Women In Parliament Cautiously Welcome “Bittersweet” Changes To Outdated Maternity Leave Rules
Suella Braverman was appointed as Attorney General in February 2020 (PA)
MPs and campaign groups have cautiously welcomed a law change which will allow Suella Braverman, who serves as Attorney General, to take paid maternity leave.
Currently, Ms Braverman would be required to resign as Attorney General if she wanted to take time off following the forthcoming birth of her child, but the government has announced plans to overturn the “outdated” rule.
Labour MP Tulip Siddiq — who has given birth to two children since she was elected in 2015 — said she was “optimistic” about changes proposed in the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill, which will be brought before MPs later next week, but was dismayed it had taken parliament this long to act.
“It's bittersweet because I'm surprised that it hasn't been done before, but I also feel a sense of relief that at least people are doing something and not ignoring it,” the Hampstead and Kilburn MP told PoliticsHome.
“It’s sending out a message that you can reach the very high heights of politics. You're in the cabinet, you're making decisions of law, and you want to have a child, but you're not having to choose between two.”
Siddiq herself prompted change to parliament’s antiquated approach to pregnant women in 2019 after she delayed the birth of her son via Caesarean by two days so that she could vote on significant Brexit legislation.
Tulip Siddiq with her son Raphael who was born in January 2019 (PA)
Following the incident, plans were announced by the government allowing pregnant MPs and new parents to nominate another MP to vote on their behalf.
Siddiq welcomed change that accommodated challenges faced by those who give birth while in office.
“[Suella Braverman] physically wouldn't be able to return after she’d had her child, especially if she has a C-section,” she continued. “For me, there would have been no question of going back for six weeks because they said I’d be putting myself in severe danger,” she continued.
Braverman was appointed as Attorney General in February 2020, and announced in November that she was expecting her second child "early next year".
Under the new legislation, it is expected that the process of taking maternity leave will be formalised, bringing maternity allowances for ministers in line with those offered for more junior government roles.
Previously, maternity and paternity leave for cabinet ministers was granted at the discretion of the Prime Minister.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The current rules are clearly outdated and need fixing, which is why we are introducing the bill.
“At the moment women are offered the choice between either resigning from their position or taking time off to recover from childbirth, which is simply not acceptable in the modern times.”
Labour has said it will back the Bill, with shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves describing it as a “a small but significant step forward for women's rights in Parliament”.
Tulip Siddiq, heavily pregnant while attending parliament to vote on a crucial Brexit bill in 2019 (PA)
Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, also cautiously welcomed the change, but warned that it failed to address some of the challenges pregnant MPs face in Parliament.
“We are very pleased that there is now a recognition that female members of Parliament may bear children and they will require the necessary support in place for this to happen,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Bill doesn’t go far enough. It is disappointing that there is still no maternity or paternity leave policy for MPs, something Stella Creasy fiercely fought for after the birth of her child two years ago.”
She added: “If the Prime Minister is serious about creating a gender equal Parliament then parental leave policies for MPs are absolutely critical.”