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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The 21st Century Parliament operating nineteenth century rules

I blogged earlier this year on the ridiculous and retrograde way that the House of Commons treats pregnant MPs.

The archaic working practices that female MPs have to endure was brought to a head in July 2018 when the Tory Chief Whip asked party chairman, Brandon Lewis to break a pairing agreement with Lib Dem MP, Jo Swinson, who had recently given birth and was effectively taking maternity leave.

In January of this year, a cross-party delegation of MPs met the speaker to implore him to introduce a new baby leave system, which would allow proxy voting for new mothers and fathers. They were concerned that at the informal nature of the current system for parental leave and the fact it is organised by the political parties, being totally reliant on the pairing system, which can break down during crucial votes. This request was eventually granted.

Now the Labour MP, Stella Creasy has highlighted the dilemma she faces as an expectant mother, when faced with the antiquated working practices and rules operated by the House of Commons. As the Guardian reports, she feels parliament is telling her to “choose between being a mum and being an MP”, revealing that the parliamentary standards authority has told expectant mothers it does not recognise any form of maternity leave and will not automatically provide extra support for constituency work after she gives birth.

Creasy said she had decided to speak out after experiencing two miscarriages during which she was forced to continue to work as normal without any additional support:

Now pregnant again, she said she had been told that MPs would not be provided with any additional funding for support staff by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to allow her to get extra help with constituency work.

The MP for Walthamstow said she had been heartened by the introduction of proxy voting, introduced earlier this year after a the Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who heavily pregnant, was forced to delay her caesarean section and vote in a wheelchair, but that far more had to change.

Creasy said that during her first miscarriage, she had carried on constituency work “aching and bleeding”, including joining a protest for the extradition of a man who had raped and murdered a constituent. After her second miscarriage she said she had to arrange the medical procedure around constituency advice surgeries.

“Heartbroken by all the years that I have struggled with fertility, I’ve kept these events to myself and made sure my constituents have never been affected,” she writes. “Now I’m pregnant once more and terrified – not just that it will go wrong again, but because I know that my resolve to keep my private and professional lives separate has become impossible.”

Creasy said she had approached Ipsa about funding for cover but was told it “does not ‘recognise’ that MPs go on maternity leave”.

“Humiliatingly, it is making me beg for extra staff funding – or give up any chance of spending time with my child to make sure my constituents don’t miss out,” she writes. “If a GP or vicar were on leave, a locum would be provided to ensure continuity of services. In Denmark, a member of the national parliament would have a substitute MP appointed.”

Creasy is absolutely right when she says that the struggle MPs experience trying to take adequate maternity leave is one of many issues where fertility is still a barrier to equality, and in highlighting non-disclosure agreements used to cover up maternity discrimination and the postcode lottery of fertility treatments.

What sort of inhuman organisation is IPSA that it effectively does not recognise nor make allowances for MPs to give birth? Isn't it about time that they joined the twenty first century as well?
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