Scottish MP calls for 'modernisation' after bringing baby into House of Commons debate

Jo Swinson has been campaigning for MPs to be allowed to vote by proxy

Scottish MP calls for 'modernisation' after bringing baby into House of Commons debate

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson with her baby Gabriel in the UK House of Commons, 13-09-2018. Image: PA/PA Wire/PA Images

A Scottish MP has spoken out about the need to “modernise” the UK Parliament after she became the first person to bring her baby into a House of Commons debate.

Jo Swinson has been campaigning for MPs to be allowed to vote by proxy for maternity leave.

The Liberal Democrat deputy leader said introducing the proxy vote would enable absent members to nominate another MP to vote on their behalf when they cannot attend the house.

She told BBC Good Morning Scotland that she had spoken early on in the debate – and was planning to return later in the day to listen to the final speeches.

"By that time I'd had to leave the chamber, I'd had to go and feed my baby and he had then fallen asleep on me in the baby carrier,” she said.

"The options were: wake him up and hand him to somebody else for 20 minutes, or go in and sit down, do no harm.

“He stayed asleep for most of it."

Pairing system

Under current Commons rules, MPs on maternity leave are ‘paired’ with an MP from an opposing party – ensuring both sides are absent.

However Ms Swinson’s arrangement was recently broken in a crunch on Brext, which the UK government narrowly won.

Instead of missing the vote after Ms Swinson could not attend, her Tory pair voted for the Government.

 “It was quite simply a shameful act for the Government Chief Whip to ask a member ot break a pairing arrangement – and for him to agree,” she said.

“It clearly was not an honest mistake – especially when it emerged that other MPs were also asked to break their pair on those divisions.

“Whether for reasons of maternity or illness or anything else, there is nothing honourable about deliberately breaking a pairing.

“It is cheating, plain and simple. What a sign of desperation.”

The Conservative Party chair Brandon Lewis responded on Twitter: "I'm sorry Jo. I think it was an honest mistake made by the whips in fast-moving circumstances.

"I know how important the pair is to everyone, especially new parents, and I apologise."

Proxy

UK politicians are due to vote on whether to adopt the proxy system.

On the BBC, Ms Swinson said bringing her baby into the house was “a step forward” for modernising parliament,

She said she hopes the move will send a message that, “it really needs to be possible for parents to be able to combine their responsibilities for their children with their working lives – and all too often that is made too difficult.”

"That won't always mean taking your child to work, but in the case of very small babies, for people who are working at that stage then that can be just one of the ways in which workplaces can modernise and there could be flexibility in order to make it possible," she said.