MPs should be allowed to breastfeed in the House of Commons to make it a “role-model parent-friendly institution”, a year-long review to tackle sexism has said.
The report by Professor Sarah Childs said parliament’s “working practices still reflect the traditions and preferences of those who historically populated it”.
She noted allowing infants into the chamber could attract “considerably media criticism” but quoted the late MP Jo Cox, who said: “We should take on the popular press if it is critical and say, ‘this is what women do; get over it’. It is good for children, so we should advocate it.”
She added that it would be unlikely for it to become “routine” if it were permitted in the Commons.
Speaker John Bercow has set up a Commons Reference Group to look at how to promote diversity among MPs, who are still “disproportionately white, male, and elite,” Prof Childs’ report says.
Bercow could now overturn the ban on breastfeeding in the Commons chamber after his predecessors Michael Martin and Betty Boothroyd upheld it.
Martin upheld the ban in 2002, against a recommendation by parliament’s Administration Committee.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, told HuffPost UK: “Women who are breastfeeding are perfectly capable of participating in debates, committees or otherwise getting on with the many tasks required of our MPs.
“Perhaps those who object should think more about their own contribution to improving our politics and worry less about what someone else’s baby is doing.”
Bercow said he was “delighted” with the report, adding: “Not everyone will agree with every recommendation or suggested outcome, which is a condition of an independent report.
“But I am confident that my colleagues on the Commons Reference Group will scrutinise its contents very closely, with a view to taking on board a good number of its suggestions.”
Prof Childs, a professor of gender and politics at Bristol University, said: “We must not forget that Parliament itself remains far from diverse and inclusive. Change will not happen on its own.
“Parliament needs to accept its responsibility to ensure a diverse composition of MPs and that present members are able to equally participate. Established ways of working need to be questioned.”
Britain has its second female prime minister but only 191 of the House of Commons’ 650 MPs are women, just under 30%.
In 2014, then-Lib Dem MP and equalities minister Jo Swinson said it was “bizarre” MPs were banned from taking their babies into the Commons.
In a blog on HuffPost UK, she railed against how the media had written about the Childs report, saying it showed “why we are still light years from equality”.
“I know the media sensationalises and twists things out of context. But I genuinely struggle to understand the thought-process that takes a tiny part of a serious report about how our democratic institutions reflect society, and not only blows it up into the headline, but in some cases makes it the only idea that they even include in the entire story. ,” she wrote.
“It’s the journalistic equivalent of pinging a girl’s bra-strap and thinking it’s hilarious. ‘Boobs! They mentioned boobs!’. You can almost hear the puerile chuckles in the newsroom.”
In February, Australia’s parliament voted to allow women to breastfeed in the House of Representatives.
Female parliamentarians have caused stirs in recent years by taking their infants into chambers to vote, including Spain’s Carolina Bescansa in 2012 and Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli in 2010.
Labour’s Melanie Onn, MP for Great Grimsby said: “It is obvious to even the casual observer that Parliament needs to commit to change if it wants to be fit for modern purpose.
“Parliament is still unrepresentative of the British public, clinging on to antiquated traditions and a reluctance to progress. This makes it less appealing as a place to work and causes people to view it as remote and opaque.
“I hope Professor Childs’ report will spark the changes we need to see in Westminster.”
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