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Breastfeeding in Commons chamber is exhibitionism, says DUP MP Sammy Wilson

Published 22/07/2016

Sammy Wilson of the DUP objects to women wanting to breast feed in the House of Commons Chamber as 'exhibitionist'
Sammy Wilson of the DUP objects to women wanting to breast feed in the House of Commons Chamber as 'exhibitionist'

Women who want to breastfeed in the chamber of the House of Commons when other alternatives are available are exhibitionists, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said.

The practice should be done where possible in private parts of Parliament, the senior Democratic Unionist added. He said the confrontational atmosphere was unsuitable for children.

An independent report said MPs should be allowed to breastfeed in the chamber, enabling all members to fully participate in parliamentary business.

Mr Wilson said: "In the House of Commons there are plenty of places where women if they want to breastfeed their children can do it without being under the glare of the cameras in the Commons chamber, bringing children into the Commons chamber."

The veteran parliamentarian has faced calls to withdraw his comments.

He initially described breast feeding as "voyeuristic" before changing the word to "exhibitionism" after he was challenged during a radio programme.

He told the BBC's Nolan Show: "This kind of voyeurism to an extent that is how it would be viewed in some cases.

"If you have somewhere else to go why do you have to come into the House of Commons chamber, have it on film and everything else, when there is somewhere else you can give your child its needs?"

"It's voyeuristic if you have got an opportunity to do it somewhere which is much more private away from the glare of the public and the cameras etc.

"To me, anyone who chooses to do it in the chamber rather than who do it in the quietness of their office, is doing it for reasons other than simply feeding the child, to make a point."

He was challenged on his use of the word voyeurism.

"Exhibitionism then, if you want me to use another word."

The review was conducted by Sarah Childs, a professor of gender and politics at Bristol University, who was seconded to Parliament for a year to address the issue of sexism in Parliament.

It said advocates hold that babies should be fed whenever they are hungry, wherever that may be, while critics believe what is inappropriate for the supermarket is inappropriate in the Commons.

It added: "This move would enable all members to fully participate in House business. Members may well sit in the chamber and in committees for a number of hours either listening to a debate or waiting to speak.

"In addition to allowing members to carry out their representative functions, permitting entry to infants would have symbolic benefits - showcasing the Commons as a role-model parent-friendly institution. It is accordingly recommended."

Mr Wilson said serious debates were held in the Commons about the laws of the country.

"Because of the confrontational nature of the debates, it is not a place you want to bring youngsters into anyway."

A DUP spokesman said his comments represented a personal view.

"We recognise that the benefits of breastfeeding are well established, with a positive impact on both babies and mothers.

"It is vital we continue to promote breastfeeding and ensure adequate public awareness of its benefits."

Ulster Unionist Stormont assembly member Jo-Anne Dobson said Mr Wilson should withdraw his comments.

"Sammy Wilson needs to stop acting like a teenager giggling at the back of biology class and grow up."

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