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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Commons breastfeeding ban widened
Betty Boothroyd
Speaker Betty Boothroyd: "Breastfeeding inappropriate"
Female MPs are to be banned from breastfeeding babies at committee meetings in Westminster despite a continuing campaign to make Parliament more family friendly.

The ruling follows a request from Labour MP Julia Drown who asked if she could feed her baby during a committee meeting.

But the Speaker Betty Boothroyd ruled that because MPs are not allowed to breastfeed in the chamber, the same rules should apply to the committee rooms around the Palace of Westminster where legislation is scrutinised.

Earlier in the week more than 150 MPs complained about working hours and conditions inside Parliament, saying it left them little time for their families.

In a letter to Ms Drown, who has a five month old baby boy, deputy speaker Alan Haselhurst said breastfeeding in committee chambers would not "appropriate".

"After due consideration, Madam Speaker agreed that the guidance on this matter should indeed be the same for committees as for the Chamber," he wrote.

Labour MP Julia Drown
Julia Drown: "Surprised"
"Bringing refreshment into the room and the presence in the non-public area of the room of persons other than members of the committee and specified officers and officials are prohibited.

"Application of either rule should be taken to include babies and the feeding of babies."

The letter said that the speaker also felt that breastfeeding was not appropriate in the public gallery.

At least two other Labour MPs have given birth since coming to power including public health minister Yvette Cooper and Gloucester MP Tess Kingham.

Campaign continues

Ms Drown said that she was disappointed and surprised by the ruling.

"We agree that babies should not be fed in the Chamber and no one wants people to be disturbed," she said.

"But babies are quiet when they are being breastfed and I don't think there would have been a problem. "The general rule should be if it does not disturb anyone it should be allowed.

"In fact, breastfeeding should be encouraged as it is best for the baby."

Asked if she was going to raise the matter in the Chamber, she said: "I don't think this is the right judgement and I would like to see flexibility.

"But the higher priorities are trying to sort out the hours of the House and getting child care for all the staff who work at Westminster."

Liberal Democrat spokesman for women, Dr Evan Harris, said too many new mothers were discouraged from breastfeeding.

Dr Harris said: "In a healthy society, breastfeeding should be considered normal.

"Too many new mothers are discouraged from breastfeeding. Where bottle feeding is allowed, breastfeeding should be allowed.

"We should be encouraging breastfeeding - breast is best," he added.

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04 Apr 99 | Health
British zeal for breastfeeding
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