The Government has backtracked over wording in its maternity leave Bill, and will now refer to a pregnant woman as a ‘mother’ rather than ‘person’.
The initial wording in the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill, which will allow Government ministers to take leave rather than resign if they have a baby, had caused uproar as MPs complained that “extreme gender ideology” was being written into law.
The Government had claimed it was in line with drafting convention, but it was rejected by the House of Lords, and the Government has now agreed that the use of the word ‘mother’ is legally “acceptable”.
Baroness Noakes spoke out strongly during the Lords debate, saying the original legislation “does not respect the fact that only women can be pregnant”.
She said: “It is a biological fact that only women can be pregnant and give birth. That is why laws that relate to maternity issues have in the past routinely been drafted using the words woman, she and her.
“It’s just not good enough to say that we have gender-neutral drafting now.”
It is a biological fact that only women can be pregnant and give birth.
‘Affront to common sense’
Others joined her in blasting the wording, with Baroness Hayter saying the “unusual choice of words” in the Bill seems “at odds with other legislation on maternity rights and protection”.
Former Lord Speaker Baroness Hayman said the gender-neutral wording was an “awkward and ugly distortion of the English language and an affront to common sense”.
And Baroness Hoey said: “If we leave the wording as it is then I think that sends a signal that… we are not prepared to stand up for what is right and decent and common sense.'”
Following the climbdown, Lady Noakes said it was a “great day for women”, and that she and her fellow peers had tapped into a “huge well of unhappiness about how women have been eliminated from public discourse and public policy”.
Lord Lucas, who proposed the change of wording, said: “Words matter, especially on the long road to equality.”
He said the use of the word ‘person’ in the Bill “erases the reality” that “maternity is undertaken by women and not by men”.
He added: “To leave ‘person’ in place would be a step backwards in women’s equality.”