Two-year-old child of SNP MP makes Westminster history

Kirsty Blackman is an MP and mother of two. Picture: Kenny Elrick
Kirsty Blackman is an MP and mother of two. Picture: Kenny Elrick
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Her contributions to the debate were limited, and when a panel of academics began discussing the finer details of English Votes for English Laws, she fell asleep.

But two year-old Rebecca made Westminster history this week as the first child of an MP to sit in on a select committee meeting when her mother, the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman, was left with no other option for childcare.

Blackman, who was cautioned by clerks for breaching rules, supports calls for more family-friendly working practices in parliament. It comes as a report on Westminster’s approach to equalities made 41 recommendations, warning that “considerably more needs to be done” on childcare provision.

Blackman’s case was raised with Leader of the House David Lidington by Scottish Affairs Committee chairman Pete Wishart MP, who said he enjoyed spending time with Rebecca and her brother Harris, but Blackman had “nowhere else to put them”.

A nursery for Westminster passholders was established in 2010. But it is not a crèche, so MPs from outside London can be left scrambling for childcare for late-night votes.

The problem parents face was laid bare in a BBC documentary showing how Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott was forced to leave her crying toddler son in the party whip’s office in order to vote.

Blackman and SNP colleague Alison Thewliss had to break with convention again in the past week, bringing children through the voting lobbies. Blackman said Commons authorities allowed a certain leeway, but children over a year old were not allowed in the lobbies.

“What am I supposed to do with a two year-old? Where am I supposed to leave them?” Blackman told Scotland on Sunday. “How am I supposed to say to a two-year-old, you need to stay with two people that you don’t know while mummy goes and votes?”

Scottish MPs say they are particularly disadvantaged because the school term in Scotland ends at the start of July, three weeks before the parliamentary recess. Blackman called on Commons Speaker John Bercow to “seriously consider” the recommendations made in the Good Parliament report, published this week.

“Having taken my kids through the lobbies during the Trident vote, I don’t think that’s something that can continue,” she said of her experience. “It’s just so un-family friendly.”

Rules were only changed to allow babies to be brought through the lobbies during the last parliament, when Lib Dem MPs Jo Swinson and Duncan Hames had no choice but to carry their son with them to a vote.

A spokeswoman for the Speaker’s office said a group chaired by Bercow would consider the report.