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Monday, 31 July, 2000, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Dunwoody backs breastfeeding ban
Gwyneth Dunwoody
Dunwoody: Committees "not conducive" to breastfeeding
Gwyneth Dunwoody, the only women MP to have declared herself in the race to succeed Betty Boothroyd as Speaker of the House, has said she would not allow breastfeeding of babies in committee meetings.

The Labour MP and chair of the transport select committee said in a letter to her colleague Julie Morgan that she was not convinced that committee hearings were "conducive" to breastfeeding.

Mrs Morgan recently tabled a Commons motion calling for breastfeeding to be permitted in standing and select committees which was signed by 115 MPs.

I do not believe that 'front of house' situations ensure successful, relaxed feeding

Gwyneth Dunwoody
But Mrs Dunwoody, a self-confessed member of the old guard who has expressed scepticism about moves to modernise Parliament in the past, said such committees did not provide the "relaxed and comfortable" atmosphere necessary for feeding.

"In particular, the televised aspect of much of our work ... could indeed create further tension for the feeding mother," she said.

"Further, I am uncomfortable that very young children might appear on television, especially so given our efforts to keep our families secure from intrusive media interest."


Mrs Dunwoody's comments are likely to disappoint women Labour MPs, whose campaign to allow breastfeeding was not backed by Betty Boothroyd.

Seen as a key contender to succeed Miss Boothroyd, Mrs Dunwoody is thought to share the views the former speaker expressed in her closing address about the need for MPs to prioritise their work above their family needs.

Tony Blair and Labour women MPs
New Labour women MPs have campaigned to make Parliament more family-friendly
It is possible Mrs Dunwoody's words could cost her support, particularly among women Labour MPs who are hoping the new speaker will be more sympathetic to the cause of modernising the House.

Julie Morgan said Mrs Dunwoody's comments were "disappointing".

"The option should be there. If the mother did find the situation tense for breastfeeding, she would not do it.

"Others may find it perfectly conducive," she said.

Three children

In her letter to Mrs Morgan, Mrs Dunwoody pointed out she had had three children, all of who were breastfed as were her ten grandchildren, and believed that "more often than not" breastfeeding was the best way of feeding newborn children.

But she said "I am...of the opinion that comfortable, relaxed surroundings, which provide the new mother with a feeding and changing area for her new baby, should be provided in the workplace, but do not believe that `front of house' situations ensure successful, relaxed feeding," she said.

The option should be there. If the mother did find the situation tense for breastfeeding, she would not do it

Julie Morgan MP
"There will always be environments where direct workplace feeding will be impossible, such as factory floors, food preparation or hygiene controlled areas.

"I believe that we should be ensuring that workplaces provide a separate, comfortable, relaxed area for the working mother, to encourage women to return to the workplace," she said.

Mrs Morgan has written to all the declared candidates for the Speakership to canvass their views on breastfeeding in committees.

So far only Alan Beith and Gwyneth Dunwoody have responded. Mr Beith says he favours a lifting of the ban.

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See also:

27 Jul 00 | Talking Politics
The new Speaker: runners and riders
12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Profile: Madam Speaker
14 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Dunwoody confirms Speaker candidacy
12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Who'll replace the Speaker?
12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
The role of the Speaker
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