MP Stella Creasy was admonished for bringing her baby to work this week. But her case is more about the right to maternity cover and the need to modernise Parliament.
There was a lot of discussion this week about bringing your baby to work after Stella Creasy was warned for doing so. Creasy brought her three-month-old baby in for a debate in the Commons.
There was a lot of debate about whether mums should be able to bring their babies to work and a lot of it ignored the basic point that Creasy felt forced to do so because of the lack of maternity cover, an issue she has campaigned forcefully for, and which she feels is part of a culture that is putting off women from entering politics. Creasy argued that her baby was not disturbing anyone and that she did not feel that, at such a young age, she could leave him with anyone else.
However, after speaking in the House of Commons, she was sent an email from the private secretary to the chairman of the ways and means committee, Dame Eleanor Laing, which said this was not in line with recently published rules on “behaviour and courtesies”. The Speaker of the House of Commons has asked the Commons Procedure Committee to “look into this matter”.
Of course, ideally mothers would not have to bring their babies to work because they would have adequate maternity leave and cover. Back in the summer, after she was informed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that she will not be granted a locum for her role as MP, Creasy said she was considering legal action.
IPSA had called the request for such cover ‘misconceived’ and suggested they could provide a sum of money for staffing – £35,000 over seven months – which could be used to pay for staff to do some of her work. However, those staff would not be able to act in the absence of the MP. Instead they would be expected to ‘escalate matters to the MP’, meaning the MP would not be able to take maternity leave. The decision came after a Bill was voted through allowing ministers – but not other MPs – to have access to six months maternity leave on full pay.
Many women, of course, have no choice but to work with a baby present, often because they run their own business and cannot afford time out of it. That is a different issue.
For those who are employed, however, there should be adequate leave, cover and pay so that women can recover from childbirth. This week’s news is not about parents turning the House of Commons into a creche. It is about basic maternity rights for MPs and about making Parliamentary culture more suitable to modern life, dragging it into the 21st century, as it were.