50.50: News

Committee that banned babies from Commons was 75% male

'There are very few mothers who are making the big decisions about our laws'

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Nandini Archer
30 June 2022, 3.14pm

Labour MP Stella Creasy speaking in the Commons chamber with her baby strapped to her. London 2021.

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PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Activists have slammed the majority-male committee that has banned babies from the House of Commons as antiquated and out-of-touch, saying they are unsurprised that such a group came to this decision.

More than three-quarters of the Procedure Committee, which has banned MPs from bringing babies into the Commons, consists of men.

Brigid McConville, chair of the maternity rights group White Ribbon Alliance UK, called it a “disappointing but predictable decision by a group of mostly ageing men”.

McConville added that it sent “a terrible message to the young women we need to attract into Parliament if we are to have a democracy which truly represents all the people of this country.”

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Joeli Brearley, founder of the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, said the group was also “incredibly disappointed” with the outcome of the review. 

“This is an issue across Parliament,” she said. “Those in more senior positions tend to be men. There are very few mothers who are making the big decisions about our laws.

“The committee is loudly sending the message that the government is not interested in accommodating mothers, having mothers in parliament or making all workplaces work for parents.”

Kay King, White Ribbon Alliance’s movement director, called the decision “an antiquated approach to workforce diversity and amplifies the gender inequalities that are so commonplace within Parliament”.

“This stance contradicts direct government guidance and highlights a distinct lack of understanding of actions required to achieve workplace inclusivity,” she said, citing the government’s advice that mothers should breastfeed for the first year of life. 

“A disappointing but predictable decision by a group of mostly ageing men”

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle ordered the review after Labour’s Stella Creasy brought her newborn son into the Commons in November 2021 and was told she could no longer do so.

Creasy told openDemocracy that she wasn’t aware of how the committee came to its final decision – or whether the vote was split or unanimous. She did, however, point out that the committee barely spoke to anyone outside Parliament, despite being encouraged to consult more widely by many MPs.

The committee said it had spoken to "two academics" but that the majority of responses had come from MPs. 

“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,” she said. 

Creasy said it wasn’t the only issue where Parliament was failing mothers. “In the last year we’ve seen no progress on Parliament having any form of adequate maternity or paternity policy in place,” she said, “and no progress from IPSA on providing proper maternity or paternity funding either.” 

She added: “Change will only come when we start listening to those outside the status quo – it's also why we set up MotheRED to provide grants to help mums stand as Labour MPs so that in future there will be a wider range of voices heard in asking how to make our democracy more inclusive.”

Brearley from Pregnant Then Screwed said Creasy had only been “forced” to take her sleeping baby into Parliament in the first place because she didn’t have maternity cover. 

Brearley added: “The committee… didn’t contact us, despite Stella Creasy recommending that they did.

“We are connected with hundreds of thousands of mothers and could clearly explain to them how this decision affects this group.

“These strict boundaries between work and care are completely impossible to maintain when, in most households, both parents work, and they need to work to keep a roof over their head. No one is saying ‘fling open the office doors and let the kids run wild’. What we are saying is: let’s make workplaces, all workplaces, work for parents.”

openDemocracy asked the chair of the Procedure Committee, MP Karen Bradley, for more information on how the group came to its decision. We were pointed to their press release, which provided no further information about the decision-making.

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