Speaker berated for keeping Commons breastfeeding ban

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Indy Politics

Campaigners voiced disappointment yesterday that women MPs have failed to overturn a ban on breastfeeding in the Commons chamber.

The Speaker, Michael Martin, has ruled that there should be no change in the rules, which ban the practice in the chamber, in committees and in public galleries in Parliament.

The National Childbirth Trust said Mr Martin had wasted an opportunity to set an example to women about breastfeeding.

The Conservative MP Marion Roe, the chairman of the administration committee, said it had recommended to Mr Martin that the Commons "should give a lead ... by allowing mothers to feed their babies wherever it is appropriate to them in the Palace of Westminster and associated buildings".

Suitable non-lavatory facilities should be made available for feeding babies, the committee said, and staff should be provided with information in order to answer queries from mothers about available facilities.

But Mrs Roe added: "Mr Speaker has informed the Committee that, after undertaking broadly based consultations within the House, he has decided to make no change to the current regulations."

The ban on breastfeeding in the committee rooms and the public gallery was enforced by the former speaker Betty Boothroyd in April 2000 under regulations that preclude the use of refreshments and the presence in committee rooms of people who are not members or specified officials.

At the time, the decision was widely criticised by women MPs, who had been conducting a vigorous campaign to make the Commons a little more female-friendly.

Belinda Phipps, the chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said she was extremely disappointed with Mr Martin's choice.

"As the Commons is an open and public building, this is a rare and wasted opportunity to set an example to women across the UK that breastfeeding is and should be accepted in public places," she said. "At the moment, far too few women in the UK are starting to breastfeed – just one in two young mothers – and fewer still, one in eight, are breastfeeding at four months.

"Establishing breastfeeding as an everyday activity is vital if we are to enable more women to breastfeed their babies.

"This decision from the Speaker does little to convince women that breastfeeding is accepted both socially and culturally in the UK today."

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