David Cameron has distanced himself from comments made by a Tory backbencher about shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves’s plans to take maternity leave immediately after the general election.
Andrew Rosindell, the Tory MP for Romford, told the Daily Mail that a role in the cabinet required a person’s full attention: “I don’t want to say someone who is having a baby is not eligible to be a cabinet minister, but I certainly think perhaps the demands of that particular job will require someone to give it their full attention.”
“I don’t expect Rachel Reeves to be in the cabinet after the election because I expect the Conservatives to win, but clearly people need to be put in the positions they can handle.”
Reeves’s second child is due on 15 June, five weeks after the general election. In an interview with the Telegraph over the weekend, Reeves said she hoped to be able to abolish the bedroom tax quickly upon arriving in office: “My baby’s due in June, and I want to cancel the bedroom tax before I go on maternity leave. That would be a great start for when I come back in September.”
A spokesman for the prime minister said maternity leave should be a universal right and that it was “entirely a matter for individual families to take the decisions that they think are right for them and the government’s job to support them in those decisions that they take”.
When asked if there was anything to stop an expectant mother from becoming a cabinet minister, the spokesman said: “Why on earth not?”
A Tory source said Rosindell did not speak for the Conservative party on the issue. “We are proud to be introducing more flexibility to shared parental leave, which will give parents more choice in how they share the care of their child and women more choice over when they return to work.”
Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat minister for employment relations, condemned the comments. “The suggestion that a woman should be turned down for a job because she is pregnant is clearly outrageous,” she said. “That kind of discrimination would be illegal under employment law and is an appalling attack on the right of pregnant women to take on high-profile leadership roles in government or business.
“It echoes the outdated sexist view that women can’t be good mothers and also good at their jobs … Clearly, maternity or paternity cover arrangements need to be put in place for ministers, that’s important but far from impossible.
“It just goes to show that if in power on their own, the Tories would revert to type and risk the good work we have done in coalition.”
Karl Turner, the Labour MP from Kingston upon Hull East, described the comments as “not only demeaning but totally out of touch with the modern workforce” and reiterated criticisms that the party has a woman problem.