mortality largely because of such initiatives.

We are taking other actions as well. One area that is not our responsibility but that will become our responsibility in due course is tribunal fees. We have received information from the Ministry of Justice that shows a reduction of nearly 76 per cent in the number of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination cases that were brought to tribunals over July and September this year on the number in the same period in 2012, when there were no fees. I am not sure whether that constitutes a failure of policy or a success: it depends on how one views the motivation of the UK Government in introducing the measure. Of course, we disagree with its direction and we have committed to abolishing fees for employment tribunals when we are able to do so.

We will also seek to influence areas that are not in our control. One example is pregnancy and maternity discrimination, on which research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that around one in nine mothers reported being dismissed, being made compulsorily redundant or being treated so poorly that they felt that they had to leave their job. That is why I am chairing the working group that we have set up.

Alison Johnstone

I appreciate that it is a reserved matter, but for the sake of absolute clarity, does the minister agree that, as a matter of equity, maternity leave and pay should be extended for the parents of premature babies and those in neonatal care?

Jamie Hepburn

That is not our area of responsibility, but I believe that it should be. I have already said that we will be looking very closely at the legislation that is being taken forward by Mr Reed in the UK Parliament. Of course, the devil is always in the detail, but as far as the broad direction of travel is concerned, if I was not clear enough in setting out my sympathies with that direction, I hope that Alison Johnstone’s intervention has allowed me to rectify the matter.

We have set up with a range of partners a working group on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and I will be chairing that group as we take forward our work. To get to the nub of the issue, we do not want to bemoan the fact that we do not have power over certain areas—as we are often accused of doing—such as paid maternity leave, but we do have an agenda to embed a more flexible approach by employers, which is why we fund Family Friendly Working Scotland. As Miles Briggs rightly said, some employers are good at that, and others are not so good, so we will continue to push that agenda.

I assure members that, where we have responsibility, we will do all that we can to make improvements, and where we do not have responsibility, we will still do all that we can and will always be willing to explore such matters with the UK Government to ensure that this Parliament’s voice is heard on matters for which Westminster still has responsibility.