Babies in Westminster

Pub quiz question: Who was the first MP to take a baby through a voting lobby?

<spoiler alert>



The picture of Jo Swinson is a red herring.

It was her husband Duncan Hames, then MP for Chippenham, who carried young Andrew on one occasion when he voted in 2014.

Duncan and Andrew Hames make history

By the way, the reference to Harriet Harman turns out to be an untrue rumour, but neatly encapsulates the values 30 years before.

Four years after Duncan’s pioneering act Jo took their second baby (as seen in the photo) into the Commons for a debate, appropriately on allowing proxy votes for new parents. She wrote about the experience, and the backlash she received afterwards.

LibLink: Jo Swinson: Like me, Jacinda Ardern took her baby to work and was met with ignorance

Since then several MPs have taken young babies into the Commons. Today’s news is that Stella Creasy MP was told that it was against the rules to take her 3 month old son, whom she is still breast-feeding, into a debate in Westminster Hall (where the same rules apply as in the Commons). She has taken her baby into debates before, so was somewhat surprised at this.

We have to remember that MPs are not entitled to many of the parental rights enjoyed by employees, such as maternity/paternity leave or cover, so have to carry on with their work after giving birth.

When I had my first child in the 1970s I was working as a lecturer in Higher Education. My only employment option was to return full-time just six weeks after the birth, which was obviously incompatible with breast feeding. Thank goodness things have changed since then – but not, it seems, for MPs.

And before any of our readers are sharpening their quills in order to mansplain that women should not stand for Parliament if they plan to have children, then I need to forewarn you that all such comments will be deleted. We don’t have to fight those battles yet again in this particular context when they have already been won in wider society.




* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Completely agree with the sentiments of this article and it’s bizarre that the HoC authorities should take such an outmoded and discriminatory approach.

    Minor typo: Duncan was MP for Chippenham rather than Cheltenham

  • @Dominic – thanks for spotting the error. Now corrected.

  • Neil Hickman 24th Nov '21 - 10:25am

    It’s symptomatic of Westminster’s ability to miss the point that Stella Creasy is told that she can’t bring a well behaved infant into the Commons chamber, while the PM and many of his entourage continue to behave like overgrown and extremely badly behaved ones

  • Lib Dem MPs should take the initiative and table a formal motion in the House of Commons to change the rules.

    This would force the Conservative Party to show its hand on where it stands on being in tune with modern Britain.

  • Nonconformistradical 24th Nov '21 - 11:05am

    I second Neil Hickman wholeheartedly

  • John Marriott 24th Nov '21 - 1:40pm

    Do we REALLY need MORE babies in the HOC? Haven’t we got enough there already?

    Seriously though, what’s all the fuss about?

  • @John Marriott – can you really not see that banning breast-feeding mothers from Parliament not only discriminates against them but also deprives their constituents of proper representation?
    Your comment was pretty close to being deleted (although the first sentence was amusing enough), because it implies that women are overstating their case – “Calm down, dear” comes to mind.

  • jayne mansfield 24th Nov '21 - 3:58pm

    @ John Marriott,
    No we don’t. We just need to replace the ones we have with ones that cry more coherently and make more sense than her Majesty’s Government..

    The Tory MP for Blackpool has questioned why Stella Creasy should be allowed to take her baby to work when some of his constituents who earn less than her and have to pay for childcare.

    Maybe it is because there is a need to challenge workplace practices that have been created to be ‘male rather than family friendly’, and maybe it is because despite earning more than those constituents, she does not use her position to pull up the ladder for other women, but uses her position to improve their lot as far as childcare is concerned.

  • Brad Barrows 24th Nov '21 - 5:20pm

    So what rules, if any, would be appropriate? Should only breast-feeding babies be allowed in the chamber, or any babies? Or is it just babies…what about small children who are able to sit on a knee? The authorities have opened a can of worms….

  • Barry Lofty 24th Nov '21 - 5:45pm

    Perhaps they could open a nursery in the space between the government and opposition benches, it would certainly be more entertaining to watch than one of Boris Johnson’s speeches??

  • John Marriott 24th Nov '21 - 6:31pm

    @Mary Reid
    Oh, Mary, you clearly do not understand my drift. Glad you saw the joke in my first sentence. “What’s all the fuss about?” Is my judgement on some of the ‘rules’ in the HOC that obviously haven’t caught up with custom and practice in many areas of society today. I have no problem with breastfeeding in public. Brad Barrows has made a good point about older children, however.

    By the way, the first MP to breastfeed her baby in the HOC was, I believe, Labour’s Helene Hayman, at that time the youngest MP, back in the 1982.

  • Chris Moore 24th Nov '21 - 6:37pm

    Hello, Mary,

    I strongly agree with the argument and sentiments expressed in your article. Ways must be found to make life easier for mothers in Parliament. There are also other issues for women to feel entirely at ease in Parliament. Reform is cryingly over-due!

    But I also can’t understand why you are reluctant to allow people to comment freely, even if their point of view is different to yours (and wrong). Surely, free speech is a core value for liberals?

  • Neil Hickman 24th Nov '21 - 6:44pm

    @Brad Barrows
    Surely the answer is to approach the issue from the right end. The House of Commons is meant to be a mature and thoughtful debating chamber. Therefore, that which does not interfere with the House of Commons functioning as a mature and thoughtful debating chamber – such as Stella Creasy having her child with her, or indeed a quiet and well behaved child sitting next to its parent of either gender – does not need to be forbidden. That which does interfere with the House of Commons functioning as a mature and thoughtful debating chamber- such as ill mannered ex-public schoolboys braying loudly while others are speaking in an effort to drown out what is being said, or Ministers failing to answer questions and using PMQs as merely an excuse for scripted sound bites and weak jokes – ought to be forbidden, and the perpetrators dealt with severely.
    I shall not be holding my breath.

  • Ruth Bright 24th Nov '21 - 6:45pm

    The ignorance about breastfeeding and employment rights around breastfeeding never ceases to amaze. Having breastfed for three years it was like being a fugitive from justice, feeding in toilets at conference etc etc. It is 12 years ago now and it would have been nice to assume things had got better, especially when there is more and more pressure to breastfeed for health reasons.

    I wonder what kind of reaction you would get breastfeeding publicly at Peppa Pig World!!

  • Ruth Bright 24th Nov '21 - 7:02pm

    By the way I hope no-one is going to “cancel” John M. He always seems to have a lot of understanding about the challenges of juggling family and politics.

  • @John Marriott – I can see that I did misrepresent you, apologies. It just points up how ambiguous pure text can be.
    @Chris Moore – the context is that so many posts we have put on LDV on women’s issues are hijacked by men saying “What about us?”. Just thought I’d get my defence in early.

  • HOC should have a workplace Creche, perhaps it has, can anyone advise?

  • Sorry HOC should read HOP!

  • Jayne mansfield 24th Nov '21 - 8:06pm

    @ Brad Barrows,

    “What rules?”.
    Well I would start with rules that don’t discriminate against women who choose to breast feed their infants.

    The WHO and all paediatric associations worldwide subscribe to the view that babies should be exclusively breast feed for the first six months of life and thereafter for two years with the addition of complementary food.. However some mothers may wish to breast feed for longer. Therefore if one is not to discriminate against breast feeding mothers, it is quite reasonable to accept that in order not to discriminate a breast feeding mother may wish to take her child to work for even longer.

    Actually, one of the best ways to stop a toddler kicking off’ is to put him to the breast for a quick suckle or just the feel and smell of it’s mothers skin.

    @ Neil Hickman,
    What a sensible post..

    A more mature and thoughtful parliament might be possible if there was a rule to close the bars where our politicians quench their thirst.

  • Chris Moore 24th Nov '21 - 9:14pm

    Hello Mary, ah yes I understand. That must be very irritating!

    More power to you!

  • Brad Barrows 24th Nov '21 - 10:20pm

    @Jayne mansfield
    ‘Rules that don’t discriminate against women who choose to breast feed their infants.’
    Actually, as I understand it, the current rules treat women who wish to breast feed their infants in the House of Commons exactly the same as women who wish to bottle feed their infants in the House if Commons – neither is permitted. Therefore the issue is not about breast feeding, as such, but about the right of a parent/carer to take their infant into the House of Commons and feed the infant there (whether by bottle or by breast). All of us should support this right.

  • Christine Headley 25th Nov '21 - 12:53am

    @theakes. HOP does have a nursery. But I think it is open more like 9-5 than Chamber hours. From my Women’s Liberation days in the 1970s I remember ’24 hour childcare’ as one of the Six Demands. This would be a good place to introduce it, but I doubt that will happen. As Stella Creasey said, you don’t want a toddler in the Chamber, but a mostly-sleeping baby should be acceptable.

  • Jayne mansfield 25th Nov '21 - 8:04am

    @ Brad Barrows.
    Any helper can feed a bottle fed baby with formula if a mother makes the choice of formula feeding.

    I said that I would ‘start with rules’ that discriminate against breast feeding mothers. Now you may argue that a baby can be fed breast milk in a bottle by a helper or creche worker, but mothers choose to breast feed their infants by breast fro a variety of reasons. One being that if one feeds breast milk in a bottle , the infant is as vulnerable to gastro intestinal infections as formula fed infants where absolutely impeccable sterilisation is necessary. If mothers make the choice that they are not prepared to take that risk, that choice should be respected.

    I would off course hope that mothers who bottle feed their infants would also be allowed to take their infant into the chamber etc. Feeding an infant is not just about the transfer of nutrition to an infant.

    A difference between breast feeding and formula feeding is that babies who feed on demand need to be close to their mother’s breast. Women who have made the decision that exclusive breast feeding is the best option for their infants should live in a society where that choice is respected and facilitated unless there are absolute difficulties that cannot be overcome. I don’t think that applies here. Did any of the babies who have been given access, disrupt proceedings?

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Nov '21 - 2:40pm

    Stella Creasey has an article in the Giardian:

    “This is not about me. It’s about the rights of all women and the obstacles that stop us playing a full role in our politics”

    I don’t have children but Stella is right. Some politicians appear to want to hide MPs’ transgressions (sleaze etc.) behind the fact that said politicians were elected by their constituents. Yet when it comes to babies being brought into Parliament some politicians (maybe the same ones) appear to ignore the fact that Stella was so elected.

    I do wonder to what extent it might be the difficulty some of the ex-public school overgrown schoolboys in Parliament appear to have over treating women as normal.

    I recall vaguely something in the media about Jacob Rees-Mogg saying he’d never changed a nappy for any of his six children….

  • It’s a little unfair to have a go at MP’s for not wanting children in the chamber. There are many, many people who are against children in the work place. In yesterday’s Daily Mail readers comments (many of them women) readers were massively against Stella Creasy’s position. When I looked the most popular comment was against children in the workplace and it had over 15,000 likes and just over 300 dislikes. It might only be the Daily Mail, but it’s a very popular newspaper

  • @Malc – you are missing the key difference here. In any other job women get maternity leave plus shared parental leave, and someone covers them while they are on leave. At present that is not possible for MPs, hence the dilemma.

  • Mary I take your point but I couldn’t see much support for Stella Creasy’s position except for those that are just anti Tory. Where does it stop? If Creasy was in the cabinet would she take her baby to cabinet meetings? If she was Foreign Secretary would she be taking her baby to long and intensive meetings with Macron, Putin or Biden? I think there is a certain amount of attention seeking here. I would prefer it if like the rest of the population she arranged some alternative child care.

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Nov '21 - 6:37pm

    Do you have a problem about seeing mothers breast-feeding their babies in public places?

    It really isn’t a big deal.

    And as Jayne Mansfield pointed out yesterday in this thread:

    “Actually, one of the best ways to stop a toddler kicking off’ is to put him to the breast for a quick suckle or just the feel and smell of it’s mothers skin.”

    And if a mother did take her infant to a cabinet meeting the infant is rather unlikely to learn anything confidential!

  • Ruth Bright 26th Nov '21 - 1:03am

    Malc it is not about childcare or attention seeking. It is about the merciless mechanics of mother nature. If a mother is not in close proximity to her young baby her milk packs up. Formula milk is an inferior alternative.

    I wasnt attention seeking when I was a politician who sometimes breastfed publicly. I just didnt want to stay at home for three years 😊

  • @Malc: “If Creasy was in the cabinet would she take her baby to cabinet meetings? ” Why not? Provided the baby isn’t significantly distracting her attention from the meeting and isn’t causing any disruption, what would the problem be if she did? Ditto for your remark about meeting other leaders.

  • jayne mansfield 26th Nov '21 - 8:22am

    @ Malc,
    It is Johnson and Patel who are Persona Non Grata as far as a meeting with President Macron are concerned. The French and other EU nations don’t get the Boris joke.

    I feel quite confident that Stella Creasy and baby would be more than welcome.

    I love Ruth’s phrase, ‘the merciless mechanics of mother nature’. Any politician or aspiring politicians should be able to fee their infant with the nutrition that is carefully calibrated to suit it as an individual. This includes that it is more digestible than formula feeds, so the baby gets hungry more frequently, needs feeding more frequently and the biological link that continues after birth means that when the baby starts to cry, lactation is stimulated.

    Women make up more than 50% of the population, we must move from a system built to suit public school old boys and start to create a political structure where we have a choice of more excellent women to represent us, not expect them to make impossible choices

    Stella Creasy was not attention seeking, she was acting like a conscientious MP who was pulled in two directions, wishing to both do her best for her baby and her constituents..

  • I was once summoned to a work meeting with four women and no other men. One of the four had her baby with her and while speaking decided to breastfeed her child. I make no apology for feeling embarrassed at the time and somewhat annoyed. While I have every sympathy with women who so-called ‘juggle’, that feeling of unease stays with me. But what also worries me is that I am likely to be shot down in flames and that I ought to feel stifled or pretend my feelings are otherwise. Well, so be it!

  • Nonconformistradical – I have absolutely no problem with breast feeding in public places. I just think that having children in the workplace is a distraction. I’m certainly not alone in that view.

    From the BBC:

    “Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle says he has been “heavily lobbied” by women MPs not to change the rules on bringing babies into the chamber.”

  • jane mansfield 26th Nov '21 - 11:06am

    @ Don Manley,
    I wouldn’t presume to tell you how you should feel. No one can tell anyone what they should be feeling or that it is wrong to feel the way the way they do.

    What I would say though, as someone who came of age in the sixties, I could not fail to believe it extraordinary that some men found it embarrassing or distasteful to see a woman breast feeding, but many of the same men referred to women like me as ‘Lesbians’, thinking it an insulting slur when it certainly wasn’t received as one, when we were agitating fro the removal of page 3 girls from the Sun newspaper, or the removal of them , and titlillating calendars from the walls of shared rest rooms etc.

    More recently when I look across beaches, I don’t see men looking green and nauseated when there are topless bathers nearby.

    Earlier, I mentioned that some women choose to formula feed. Scientifically, that may not be the best nutrition for their infants, but it may be the best they can do for their family when their partners cannot support any other choice. And the support of a partner is crucial.

    If men (0r women) , find that breasts that on view everywhere, tv, films, magazines, etc. are embarrassing when they are being suckled by an infant, I guess the answer is to avert one’s eyes.

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Nov '21 - 11:30am

    @Don Manley
    “But what also worries me is that I am likely to be shot down in flames and that I ought to feel stifled or pretend my feelings are otherwise. Well, so be it!”

    I’m not going to shoot you down in flames. Actually your ‘so be it’ comment came across to me as unwillingness to have regard for the views of others – somewhat akin to shooting them down in flames.

    I get the impression that you might have difficulty moving with the times? Or thinking seriously about why you seem to feel the way you do? Or – hopefully perish the thought – taking the view that workplaces ought to be male environments?

  • Jayne mansfield 26th Nov '21 - 11:53am

    Oops Scientifically that may be the best nutrition for their infants.

    I would also like to add, that every woman I know has breast fed discreetly, the only thing ones sees is an infant’s head moving rhythmically.

    The underlying fact is, women in order to avoid the disapproval of others, have to constantly make important choices that they may not otherwise make,. They often do so in the knowledge that these choices may lead to less beneficial consequences for the health of themselves and their infants,

  • We all have to move with the times and i regret the patronising implication that I have not done so. This was over 20 years ago. I think if I had been warned in advance I would have been happier , but this arrangement should indeed have been negotiated in advance. To be in a room with five women as the only male, with one of them breastfeeding was a surprising distraction. when serious business was being discussed. The experience helps me to understand those who feel uneasy about unlimited workplace breastfeeding– that’s all! Please respect this insight whatever your own views!

  • Jayne mansfield 26th Nov '21 - 5:12pm

    @ Don Manley,
    Patronised in what way Mr Manley?

    You worried that you would be shot down in flames or have your feelings have your feelings stifled or pretend you feel otherwise. I think it totally dishonest to pretend feelings and as I mentioned no-one can tall another person what they are feeling or what they should be feeling. Feelings are feelings.

    Arguments are , or in my opinion should not about feelings they are about fact, evidence based facts. The argument is whether a woman should be able to take her breast fed infant into a work environment. and feed said infant on demand. . I hope that I managed to stick to the facts that lead me take the view that they should.

    I don’t agree with you that times have moved on.

    @ Malc,
    It will be interesting to know who these women are that ‘heavily lobbied’ him, or will it be deemed in the national interest that this information is withheld?

    I am afraid there are many women who because of career considerations, are keen to demonstrate their loyalty to the dominant group. Personally I think our democracy is better served by one Stella Creasy and infant , than the sum total of all the women MPs on the opposition benches. But that’s another story.

  • Jayne mansfield

    “I am afraid there are many women who because of career considerations, are keen to demonstrate their loyalty to the dominant group.”

    There are well over 200 women MP’s and I’m sure many (if not all) are strong individuals. Just because they disagree with you doesn’t mean they are kowtowing to the “dominant group”.

  • I am an integrated rational and emotional being, not an automaton. How dare you put me down — I though we were liberals here, nut clearly there is to be no dissent! Liberalism indeed!!

  • Jayne Mansfield 26th Nov '21 - 8:01pm

    @ Malc,
    How many disagree Malc? And why do they disagree? I think Stella Creasy and those who have been and are likely to be in the same position in the future deserve an answer..

    Breastfeeding in the Australian parliament has not brought the roof down. Women have been breast feeding in other parliaments. Some of our MPs have breast fed in council chambers before becoming MPs and MEPs can also breast feed.

    My personal understanding of Liberalism is that it is progressive not a means of upholding the status quo if no reasonable argument can be made for maintaining the status quo. According to a 2015 report when this issue one more became prominent, , the BBC reported that Sir Simon Steele opposed a change because ‘it would risk ridicule in the tabloid press” !

    I refer you to an 2020 article by Sarah Childs , then professor of politics at Birkbeck, and visiting professor ‘at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College, ‘ London. ‘Breast feeding in the House of Commons is a sign that parliament is becoming an more inclusive place of work’

    It is to be welcomed that there are now more women in parliament, but this issue only affects women with infants or those who wish to start and combine family life with a career in politics. It would be interesting to have a breakdown of how many are in those categories.

    On a wider note. We have politicians arguing for more preventative health initiatives which will reduce the pressure on our hospitals and health service from avoidable conditions. The health and preventative benefits of breast feeding are well known so why aren’t MPs encouraging role modelling instead of putting barriers in the way of women who choose to do this?

  • Jayne – I don’t agree it’s only the people who are in (or likely to be) in Stella Creasy’s position that have a say in this. If you are a 70 year old male MP you have just as much say in this as a 25 female MP with twin babies. The Chamber is the workplace of all MP’S and they should have an equal say in what happens in their place of work. For me it isn’t about breast feeding, it’s about having children in the workplace. I don’t agree with it – you obviously think it’s OK. I guess there is plenty of support on both sides of the argument, we will just have to differ.

  • jayne mansfield 27th Nov '21 - 11:44am

    @ Malc,
    Yes we will have to agree to disagree.

    I do not with this important subject to be some gladiatorial contest between individuals who want the last word. It is counter-productive , and there are other and more effective ways of effecting change.

    I do need to apologise for a lack of concentration that led me to attribute a comment to a non- person, rather than the actual person Sir Simon Burns.

    I also wish to clarify what I mean by dominant group. By that I mean those who wield the greatest power over others.

    This issue has been raised on many occasions. Betty Boothroyd refused the idea of infants being brought into the chamber or fed by any method. . John Bercow commissioned an independent review. The report stated that lifting the ban would enable all members to participate in House business.. (stimulating the aforementioned Sir Simon Burns’ rationale for opposing change).. And Sir Lindsay Hoyle when he became speaker said he would have no objection.He is quoted as saying, ‘I ‘m of the view there isn’t a policy’, my view is that it is up to the mother”

    Fortunately, as women our progress towards equality has been supported by some fantastic, feminist men, and I thank them using their power on our behalf.

    I disagree with you but I wish you well.

  • Jason Connor 27th Nov '21 - 6:30pm

    People are entitled to their view without it being deleted so long as it’s not of the hate speech variety. I don’t have a strong on view on it except I am happy not being in a family unit but then that’s just me. It’s interesting most of the comments are about female MPs bringing babies into the Chamber but then it could be male MPs or people who identify as non binary too. Perhaps we could allow animals such as dogs, not just guide dogs, then parliamentary life would be far more inclusive.

  • Jason Connor 27th Nov '21 - 7:09pm

    Don – I felt it was a bit patronising too but that’s often how I feel when posting on here.

  • Jason the patronising thing is very interesting. I was a parliamentary candidate and mother of small babies at the same time. It was a big shock the way Ruth with a suit and a political title was respected but incognito Ruth with a newborn in tow was often spoken to by health visitors and the like as if she had the IQ of an amoeba.

    This whole debate is primarily about supporting breastfeeding. Human milk has unique qualities and is a soup of antibodies (Covid antibodies for instance feature in human milk until 10 months after an infection) and it is just a fact that only a mother can provide those and should be supported to do so.

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson 1st Dec '21 - 5:25pm

    The comments in the daily mail and a few here about not taking children into workplaces sadden me for their lack of vision.

    The western world of work outside the home has, for the last century, been a world designed for men. Usually facilitated men who have a wife at home doing all the housework and childcare so he can concentrate on work.

    When I was younger, I was very happy as a single woman to fit into that world – to go to work, to go out drinking with colleagues after work, to declare myself a feminist who was making it in a man’s world.

    As I got older, I realised that I didn’t want to be just a woman who “made it”. I wanted to smash the patriarchal systems that created a world of work that was structural sexist.

    I went back to work 14 weeks after my first child was born. I was lucky to have an enlightened employer and money to throw at decent nearby childcare. I often took part in conference calls from a private office whilst also hooked up to a milk pumping machine – my ability to listen and make intelligent comments didn’t flow out of my body along with the milk. And for 3 months I was running a project which involved leading a daily 9pm call with the US. On most of those calls (thankfully pre zoom) I was sat on my sofa in pj’s feeding my daughter.

    I would never have contemplated taking a rowdy toddler who needed active parenting into a meeting and neither would any professional parent. But if we are going to build a world where parents are valued in the workplace we must make our workplaces more flexible and family friendly

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson – If you want to start a business which is flexible and child friendly then good luck to you and I wish you well. If I start a business and don’t want very young children under foot then that’s up to me. If I have a female (or male) member of staff who is that valuable to me with a young child then I will bend over backwards to help. However, I employ the person (whether I am male or female) not their family and it’s up to me to make the decisions.

  • @Malc – if you were running your own business I hope you would honour an employee’s statutory right to maternity/parental leave. My post made one simple point, that MPs have no such rights, and there is no cover available for them to ensure that their constituents continue to be represented.

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