Yardley MP Jess Phillips spoke in a debate calling for Baby Leave for MPs to entitle them to discharge their responsibilities to voting by proxy.
Jess Phillips MP said:
"It is a massive honour to follow all those who have spoken so far, and I feel that we are hon. Friends across the House today. I suppose that I should register not an interest, but a total disinterest in ever having another child, so this measure would not benefit me in the slightest. I could not be more disinterested.
I found the testimony of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) incredibly moving. It put me right back at that moment when I was 22 and a new mum, and I was terrified that I was going to break that little thing. I will not put you through it, Mr Deputy Speaker, but some of the things that happen to a woman’s body immediately after she has had a baby are terrifying, and you do not expect them. I thought my internal organs were falling out. [Interruption.] The thought that I would have had to get up and go to a meeting—"
Mr Deputy Speaker said:
"May I just say that it is not me that is worried, but I am very worried about the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith)?"
Jess Phillips MP said:
"Forewarned is forearmed is what I think in these situations: “You’re not dying,” is what I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), but we all thought that we were.
The idea that I would have had to get up at that moment, terrified, suffering real fear for the first time, and go to a constituency party members’ meeting is absolutely horrifying. The thought of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East doing that is absolutely terrifying to me—so massive, massive credit to all the women who have had babies while they were MPs.
Because I quite like a row, I want to head off at the pass some of the things I have heard in this place about why what is proposed in the motion cannot happen. I think we are pretty much all here to support it today, but I have heard quite a lot of mutterings—and they are mutterings, because they sound like this: “Mutter, mutter, mutter, amazing idea, mutter”—and I want to address them. Some of them have been from women in this House; I have heard squeamishness about asking for a right, because we as MPs are criticised for talking about ourselves and accused of being insular. We all know about the fake news on the internet when sites show a busy Chamber when we are supposedly talking about our salary and an empty Chamber when we are talking about something else—which are, I say just for the public outside, all a total lie. The idea that we should be asking for a right for ourselves is totally and utterly acceptable.
I am chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party and I have had to talk to women and say that I will not feel afraid about asking for rights for the people in this building. When I worked at Women’s Aid, I fought for the rights of the women at Women’s Aid to better parental leave. No matter where I worked, I would be fighting for the women there to have better rights, and we should not be embarrassed about fighting for them here, either. So I want to put to bed the idea that this is somehow selfish. It is not; it is a right that we should be entitled to.
The other chuntering I have heard is about the proposals being the thin end of the wedge: “Where will this lead?” It will lead to being exactly like every other employer in the country. As the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) said, the big end of the wedge is that we are kind and nice employers; the big end of the wedge is decency and humanity. I am all right with the proposals being the thin end of the wedge, but the reality in this situation is that we are asking for something for a very specific reason.
Some people say to me, “You can’t have other people voting for you!” as if we have the divine right of kings when we come into this place and our vote is handed to us by God and is so special that nobody else could say how we might feel about, say, fisheries industries. That is, frankly, ridiculous. The idea that people feel they are so special that nobody could ever cast their vote for them, because they have never followed the Whip and are always deciding exactly what they will vote for all by their little selves, I find highly unlikely. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) might be the only person who could say that.
I went for lunch with a gentleman yesterday—my husband is listening; it was not him. That gentleman told me that he had intended to take the shared parental leave that other colleagues have spoken about. He said, “As soon as I had said, ‘Okay, I am going to take three months off,’ it started to creep in: what if my clients get given to somebody else, and what if people judge me for leaving?” I thought, “Oh, really! My heart bleeds for you, here’s my tiny violin, because that is what we have all had to put up with forever.” I do feel total sympathy with what he was saying, because I have lived that life.
The truth of the matter is that we have got to make sure that when we make these changes, it is not only the women in this building who take this leave, and that the men in this building take it, too. Frankly, given some of the backtalk I have heard when I have talked about this, I think some of the men in this building should be ashamed of bragging about being here at the moment when their babies were born, and of standing up and saying in Committees, “Point of order: my wife just had a baby.” I say in response, “Point of order: I would divorce you if you were my husband.” There is one place a man should be when their baby is born, and that is by the side of their partner.
This is not about the women in this place getting something better; it is about the parents getting something better. We have got to lead by example. I know, not just from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East but from the opposite side of the Chamber, that there are husbands in this building who are starting to take that leave, and we have got to stand as an example of that. So, basically, I say to the men in this House, “When this comes in, I am coming for you, to make sure that you take it.”