Thursday, January 30, 2020

Breastfeeding to be allowed in House of Commons chamber

Decades of parliamentary tradition are to be swept away after the new Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle lifted a ban on women MPs breastfeeding in the chamber.

“I’m of the view there isn’t a policy,” said Sir Lindsay, responding to questions from parliamentary journalists at Westminster. “My view is, it is up to the woman.”

“I think it would be wrong for me as a man to dictate on that policy. If it happens, it happens. I wouldn’t be upset by it, let’s put it that way.”

His landmark ruling overturns an edict issued in 2000 by the first woman Speaker of the Commons, Betty Boothroyd, which was upheld by her successors Michael Martin and John Bercow.

Sir Lindsay’s move follows a campaign, led by women MPs, for scrapping the rule and also implements a recommendation by the Commons’ powerful administration committee.

The first woman to breastfeed in the Commons chamber was Labour’s Helene Hayman, then the youngest MP, back in the late 1970s. She was later Lord Speaker from 2006-2011.

Harriet Harman, now the self-styled “Mother of the House” and a leading campaigner for women’s rights in Parliament, breastfed her child shortly after becoming an MP in a by-election in 1982.

But in 2000 Speaker Boothroyd ruled: “I do not believe that the feeding of babies in either the Chamber or Committee is conducive to the efficient conduct of public business.

“Nor do I think that the necessary calm environment in which to feed babies can be provided in such circumstances.”

Her successor, Mr Martin, suggested women should use a feeding room near where committee meetings took place.

More recently, the administration committee of MPs recommended allowing breastfeeding “wherever it is appropriate in the Palace of Westminster”.

And a report commissioned by Mr Bercow in 2016 recommended that mothers should be able to bring babies into the chamber and voting lobbies.

Since then a number of women MPs, including former Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Ellie Reeves and Conservative Kemi Badenoch, have brought their babies into the chamber during Commons votes and for the swearing in after last month’s election.

During his Q&A with political reporters, Sir Lindsay was also quizzed on the bullying allegations against Mr Bercow and whether his predecessor should receive a peerage, which is so far being withheld by Boris Johnson.

He said that in his nine years as Mr Bercow’s deputy he was “personally” not bullied by him. “Personally I can honestly say I didn’t witness it,” he added. “But I do speak to people who may or may not have been subjected.”

On whether Mr Bercow should receive a peerage, Sir Lindsay said he should be nominated but then vetted.

“When somebody’s name goes forward to the Lords, people are checked and issues are reviewed about whether they are a fit person,” he said. “Part of that vetting will be looking into people’s conduct.”

And on a so-called “bullying culture” in Westminster, the Speaker said: “MPs haven’t always been the best employers of their staff.

“I think people reflected on the way the chamber carried out, the way we were speaking to each other, the threats, the intimidation, it was not a nice place.”

But he claimed: “The bullying culture is over, we are not going to tolerate it. And I’m certainly not going to tolerate people who abuse security staff who are carrying out their duties to make us safe.”

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