MPs should be banned from bringing 'distracting' babies into Commons, review says

30 June 2022, 07:53

Stella Creasy has previously taken both her son and daughter into the Chamber.
Stella Creasy has previously taken both her son and daughter into the Chamber. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Babies should be banned from the Commons chamber during debates after MPs complained that it would be a distraction, a parliamentary committee has ruled.

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The ruling by the House of Commons procedures committee comes after there was outcry over Labour's Stella Creasy being told she can no longer have her baby son with her.

The MP for Walthamstow was reprimanded after she brought her three-month-old son, Pip, into the Chamber last year.

He was strapped to her as she rose to ask the then Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to ensure mothers were supported rather than "rebuked" when returning to Parliament after maternity leave.

Mr Rees-Mogg said in response he thought the rules were "perfectly reasonable and entirely in line with the law".

Ms Creasy had regularly taken her son and previously her daughter into the Commons Chamber, as babies have been allowed in the past.

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She told LBC's James O'Brien that barring babies from the House of Commons could "cut" people from politics because the system and its policies are "built" for men with no child-caring responsibilities.

She said not allowing women to care for children as well as play an active role in politics could lead to women not running to be MPs, or constituents not voting for them.

"I don't have maternity cover so there really isn't anybody else who can do [my job], and that faces an impossible position where either my son get my attention or my constituents are denied a voice for six months whilst I take maternity leave."

The Procedures Committee ruled that MPs should not bring babies into the chamber or nearby Westminster Hall if they want to "observe, initiate, speak or intervene in proceedings".

Stella Creasy took her three-month-old son Pip into the Chamber last year.
Stella Creasy took her three-month-old son Pip into the Chamber last year. Picture: Alamy

But they said there should be a "degree of de-facto discretion" that "should be exercised sparingly".

Ms Creasy said she hoped the review would allow " parenting and politics possible to mix".

She said she was shocked when Commons authorities emailed her rules prohibiting bringing children to debates after she took Pip into Westminster Hall.

Her son, who was just three-months-old, was "good as gold" during the debate, according to MPs.

Many MPs came out in support of the mother-of-two, with deputy prime minister Dominic Raab saying he had "a lot of sympathy" for her and that he would not be distracted by a baby.

But Tory MP Alicia Kearns argued the chamber is "no place" for a baby.

"I've asked to leave debates to feed my child a few times - I have never been turned down," she said.

The previous year Sir Lindsay said he "wouldn't be upset by" a mother dividing to breastfeed in the chamber.

But the committee's report said it was a "long-standing practice" underpinned by previous rulings that "babies should not be present".

They noted there had been "several occasions" when MPs had brought babies into debates "without disruption", but this had "contributed to some confusion and a gap" between the practice and the rules.

Ms Creasy said that she was "not surprised" by the recommendation.

She said: "This committee didn't speak to a single person outside Parliament despite many of us encouraging them to do so, so I'm not surprised they don't recognise who is put off Parliament by its antiquated rules and approach to women who have children and the need to modernise.

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"They are not alone in working like this - in the last year we've seen no progress on Parliament having any form of adequate maternity or paternity policy in place, and no progress from IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) on providing proper maternity or paternity funding either.

"Change will only come when we start listening to those outside the status quo."

The committee did, however, back on the "overwhelming balance of evidence" the extension of proxy voting for "serious long-term illness".

Karen Bradley, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said a debate should be scheduled in the coming weeks to discuss the extension of proxy voting.

"On the balance of evidence received, the committee also recommends that current rules remain and members should not bring babies into the House of Commons chamber or Westminster Hall proceedings," she added.