Jo Swinson becomes first MP to bring a baby to a Commons debate

Jo Swinson with her son Gabriel in her Commons seat to listen to the closing remarks of a discussion about proxy voting. Picture: PA
Jo Swinson with her son Gabriel in her Commons seat to listen to the closing remarks of a discussion about proxy voting. Picture: PA
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A former minister cradled her baby on Parliament’s famous green benches - in what is thought to be a first during a Commons debate.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson appeared in the chamber with Gabriel to listen to the closing remarks of a discussion about proxy voting, which could allow MPs on maternity and paternity leave to nominate a colleague to cast their vote in their absence.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson with her baby Gabriel in her Commons seat. Picture: PA

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson with her baby Gabriel in her Commons seat. Picture: PA

Labour’s Harriet Harman, the Mother of the House as the longest-serving female MP, stroked Gabriel’s head after sitting next to Ms Swinson while Speaker John Bercow also shared a word with the mother and child as they left.

MPs have often been seen in the chamber during votes with their children, but not during active debates.

• READ MORE: Jo Swinson slams “breaking of trust” on pairing for maternity leave

Ms Swinson, who gave birth to Gabriel this summer, earlier warned the debate was “too little, too late” and went on to reference the debacle around her failed pairing with Tory chairman Brandon Lewis on key Brexit legislation.

She said: “This House first resolved that members with small babies should be able to vote by proxy seven months ago - since then Gabriel, Elijah and Solomon have been born and two more Commons babies are on the way.”

Ms Swinson added: “A cynic might conclude that because all five pregnant and new mum MPs are on the Opposition benches the Government is trying to kick this issue into the long grass and after what happened to me in July I think I might be able to be forgive for being cynical about the Government’s motivations.”

She went on to describe the failed pairing incident as a “shameful act”, adding: “I would say whether for reasons of maternity or illness or anything else, there is nothing honourable about deliberately breaking a pairing, it is cheating plain and simple.”

SNP MP David Linden (Glasgow East) also delivered an emotional speech as his wife prepares to undergo a caesarean section at the weekend following a complex pregnancy, meaning he will miss parliamentary business next month when the Commons returns after the conference recess.

The official due date was October 21, but Mr Linden explained: “As it happens, as was the case with my three-year-old son, it’s been a complex pregnancy and my wife is now being taken in for a C-section the day after tomorrow.

“For me, proxy voting is something that is incredibly personal because I am now in that position where I know that the first week back there’ll be a second reading of the Agriculture Bill - I will not be here to vote on that.”

Mr Linden added: “What happened in the case of my son was he was in intensive care for two weeks followed by a week in the SCBU unit (special care baby unit).

• READ MORE: Will Britain pay £39bn Brexit ‘bill’?

“Of course, men normally get two weeks paternity leave and so on those occasions you’re straight back to work before you get your child home.”

He went on: “I’ve sat through this debate this afternoon incredibly frustrated that this issue has been kicked into the long grass time after time.”

Mr Linden said there was a “clear consensus” in favour of allowing proxy voting for new parents in parliament, adding to the Government: “Get on with it.”

Opening the debate, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said proxy voting will be a “significant change” as it would allow MPs “for possibly for the first time ever” to vote while not being present in Parliament.

She said: “I have confirmed we will be bringing forward a substantive motion on this matter, but we must move forward responsibly having had the fullest opportunity to consider all of the implications.

“Proxy voting will be a profound change to the procedures of this House and so we must get it right to ensure robust voting practice for generations to come.

“If we take this significant step now then, in my view, we will have a fairer, more inclusive parliament for future generations.”

Mrs Leadsom said issues to be considered include whether proxy voting will only be limited to new parents, the types of Commons business it is allowed to be used for, and who should exercise such a vote on behalf of an MP.

Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said action is needed now, telling MPs: “Babies will have been born, grown up, gone to school, left school and probably gone to university before the Government finally agrees on proxy voting.”