Last year's budget provided for a weekly increase of £4 in the minimum rate of maternity benefit and a £10 increase in the maximum rate. These increases took effect from the beginning of May 2000, four weeks earlier than in previous years.
In line with commitments in the Government's action programme and in the programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has established a working group to review the maternity protection legislation. As entitlement to maternity benefit from my Department is contingent, in the first instance, on the woman qualifying for maternity leave, any changes to the maternity leave arrangements will have a corresponding impact on maternity benefit entitlements.
I understand that the work of the review group is now nearing completion.
All proposals relating to improvements in the maternity benefit scheme, including proposals arising from the current review, will be examined in the context of formulating proposals for the forthcoming budget, having regard to available resources and the Government's other priorities.