The Government has confirmed that it intends to go ahead with plans for legislation that would allow fathers to benefit from up to six months' additional paternity leave if the mother returns to work before the end of her ordinary maternity leave period to which she is entitled. The changes will be introduced for parents of children due on or after 3 April 2011.

At present, mothers can take up to 52 weeks' statutory maternity leave with (subject to qualifying criteria) statutory maternity pay being payable for up to 39 weeks of that leave. Fathers are entitled to just two weeks' paternity leave during which statutory paternity pay is payable (again, subject to qualifying criteria).

Under the new proposals, if mothers go back to work at any time after the first 26 weeks of maternity leave, fathers will be able to take the balance of the 52 week period of maternity leave as additional paternity leave. Up to three months of that leave will be paid at the same rate as statutory maternity pay if the leave is taken during the mother's 39-week maternity pay period.

As with the current provisions for paternity leave, it seems likely that the proposals will apply not only to fathers, but will (subject to satisfying the relevant criteria) include someone who is a partner of the child's mother and who has responsibility for the child's upbringing.

The Government also had plans to increase the statutory maternity pay period from 39 weeks to 52 weeks, although there is increasing speculation that this proposed increase will be dropped altogether.

Consultation will begin shortly.