UK Politics

Breastfeeding in the Commons 'would risk tabloid ridicule'

Simon Burns

Allowing MPs to breastfeed in the House of Commons could risk ridicule from the tabloid press, former Conservative minister Sir Simon Burns has warned.

The Chelmsford MP urged caution as MPs debated potential ways to make the House of Commons more family-friendly.

Others argued it was time to allow breastfeeding in the chamber, with the SNP's Alison Thewliss saying she used to do it in meetings as a councillor.

Government minister Therese Coffey said the current ban should remain in place.

'Appropriate time and place'

Speaking in Westminster Hall, Sir Simon said he agreed with ex-Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd, who said she would allow breastfeeding in the Commons when supermarket checkout staff were allowed to do so.

"I do think we have to be careful that in pushing for a more realistic approach we don't give the tabloid press the opportunity to ridicule us," Sir Simon told MPs.

He said there was "an appropriate time and place for breastfeeding" and told MPs he did not want the issue to "degenerate" with the case being undermined because "we are ridiculed by what is being proposed".

Image caption Alison Thewliss told MPs she had breastfed her children in Hampden Park and in Glasgow Council meetings

But Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP for Glasgow Central, said the "appropriate time and place" to feed a baby was "when it is hungry".

"I have breastfed at Hampden Park in the middle of a football crowd, at bus stops and anywhere else my baby has been hungry.

"As a Glasgow city councillor, I breastfed my child in meetings, including committee meetings, and nobody had a problem with that," she told MPs.

'A workplace'

Melanie Onn, deputy shadow leader of the Commons, added her support to the idea of overturning the ban on women MPs breastfeeding their babies in the Commons.

If councillors and MEPs were able to do it "is it not time for this place to open itself up to a 21st-Century way of working, rather than hide behind Victorian values?" she asked.

Ms Onn said that if breastfeeding continued to be seen as an "exception" rather than "commonplace... then, yes, it is open to ridicule".

Speaking for the government, deputy Commons leader Therese Coffey told MPs she believed the "Betty Boothroyd test... still stands".

"We may talk about it being the 21st Century, but this is a workplace and it is not something that people enjoy wider than that.

"I do not believe that there is a big view in the House to make the shift at this time," she said.