The House of Commons: no place for a baby?
Bringing babies onto the green benches is against the ‘rules of behaviour and courtesies’
Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, is rightly furious that she has been “reprimanded” for taking part in a parliamentary debate while cradling her three-month-old baby son, said Kate Townshend in The Independent.
Bringing babies onto the green benches is, it seems, against the Commons’ “rules of behaviour and courtesies”. Never mind that, as an MP, she doesn’t have maternity cover – so either the baby accompanies her, or her constituents are not represented. There is “a lingering misogyny when it comes to what we expect women who procreate to do”. As Creasy put it, “mothers in the mother of all parliaments are not to be seen or heard it seems”.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news”, but most mothers have to leave their babies in the care of others when they go to work, said Joanna Williams in The Daily Telegraph. “Teachers, nurses and cleaners would all get short shrift if they turned up infant-in-tow.”
And MPs actually get “a pretty sweet deal” maternity-wise, said Sarah Ditum in The Times. The Commons has a subsidised nursery. MPs get six months’ maternity leave on full pay, along with a £30,000 grant for extra staff to help with constituency work.
It’s true that they can’t get full maternity cover, but there are reasons for that. MPs are “democratic representatives” elected by their constituents, not employees. It was deemed “constitutionally impossible” to allow Creasy to hire a parliamentary replacement during maternity leave. She can, however, authorise another MP to cast her vote by proxy.
A“better compromise” may be possible, but it’s not a case of rank injustice. The rule banning babies from debates has been applied inconsistently, said Sean O’Grady in The Independent. In fact, infants have appeared in the chamber several times before without causing any fuss – including Creasy’s own first baby, and those of the Tory MP Kemi Badenoch and the Lib Dem Jo Swinson.
The Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has now wisely asked the Commons’ procedure committee to take a fresh look at the rules. Let’s hope a “more permanent and family-friendly policy” is soon “fitted to the cradle of democracy”.