Critics say working practices inside Westminster, constructed in the 1800s, remain antiquated and inward looking, reports Correspondent Rebecca Barry
MPs should not be allowed to bring babies into the House of Commons chamber during debates, a cross-party review has recommended.
The Procedure Committee report was ordered amid an outcry over Labour’s Stella Creasy being told she can no longer have her baby son with her.
The group ruled that MPs should not bring babies into the chamber or nearby Westminster Hall if they want to “observe, initiate, speak or intervene in proceedings”.
But they said there should be a “degree of de-facto discretion” that “should be exercised sparingly”.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle ordered the review in November after Ms Creasy was told she could no longer bring her son Pip, then three months old, with her to debates.
The mother-of-two, who represents Walthamstow, in London, hoped the review would allow “parenting and politics possible to mix”.
Ms Creasy was shocked when Commons authorities emailed her rules prohibiting bringing children to debates after she took Pip into Westminster Hall.
MPs described the boy as “as good as gold” during the debate.
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The previous year Sir Lindsay said he “wouldn’t be upset by” a mother deciding to breastfeed in the chamber.
But the committee’s report said it was a “long-standing practice” underpinned by previous rulings that “babies should not be present”.
They noted there had been “several occasions” when MPs had brought babies into debates “without disruption”, but this had “contributed to some confusion and a gap” between the practice and the rules.
Many MPs were supportive of Ms Creasy, with Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab saying he had “a lot of sympathy” for her and that he would not be distracted by a baby.
But Tory MP Alicia Kearns argued the chamber is “no place” for a baby.
“I’ve asked to leave debates to feed my child a few times – I have never been turned down,” she said.
And on Thursday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there were likely "good reasons" for the committee's recommendation.
She told ITV News: "The specific nature of business in the chamber doesn’t necessarily lend itself to young children, however I think there’s more we can do to make parliament more welcoming to people who have children."
In September last year, 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”.
Ms Creasy said that she was “not surprised” by the recommendation.
She said: “This committee didn’t speak to a single person outside Parliament despite many of us encouraging them to do so, so I’m not surprised they don’t recognise who is put off Parliament by its antiquated rules and approach to women who have children and the need to modernise.
“They are not alone in working like this – in the last year we’ve seen no progress on Parliament having any form of adequate maternity or paternity policy in place, and no progress from IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) on providing proper maternity or paternity funding either.
“Change will only come when we start listening to those outside the status quo.”
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.