Babies ‘should not be allowed in House of Commons’

·3 min read
Stella Creasy was told off for bringing her son, Pip, into a Westminster Hall debate - PA Wire
Stella Creasy was told off for bringing her son, Pip, into a Westminster Hall debate - PA Wire

Babies should be banned from the House of Commons chamber because they risk distracting MPs, a cross-party committee has found.

The ruling by the House of Commons procedures committee comes after a fierce row was sparked by a Labour MP who was rebuked for bringing her child into a debate last year.

MPs who want to “observe, initiate, speak or intervene in proceedings” should also be banned from bringing babies into Westminster Hall and committee hearings, the review found.

Last year Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, was given a dressing down for bringing her three-month-old son, Pip, into a Westminster Hall debate.

Last November, the Private Secretary to the Chairman of Ways and Means wrote to Ms Creasy reminding her of the Rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House of Commons.

He pointed out that paragraph 42 of the Rules states an MP "should not take your seat in the Chamber when accompanied by a child", with the Private Secretary telling Ms Creasy this also applies to Westminster Hall.

Her call for a rule change sparked a public debate on the issue, after she complained at the time that: “Apparently Parliament has written a rule which means I can’t take my well behaved, three-month old, sleeping baby when I speak in [the] Chamber. Mothers in the mother of all parliament are not to be seen or heard it seems.”

However, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, has previously said that he "wouldn't be upset by" a mother dividing to breastfeed in the chamber.

Following the outcry over Ms Creasy’s treatment, he suggested that there may be occasions when the chairman can exercise discretion and commissioned a review into the rules.

The procedures committee published its report on Thursday which concluded that it was a “long-standing practice of the House” that babies "should not be present" in the Chamber and Westminster Hall and concluded that this guidance should remain in place.

MPs on the committee noted there had been "several occasions" when MPs had brought babies into debates "without disruption". But they said this had "contributed to some confusion and a gap" between the practice and the rules.

Alicia Kearns, the Tory MP for Rutland and Melton, told the committee that there is a “relatively high level of choice” for MPs with babies who need to balance their work and family responsibilities.

She also pointed out that babies risk distracting fellow MPs and also may give the impression to the public that politicians are getting distracted from official business.

The report noted that Ms Kearns "contrasted the role of a Member in the Chamber with that of a barrister in court, arguing that the presence of a baby being cared for would undermine confidence that full attention was being paid to proceedings".

Karen Bradley, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: "On the balance of evidence received, the committee also recommends that current rules remain and members should not bring babies into the House of Commons chamber or Westminster Hall proceedings.”

But they added there should be a "degree of de-facto discretion" by chairs which "should be exercised sparingly".

The committee also examined the issue of proxy voting and backed the "overwhelming balance of evidence" the extension of proxy voting for "serious long-term illness".

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