No, babies shouldn't be allowed in the Commons

29 December 2021

8:05 PM

29 December 2021

8:05 PM

Babies have no place in the chamber.I’ve asked to leave debates to feed my child a few times and have never been turned down. This is a debate about childcare that is wrongly being presented as one of rights and representation.

Is this a question of being banned from doing our jobs unless babies are allowed?No.The ultimate way MPs have their say is when we vote. New mums have proxy voting for six months, where we tell someone else how we want to vote each time so we don’t have to be in parliament.

But what about MP mums wanting to take part in debates?You can — I came into parliament for a few crucial debates while my baby was under six months.Every time I arranged childcare and in the few debates when I had to step out during proceedings to feed the baby, everyone supported me.

This isn’t a question of facilities in parliament. There’s a family room in parliament to feed your baby right near the chamber. Our families or childcare support can be with a baby in parliament.Just step out of the chamber for 20 minutes or so — no Speaker would deny you this.

Is this a question of rights?No.In no professional workplace would you feed your baby in a meeting with your chief executive, or in a pitch to new clients, or on a stage in front of shareholders.You would be on maternity leave or you’d arrange feeds around major meetings.

Ah, so it’s a question of whether MPs get maternity leave, Are things perfect? No. Do we get traditional leave? No.But MPs get six months proxy voting, a staff budget uplift for extra staff during maternity leave, full pay and can come in to parliament to debate when we want.

But what about the proxy MP argument? Wouldn’t that make things simpler?No.As a MP you are an elected representative, not an employee.Constituents vote for you, not someone you choose to hire temporarily.That democratic mandate isn’t transferable.

Wait, so that sounds like MPs can have: time at home caring for baby, with the flexibility of coming into work if they want (and arrange childcare to do it), while still voting and remaining on full pay?Yes.It may sound like an amazing scenario, but that isn’t quite the reality.

No MP truly takes maternity leave as no one can — or should — replace you.I was back at work 36 hours after my daughter’s birth because we had a big Covid-19 outbreak locally. But it was my choice, and my responsibility in this pandemic, to support communities in Rutland and Melton.

I worked throughout my maternity leave, as was my choice, but it was more choice than many mums get.  There’s always a vote, debate, constituency issue to resolve, or campaign to run. I was able to do all those; it was my choice, and one I didn’t want to impact on constituents.

And yes, I’ve faced difficulties feeding my daughter since returning to parliament full time. Parliamentary hours are long— sitting late every night (10 p.m. Mondays) playing havoc with feeds and there’s no such thing as a schedule as votes and statements get called all over the place.

There were also a couple days where security would not let my then eight-month-old daughter, in her pram with her childcare, into parliament because someone deemed it not to be ‘essential parliamentary business.’ But the Speakers and parliamentary authorities immediately resolved that.

You’ll also see me frantically running around parliament, feeding my baby between votes, debates, meetings in corridors, the terrace and central lobby.  I don’t think being a mum should be hidden in parliament and workplaces but I don’t want to feed my baby live-streamed to world.

And I definitely don’t need to.This is a matter of childcare.MPs shouldn’t get more entitlements than other mums.This discussion is an issue of childcare and a distraction from meaningful reform that could materially benefit mums and dads in parliament.

This article originally appeared as a Twitter thread by Alicia Kearns MP responding to the announcement that MPs with babies will be allowed to bring them into the House of Commons chamber.

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