MPs have backed a Bill which will allow ministers to take paid maternity leave.
The legislation was rushed through the Commons on Thursday to allow Attorney General Suella Braverman to take six months’ away from her post following the pending birth of her second child.
Current laws mean Ms Braverman would have to resign if she wanted to take time off with her baby.
The Ministerial and Other Maternity Allowances Bill passed through the Commons unopposed.
The legislation will give the Prime Minister the ability to designate the minister wishing to take maternity leave as a “minister on leave”.
The Prime Minister will then have the power to appoint someone else to the role, without exceeding the legal limits on the number of ministers.
Labour MP Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) had called for the Government to extend maternity rights to all MPs, rather than just ministers.
Ms Creasy, who pioneered having a “locum MP” to cover her constituency work when she had her first child in 2019, told MPs that whilst she welcomes the legislation, she fears it will send an “incredibly dangerous” message to employers by creating a “two-tier system”.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Creasy said: “We are sending a message that maternity leave should be a perk conferred by your employer as a benefit just as a company car would be if we only pass forward this legislation.”
She added: “One in four women during the pandemic who is pregnant or newly-mum has said that they have faced discrimination, that they are losing their jobs, they are being furloughed.
“In that context, to only work for that small number of women is not just a missed opportunity, it is potentially setting up the presence of a two-tier system of maternity leave in this country, and the message that we as the people who make the laws are sending to those businesses about how they should treat pregnant women we do at our peril.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier on Thursday, she added: “I’m very prepared to go to court over this because it is a form of direct discrimination and I am not the only pregnant MP in Parliament, but, as a backbencher, none of these provisions will apply to myself.”
The chief executive of the Pregnant Then Screwed charity, Joeli Brearley, said the group supports Ms Creasy “every step of the way with her legal challenge”.
“It is total insanity that it has taken 103 years for the Government to recognise that their female members of Cabinet may have babies and provision needs to be put in place for this eventuality,” she said.
Some MPs had also raised concerns about the use of the word “persons” instead of woman in the Bill.
Conservative MP Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) questioned: “How did we get to the place where a Government, a Conservative Government mind you, brings a Bill before us which seeks to abolish in effect two words used for centuries, two beautiful words, words which embody goodness and truth – mother and woman.
“For the legislation as just drafted does just that, it rules those words out of law.
“Is it now considered embarrassing to be described as a woman, to admit to being a mother?”
SNP MP Joanna Cherry (South West) added: “Why does this Bill make no mention of women? It is women who give birth and women who benefit from maternity leave.”
Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt told MPs that changes could be made to the explanatory notes to the Bill to address these concerns.