Breast best hid, say women MPs

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Westminster's women are engaged in a bitter row over breastfeeding in the House of Commons.

A group of Labour MPs have been lobbying for the right to feed infants on the green benches and in committee rooms.

But, after reports that Michael Martin, the Speaker, is poised to overturn his predecessor Betty Boothroyd's ban on breastfeeding, opposition is growing.

Dissent was originally confined to Tory men but now it is being led by women MPs, including Labour women.

Helen Clark, the Labour MP for Peterborough, has put down a motion arguing that the working areas of the House "are not the right places for breastfeeding or childcare in any form". The motion says this is "neither in the interests of the children themselves or the proper conduct of the business of Parliament". The motion is understood to have won the support of a number of female Labour MPs.

On the other side of the House, the Tory former minister Ann Widdecombe has put down a similar motion.

But Julia Drown, one of the Labour MPs at the forefront of the appeals to overthrow Ms Boothroyd's ruling, is adamant about women's right to breastfeed at work – in the Commons or elsewhere.

"I respect individual mothers' decisions about where they feel it is right to breastfeed their children and I find it hard to understand why anybody would want to make a decision on behalf of other mothers," she said.

"There is a real issue about low breastfeeding rates and to say that a particular place is or is not appropriate is in my mind quite wrong."

But Ms Clark said: "It's not going back to the ark and trying to make things difficult for women. There should be more childcare facilities and not just facilities for breastfeeding but I actually don't feel things are going to be made any better by this.

"To be passing a tiny baby around on the green benches, which are very narrow, raised from the floor and really not safe doesn't make sense. Nor does chasing through the lobbies with a small baby late at night."

The Speaker is due to rule on the issue shortly.