Mothers will shun the House without extra help, warn MPs

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Indy Politics

Julie Kirkbride's decision to resign has set off warnings that women MPs with young children may find it increasingly difficult to juggle their professional and family lives.

Before she stepped down, she put up a spirited defence of her actions, claiming that the decisions for which she was most heavily criticised – such as having an extension to her home in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, built at public expense so that her brother could live in it rent free – were driven by the need to care for her eight-year-old son, Angus.

Her performance reminded Westminster observers of Cherie Blair's defence of her decision to accept help from an Australian con man to buy two flats in Bristol, one of which was to have been a home for her student son.

Maria Miller, Tory MP for Basingstoke, and the mother of three young children, said yesterday that the fall out from the expenses row might put mothers off a political career. She said that she had decided to stop claiming the Additional Costs Allowance altogether, because she does not want to have details of her home life put up for public scrutiny. "What I'd like to be judged on is not how I run my family life. I want to be judged on what I do as an MP," she told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

She added: "If you want to open up Parliament to get a broader cross section of people taking part; it cannot be right when we are in a situation where MPs who don't have spouses or partners to subsidise their living accommodation will be put off coming to Parliament."

She added that when the system of MPs allowances and expenses is overhauled "the stresses and strains of family life need to be at the heart of the solutions they put forward".

Claire Ward, Labour MP for Watford, was heavily criticised early in the expenses row for claiming for a second home when her constituency is within commuting distance of London. She defended the decision because her job as a whip compels her to keep long hours, and she has two small children.

She said: "On nights when the Commons sits until late, I try to return to my Westminster flat to see the children at lunchtime or bedtime before returning to work. If they were permanently in Watford, that would not be possible." At weekends, she takes the children with her to Watford so that she can do constituency work.

Natascha Engel, Labour MP for Derbyshire North East, has three children aged five, four and one. Writing for The Independent today, she said: "I have taken babies to surgeries and toddlers to public meetings. They live in two places. On Friday evenings they fall asleep in London and wake up Saturday morning in Derbyshire. On Sunday nights it's the other way round. We have two sets of everything. Two sets of toys, clothes, bottles, plastic plates and beds and now Ben 10 watches. I can't, don't and wouldn't claim for these items, and it is a heavy cost."

Jessica Morden, Labour MP for Newport East, who has a two-year-old daughter and a seven-month-old son, said: "It is difficult for an MP with young children, though no more difficult than it is for a lot of other families."

A few hours before she announced her resignation, Ms Kirkbride said: "Every working mother knows how difficult it is to get childcare that completely fits around what they need, in particular out of hours childcare. So it seemed to me ideal that my brother was able to look after Angus."