Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson has said she hopes taking her baby into a Commons debate signals a step forward in modernising Parliament.
The party’s deputy leader appeared in the chamber with Gabriel on Thursday to listen to the closing remarks of a discussion about proxy voting, which could allow MPs on maternity and paternity leave to nominate a colleague to cast their vote in their absence.
Earlier in the summer Ms Swinson was “furious” when Tory chairman Brandon Lewis – who she was paired with while on parental leave, meaning neither would take part in Commons voting – joined a crunch Brexit vote in July.
Mr Lewis claimed he was not aware of the pairing arrangement at the time of the vote. But Ms Swinson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was not an honest mistake. It was very deliberate and it transpired in the days afterwards that other MPs had been asked to break their pairs and very honourably had told their chief whip to get lost.”
Ms Swinson said that taking 11-week-old Gabriel into the chamber, in what is thought to be a first in a Commons debate, seemed the natural thing to do.
She told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “I spoke early on in the debate. The convention is that you come back at the end of the debate to listen to the final speeches.
“By that time I’d had to leave the chamber, I’d had to go and feed my baby and he had then fallen asleep on me in the baby carrier, and the options were: wake him up and hand him to somebody else for 20 minutes, or go in and sit down, do no harm, and he stayed asleep for most of it.
“I think it’s a step forward for modernising Parliament and for sending a message that it really needs to be possible for parents to be able to combine their responsibilities for their children with their working lives, and all too often that is made too difficult.
“That won’t always mean taking your child to work, but in the case of very small babies, for people who are working at that stage then that can be just one of the ways in which workplaces can modernise and there could be flexibility in order to make it possible.”
Commenting on proxy voting, she said it would not be a difficult change to make to say someone else could vote on behalf of an MP.
Ms Swinson, MP for East Dunbartonshire, said: “We should take those opportunities to just make it a little bit more possible, because we are talking about Parliament that sets the rules for the rest of the country and also therefore can set the tone, and when we’ve got 54,000 women a year losing their jobs because of pregnancy discrimination it is particularly important that we get these kind of things right because we do need to, not just in Parliament but right across the country, modernise workplaces so that it is more possible for parents to balance their responsibilities.”