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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

No babies in Commons, MP Stella Creasy told after bringing newborn to the House

In late September, Ms Creasy’s then-newborn was strapped to her as she rose in the chamber to ask Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to ensure new mothers were supported rather than “rebuked” when returning to Parliament.

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.

Neither child had been held by the Speaker, however, unlike in New Zealand in 2019.

Speaker Trevor Mallard attracted global fame as a so-called “baby whisperer” after helping to soothe a colleague’s infant – including rocking, bottle feeding and burping the child – during a debate in the chamber in Wellington.

A year earlier, the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern became the first world leader to take their baby on to the floor of the UN General Assembly.

MPs critical of decision on babies

MPs have reacted with dismay to the no-baby-rule.

The mother-of-two said Parliament needs to be dragged into the 21st century after she was emailed by authorities about rules prohibiting bringing children to debates.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who is in charge of the rules, is under pressure to clarify them because babies have been permitted in the chamber in the past.

Ms Creasy received the warning after bringing son Pip into a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, during which he was observed to be “as good as gold” and received praise from MPs.

The MP for Walthamstow, who does not have maternity cover, said it appears “mothers in the mother of all parliaments are not to be seen or heard”.

She told Sky News: “It’s a bit of a mystery to me because I have two children and I’ve taken them both previously into the chamber as needs must to make sure my constituents have representation.

“I think it’s representative of the way as a mum you can’t win because if I had maternity cover it would be a different issue, and I don’t and I don’t want to short-change my residents.”

Pip, who is breastfeeding, has regularly attended the Commons, as did Ms Creasy’s older daughter.

Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones described the rule as a “complete contradiction” after she said she received an assurance from Sir Lindsay that she could breastfeed in the chamber.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said the rule is “absurd” and “absolutely needs to be challenged”, adding that babies are “far less disruptive than many braying backbenchers”.

Ms Creasy received the email from the private secretary to Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing after the debate, during which Pip was observed to be quiet and well behaved throughout.

Tory former minister Paul Maynard told the debate: “I congratulate Pip on taking the sensible decision to fall asleep during his mother’s speech.

“He had a nice long sleep, as we can all observe, which was perhaps a sensible decision by him.”

Labour frontbencher Pat McFadden added: “I also thank our youngest member, who has attended the debate and been as good as gold throughout.”

But, in the email, Ms Creasy was pointed to the section of the MPs’ rulebook, which was updated in September, stating they “should not take your seat in the chamber when accompanied by your child”.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said he has “a lot of sympathy” for Ms Creasy, but he added the decision is for the House authorities to make.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I think we do need to make sure our profession is brought into the modern world, the 21st century, and can allow parents to juggle the jobs they do with the family time that they need.

“When you see your colleagues with their children given the rough and tumble of politics, I just always think it brings out the best in people.

“Whether it’s the right thing in the chamber, there will be different views on that, it will be for the House authorities to decide, but it certainly wouldn’t distract me or get in the way of me doing my job.”

A House of Commons spokesman said authorities are “currently in communication” with Ms Creasy about the issue.

In late September, Ms Creasy’s then-newborn was strapped to her as she rose in the chamber to ask Jacob Rees-Mogg to ensure new mothers were supported rather than “rebuked” when returning to Parliament.

The Commons Leader responded that the rules were “perfectly reasonable and entirely in line with the law”.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson was believed to be the first MP to take her baby into the chamber during a debate, when she cradled her son on the Commons’ green benches in September 2018.

Meanwhile, Leicester West MP Liz Kendall said she will be stepping back from her parliamentary duties and her frontbench role temporarily next year when she has a new baby through surrogacy.

Speaker orders review into babies in Commons

The Commons Speaker has requested a review into whether MPs can take babies into the chamber amid an outcry over Labour’s Stella Creasy being told she can no longer have her three-month-old son with her.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle stressed it is “extremely important” that parents can fully participate in parliamentary work as he asked the Procedure Committee on Wednesday to bring forward recommendations for the House to make a ruling.

Ms Creasy, a mother-of-two, welcomed the review after she was emailed by authorities about rules prohibiting bringing children to debates after bringing son Pip into a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday.

Sir Lindsay said he was unaware that the warning was going to be issued to Ms Creasy but accepted it “correctly reflects the current rules”.

“However, rules have to be seen in context and they change with the times,” he told MPs in a statement when he opened the Commons on Wednesday morning.

“This House has to be able to function professionally and without disturbance. However, sometimes there may be occasions when the chair can exercise discretion assuming to the business not being disturbed.

“I accept there are differing views on this matter.”

He said Procedure Committee chairwoman Karen Bradley would review the matter and bring forward recommendations which will be “ultimately for the House to take a view on”.

Ms Creasy said she hopes the move “means some of these rules will be reviewed to make parenting and politics possible to mix”.

She received the warning despite Pip being observed to be behaving “as good as gold” during Tuesday’s debate, during which he received praise from MPs.

The MP for Walthamstow, who does not have maternity cover, told Sky News: “It’s a bit of a mystery to me because I have two children and I’ve taken them both previously into the chamber as needs must to make sure my constituents have representation.

“I think it’s representative of the way as a mum you can’t win because if I had maternity cover it would be a different issue, and I don’t and I don’t want to short-change my residents.”

Pip, who is breastfeeding, has regularly attended the Commons, as did Ms Creasy’s older daughter.

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