Leader: defiant MPs can make Westminster family friendly

Every parent with child of school age faces challenges when the summer holidays come round, whether arranging childcare or simply trying to keep kids amused for six long weeks.

Kirsty Blackman MP, whose two-year-old sat in on a select committee. Picture: Kenny Elrick
Kirsty Blackman MP, whose two-year-old sat in on a select committee. Picture: Kenny Elrick

For some families, childcare is a constant challenge, with the cost of care often too prohibitive for mothers to go back to work.

There are also occupations which do not suit parents of young children, because they involve antisocial hours. It is hard to believe that in 2016, this still applies to the public service role of a Member of Parliament.

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As we report today, two SNP MPs recently broke Westminster rules by taking their children into the voting lobby, and one poor child had to suffer exposure to a session of the Scottish Affairs committee, an experience that few adults would relish.

This is not a political stunt by the SNP, because they are not the first party to break convention in the voting lobby.

Despite the occasional reform, Westminster remains stuck in the past. When the Scottish Parliament was set up, measures were put in place to ensure Holyrood would be family friendly, and these include “normal” daytime business hours, and the availability of a public crèche, which is mainly for visitors but can also be used by elected members. The Scottish Parliament proudly states that the crèche is “the only facility of its kind in Europe”.

This enlightened approach is hardly revolutionary, but it has yet to catch on at Westminster, where working hours remain antisocial and anti-family, important votes take place late at night, and the parliamentary nursery only accepts permanent placements.

There could be change on the horizon at long last, with the Good Parliament report this week recommending a crèche should be established.

Until that actually happens, MPs should continue to defy convention if they have to, because reform is essential. A democracy should offer equal opportunity, and at the moment, a parent standing for election as an MP can be too high a price for a family to pay.