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A baby in the lobby

Andrew Hames recently became the youngest person ever to go through the voting lobby in the House of Commons. While not an MP himself - he is not yet one year old - his parents Jo Swinson and Duncan Hames are. The Standard's Rosamund Urwin interviewed Swinson about her new life as a young mother in the Palace of Westminster.

Swinson returned to BIS (the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills) two months ago after six months of maternity leave. She says the transition has been easier than starting out as a minister. 'I've remembered a lot of things that I thought might have been pushed out of my mind — replaced by new information about how to purée fruit and the words to nursery rhymes.'

Seven-month-old Andrew has now accompanied both parents to constituency events and doorstepping. In the Commons, he's been cooed over by MPs of all hues, travelled the corridors of Portcullis House in a buggy and is preparing to join the parliamentary crèche in September. He's the first baby to be carried through the voting lobby of the Commons, after Hames took him in for a vote last month.

Swinson's current mission is promoting shared parental leave, in which couples will be able to split their 50 weeks of entitlement between them. The new regulations will apply to babies whose expected week of birth begins on or after 5 April 2015. That means this change will apply to couples where the woman is currently in the early stages of pregnancy.

Will it help reduce the discrimination women face where bosses don't hire or promote them because they might take maternity leave? 'I think it can do,' says Swinson. 'Obviously discriminating in that way is illegal, but it doesn't mean it doesn't happen.'

Why does she think shared parental leave will be a success? 'The current system is very rigid: men can only take paternity leave after the baby is six months old, and then the mother loses all ability to take any more leave. The new system is much more flexible. The parents can take time together and the mother can go back to work for a short time - to keep her hand in and her skills and confidence up - and then she can take more time off.

'As a society, we need to be better at recognising that dads want to have a bigger role in their child's life from the first days. If employers don't expect fathers to take leave, they may not feel empowered to ask for it even though they have a legal right to it.' She hopes that fathers in senior roles in organisations will take it up, so that others lower down feel able to follow suit.

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