Mother of all parliaments to open first nursery

Michael Savage,Political Correspondent
Wednesday 16 December 2009 01:00

The squabbling and shouting that takes place within the House of Commons has led many to conclude that the mother of all parliaments better resembled a nursery than a hub of democracy. Yet while honourable members may have been accused of behaving like children for years, their repeated demands for childcare facilities for their own offspring have been rejected.

But after 50 years of thwarted campaigning, a nursery is finally to be opened on the parliamentary estate as Westminster attempts to update its antiquated image and attract more ordinary people into politics. The new crèche, which will be able to cater for up to 40 children of MPs, peers, or their staff, will be housed within a premises currently home to a more ubiquitous Commons feature: a bar.

The £400,000 facility is due to open in September and will replace Bellamy's bar. Parents will have to pay the standard central London rate of around £300 a week, or £10 an hour, for the nursery. All Commons pass holders will be able to take advantage of it, including police officers, secretaries and catering staff.

Calls for facilities began more than 20 years ago, but the repeated efforts to secure them had always failed to secure the necessary support or space within the antiquated parliamentary estate. It is understood that the last venue suggested for a nursery was deemed inappropriate as it had no windows. Tired of the old allegation that the Commons housed a shooting gallery but not a childcare facility, John Bercow, the Speaker, has finally managed to persuade the parliamentary authorities to implement the historic measure.

The decision comes a month after The Independent revealed that the Speaker was also planning to allow gay MPs to hold civil partnerships within Speaker's House, his official residence, in another attempt to bring Parliament into the 21st century. Chris Bryant, the Europe minister, is in line to be the first to stage the ceremony there next spring.

"Our parliament has sadly been behind the times in providing practical support to parents who work here," he said. "If Parliament is to be truly representative of the community it serves then it must do more to encourage parents to stand as MPs. Many other parliamentarians around the world provide nursery facilities for members and staff. It is time one of the oldest parliaments in the world caught up with the rest."

A spokeswoman for Mr Bercow said the nursery would probably be run by a private company. Its running costs would be "cash neutral", with no extra cost to the taxpayer. It will join several post offices, as well as a travel agency and hairdressers, provided in the Commons. Its creation was finally approved by the House of Commons Commission, which oversees the running of the parliamentary estate.

Claire Ward, the Labour MP for Watford, who has two small children, said: "Generations of parliamentarians have fought for this and I am glad to see it is making progress. This is not just for MPs, but for all those who work in the parliamentary estate. Like any good employer, the estate should be providing these kinds of facilities."

Mr Bercow has three children himself, and recently had Speaker's House refurbished so that its upstairs living quarters were more suitable for an MP with a young family.

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