The government has agreed to change the wording in its new maternity leave legislation from referring to “pregnant people” to “mothers” after the phrasing was rejected by the House of Lords – despite gender-neutral language being government convention.
The Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill would guarantee up to six months’ leave on full pay.
The new bill being fast-tracked through parliament means the attorney general, Suella Braverman, who is expecting her second child, will not have to step down as a minister to get paid time off work after she gives birth.
Under existing rules, she would have to resign from her post if she wanted to take time off with her baby.
The House of Lords objected to the use of gender-neutral language in the bill, calling for “pregnant people” to be replaced with “mothers”.
It has been government policy to write legislation in gender-neutral language since 2007, and the government argued its phrasing was consistent with “drafting convention” before agreeing that the use of “mother” is legally “acceptable”.
Cabinet Office minister Lord True told peers: “The language used in this bill is in line with current drafting convention and guidance. It is legally accurate and achieves the aim of ensuring that female ministers can take paid maternity leave.”
During the bill’s second reading in the House of Lords, Conservative peer Baroness Noakes said the phrasing contributed to “the erasure of women in society”.
Discussing the change in language in the legislation, trans community group TransActual UK wrote on Twitter: “Despite the claims of women being ‘erased’ when talking about pregnancy, it is once again trans men and non-binary people that are erased. And when not erased, misgendered by people that cannot bear to acknowledge that we know our own sex/gender better than they do.”
The bill has passed the House of Commons and is is expected to become law soon.
Boris Johnson applauded the change, saying: “The choice between taking leave to recover from childbirth and care for a new-born child or resigning from office is not acceptable in modern times.”
Keir Starmer also supported the the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill, saying the legislation “should have been brought in a long time ago”.
Under the new legislation, the prime minister will have the power to appoint someone else to the minister’s role without exceeding the legal limits on the number of ministers.
However, some backbench MPs are angry that the maternity rights will only apply to ministers. Although MPs qualify for paid maternity leave, they are not guaranteed cover, so many do not take time off.
Labour MP Stella Creasy, who is also pregnant, recently told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think every woman should be able to have paid maternity cover, proper cover – it’s not just about being paid, it’s that somebody else will be doing that job – so Suella Braverman will be able to take proper leave with her child.”
The MP for Walthamstow, who has campaigned for maternity rights, said she was concerned that by limiting the bill’s remit to “women at the top” it sends the message that “maternity leave is a benefit like a company car rather than something that every woman should have”.