Parents will be allowed to share up to a year’s leave after the birth of a child under “radical” reforms, which are set to be announced today by Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

Mr Clegg is expected to say that women are held back in Britain by “clapped out” rules and that working arrangements need to be changed to give women a “real choice” after taking a break from work to have children.

As he unveils new plans for flexible parental leave, the Deputy PM will say:

“We, as a society, we have got so much better at telling young women: the sky’s the limit. Get a job; be independent; be the boss; run as far and as fast as your talents can take you.

“Then, suddenly, when they hit their late 20s, their early 30s, despite all their earlier momentum, despite all the endless possibility, they are suddenly stopped in their tracks. It’s like a rubber band snaps these women back. Because, the moment they start planning a family, their options begin to narrow.”

It has been revealed under the new plans, women in employment will retain their right to 52 weeks of maternity leave but a new mother will be able to trigger flexible leave at any point after the first two weeks’ recovery period and parents will then be able to share the remaining 50 weeks between them as they like.

Clegg will say:

“From 2015, the UK will shift to an entirely new system of flexible parental leave. Under the new rules, a mother will be able to trigger flexible leave at any point – if and when she feels ready.

“That means that whatever time is left to run on her original year can be taken by her partner instead. Or they can chop up the remaining time between them – taking it in turns. Or they can take time off together – whatever suits them. The only rule is that no more than 12 months can be taken in total; with no more than 9 months at guaranteed pay.

“And, of course, couples will need to be open with their employers, giving them proper notice.”

It has also been revealed that plans to give fathers six weeks of paid paternity leave have been abandoned following opposition from Tories and business leaders who feared it would cause problems for businesses during the recession.

However, Clegg will unveil a new legal right for fathers-to-be to take unpaid time off work to attend two antenatal appointments.

Commenting on these announcements, Katja Hall, CBI Chief Policy Director, said:

“Flexible parental leave is a good way to support working families and businesses realise that this helps to retain talent. We must ensure that the new system is simple to administer, and does not give rise to legal action from fathers seeking parental rights that mirror those available to mothers.”

It will also be announced that the right to request flexible working hours will be extended to all employees, and speaking ahead of these big changes, Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“We support the concept of flexible working, but the proposals to extend the right to request to all workers could make it more difficult for employers to offer flexibility to employees who are parents or have caring duties.

“Many employees already benefit from flexible working and in the rare cases where an employer feels they cannot support flexible working, a burdensome new consideration process is very unlikely to change that view.”

He added:

“Businesspeople understand and accept the logic of giving new parents more flexibility over which of them is best placed to take parental leave. Unfortunately, the Government’s current proposals risk causing unnecessary friction between parents and employers, and raise unrealistic expectations about the level of flexibility most businesses will be able to accommodate.”