Guest post: “When an MP has a baby there’s no system for any leave at all”
Harriet Harman MP is campaigning to introduce a system of baby leave and cover for MPs - in this guest post she outlines why this is long overdue and explains how it will work
Posted on: Wed 25-Oct-17 14:35:10
(68 comments )
MPs set the rules on maternity and paternity leave - but when an MP has a baby there’s no system for any leave at all. This is ridiculous - because while a constituency needs to be represented at all times, a mother also needs some time to focus on her new baby. There are now 208 women in parliament – that’s more than ever and it’s an important aspect of making our democracy more representative. And it’s a fact of life that many of them are having babies: 17 were born to women MPs since 2010.
So what happens at the moment? An MP having a baby will ask the party whips to arrange a “pair” so she can be away from Westminster. They’ll allow her to miss a vote and at the same time a Conservative MP will not vote. But that means she has to ask for a favour from the whips and she’s in their debt when they allow her to be off. Her vote is not recorded so it looks as though she hasn’t bothered to turn up or doesn't care about what’s being voted on. When Manchester MP Lucy Powell was paired in the weeks after her baby was born the Sun reported her failure to vote denouncing her as “the laziest MP in Westminster”. Lucy is one of our most hyper-active MPs and there’s nothing lazy about any mother looking after a new baby.
With no leave and no cover, as an MP with a new baby I felt like a bad MP and a bad mother.
As an MP, you need to be “on call” for your constituency 24/7. You never know when there’ll be an emergency. I had to rush to a burning tower block in 2009 and broke my holiday to come back when there were riots in Peckham 2011. Situations which suddenly require you to be around for happen more often than you think. But when you are in labour you cannot be on duty. And when you have a new baby you shouldn’t have to be on duty. But if you’re not, constituents will feel that there’s no-one they can ask for help. Each time after I had my three babies, constituents would say to me ‘we didn’t want to bother you so soon after your baby was born’. They shouldn’t have been in the position of feeling like they were without help because their MP had just had a baby. But with no leave and no cover, as an MP with a new baby I felt like a bad MP and a bad mother.
There’s no leave for men MPs either. In the past many would not leave the commons at all but just hear from their family that they’d become a father. James Frith the new MP for Bury had to leave his newborn son when he was only hours old to vote on the EU bill last month. Most fathers want some time with their new baby and what example is Parliament setting to fathers in the country if MPs themselves are absent in those crucial first weeks?
So I’m proposing a new system of baby leave and cover for women and men MPs - for six months you could ask a fellow MP to act as your “proxy” to cast your vote and you would also be able to nominate someone to cover for you in your constituency while you were off. That way you would get the time you need, the constituency would have the representation it is entitled to and you wouldn’t have to ask for favours from the whips. There’s a lot of support for both men and women MPs from all parties so I’m optimistic it will happen. And hopefully MPs who are new parents in the future will not feel wracked with guilt like I was.
Find out more in this article in the Times (£).
By Harriet Harman MP
This is an excellent initiative and I hope it's successful. I can't imagine why anyone would object, tbh?
It seems well overdue actually.
Makes total sense. Ridiculous that it's taken this long, but that's more reason to support the change.
I am in absolute full support of this. I am flabbergasted that this is not already the case!
Yep but why only 6 months?
Yes it sounds like a very sensible plan. I'm also curious about the 6 months limit, when maternity leave for women is up to 12 months.
What about independent MPs who can’t arrange a proxy or cover?
Why couldn't they arrange a cover/proxy? Maybe another independent, or a backbencher from another party?
" I'm also curious about the 6 months limit, when maternity leave for women is up to 12 months."
Technically the first 6 months are "Ordinary Maternity Leave" and the next 6 months are "Additional Maternity Leave".
But I guess MPs aren't employees in the traditional sense of the word.
Is there any situation where women can't take the additional leave because of their type of job? Or are all employees always entitled to both Ordinary and Additional parts?
Good question - I'm not sure. I do know that you are entitled to the exact same job if you just take OML (6 months), but if you take more than 6 months you could be given a different role.
MPs can't have it all to suit themselves - if MPs are employees then they should be entitled to have maternity leave but like other employees they should not be allowed multiple jobs.
If they are self-employed then as far as maternity leave goes - tough.
entitled to the exact same job
If you are a female air traffic controller you need to take refreshment training. Any controller away for any reason would need to.
Still the same job though. I'm sure there are many jobs in which you need to take refresher training after a break.
MPs aren't self employed though. It's odd because they're not employed or self-employed.
What happens if an MP is sick? Can't the same rules of cover apply?
As someone who was taking calls and working a light schedule 2 weeks after each birth (I'm under 40), I don't see why an MP can't do the same and cover local needs of their constituents.
Riiiight, the old " I did it so everyone should" argument
You must surely be aware enough to realise that isn't the usual experience of women.
The fact is that MPs are in a special category of their own, really, in terms of employment status. But it's in everyone's interest for Government to make the work of an MP more flexible and family-friendly, as it will hopefully enable/encourage more women to be MPs - and more equal representation is a good thing for everyone.
If you think that self employed people should have better parental leave and pay, fair enough, but it's a separate issue that deserves its own campaign. It's not either/or.
Want2besupermum I'm afraid you clearly don't have a realistic idea of the workload of a constituency MP as "covering the needs of local constituents" is more than a full time job never mind voting etc! Not something than can or should be done by someone trying to recover physically from childbirth and meet the needs of a newborn.
Harriet - good campaign, here's hoping it doesn't take long to fall into place. Female and male MP's need time off to recover and find their feet as a family.
They should have the same options as other new mums to take the 12 months. Parliament isn’t going to collapse if someone is away from Westminster or their constituency.
Being an MP is more like being a sub-contractor, employment rights are minimal hence not many women staying in these jobs in engineering etc. typical contract Don't just change it for you, change it for all people with time bound contracts.