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Sir Lindsay Hoyle has ordered a review into whether MPs can bring their babies into the chamber, after Labour’s Stella Creasy was told by Commons authorities it was against the rules to bring her three-month-old son to a debate.
After the correspondence provoked outrage, the Commons speaker told MPs he was initially unaware of the exchange, but stressed it was “extremely important” that parents of young children could fully participate in parliamentary work.
Updating MPs, Sir Lindsay said he had requested that the procedure committee, chaired by former Tory minister Karen Bradley, review the matter and bring forward recommendations for the Commons to vote on.
Ms Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, who has previously taken her infant child into the Commons without complaint, was reprimanded after leading a debate on “buy now, pay later” consumer credit schemes on Tuesday with her three-month-old son in a sling.
“We’ve been made aware that you were accompanied by your baby in Westminster Hall earlier today,” the email from the private secretary to the chair of the Ways and Means Committee read.
The correspondence – posted by Ms Creasy on social media – said that bringing her baby into parliament was not in line with recently published rules on “behaviour and courtesies” contained in the handbook for MPs. “I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this also applies to debates in Westminster Hall,” it added.
Ms Creasy, who has campaigned for mothers to enter politics, posted alongside the email last night: “Mothers in the mother of all parliament[s] are not to be seen or heard it seems.... #21stCenturyCalling”.
The rule book, issued by the speaker and deputy speakers in relation to the House of Commons and Westminster Hall, was updated in September.
Apparently Parliament has written a rule which means I can’t take my well behaved, 3-month old, sleeping baby when I speak in chamber. (Still no rule on wearing masks btw).
Mothers in the mother of all parliament are not to be seen or heard it seems….#21stCenturyCalling pic.twitter.com/rKB7WbYQrL
— stellacreasy (@stellacreasy) November 23, 2021
It says: “You should not take your seat in the chamber when accompanied by your child, nor stand at either end of the chamber, between divisions.” The same wording was used in the previous version of the rule book.
Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones tweeted that the rule seemed “a complete contradiction” given that, when she was breastfeeding her child, the commons speaker had assured her that she could feed her child in the chamber or Westminster Hall if she needed to.
In an update to MPs on Wednesday, Sir Lindsay said: “This advice given yesterday to the honourable member from Walthamstow on the authority of the chairman of ways and means, which I was not aware of until last night, correctly reflects the current rules. However, rules have to be seen in context and they change with the times.
“This house has to be able to function professionally and without disturbances, however, sometimes there may be occasions when the chair can exercise discretion assuming the business is not to be disturbed. I accept there are differing views on this matter.”
He added: “There are also likely to be some consequential matters, therefore I have asked the chair of the Procedure Committee if she and her committee would look into this matter and bring forward recommendations which would ultimately be for the house to take a view on.”
Ms Creasy, who also has a young daughter, has battled for MPs to have adequate maternity cover through her campaign This Mum Votes. In September, Ms Creasy questioned commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on whether he would consider reviewing rules which meant that MPs on parental leave must give up the proxy vote they are permitted if they want to speak occasionally in the chamber.
Mr Rees-Mogg said in response that he thought the rules were “perfectly reasonable and entirely in line with the law”.
MPs are entitled to paid maternity leave for six months, along with a proxy vote, but they must be physically present at Westminster in order to represent their constituents’ views during Commons debates.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson was thought to be the first MP to cradle her baby during a debate in the Commons in 2018. In the same year, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern became the first world leader to take her baby to the floor of the UN general assembly in New York.