Mum-to-be should join cabinet before going on maternity leave, says Norwich Labour candidate Jessica Asato

Rachel Reeves (left), shadow minister for work and pensions and Jessica Asato (right), Labour parlia

Rachel Reeves (left), shadow minister for work and pensions and Jessica Asato (right), Labour parliamentary candidate for Norwich North, outside Absolute Energy, Norwich. Photograph: David Goulding. - Credit: Archant

New mother and Norwich North Labour candidate Jessica Asato has defended the right of mum-to-be Rachel Reeves to join the cabinet despite going on maternity leave just weeks after the election.

The shadow work and pensions secretary has come under fire for saying she still hopes to take on the senior position if Labour wins power on May 7.

Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell said in response to the comments: '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.'

Daily Mail columnist Belinda Brown said today that by choosing to be a mother and serve on the cabinet at the same time, Ms Reeve 'totally negates the value of both'.

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But Ms Asato, whose daughter Freya is 11 weeks old, said: 'I think Rachel Reeves is absolutely right to say that she would take maternity leave and be a cabinet minister at the same time.

'If the public want ordinary people to be MPs and determine the laws of the land with real experience of life then Parliament needs to allow people to get on with their daily lives.

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'For many women this means having a young family while they also seek to achieve their life's goals.

'I don't remember anyone saying that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or David Cameron shouldn't hold high office because they were woken in the night by their small children.

'Margaret Thatcher famously only slept four hours a night, but under Daily Mail columnist rules, this would have prevented her from being able to do her job properly too presumably?

'The reaction to a simply held desire to have a family and also get on with the business of representing people seems to have sent us back to the 1950s. I recommend everyone reads Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In.

'She's the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and knows a thing or two about success.

'Why exactly is ambition seen as a positive attribute for a man but a negative one for a woman? We won't achieve equality for women unless we keep fighting for role models for girls who tell them to aim high and keep going.

'Thousands of women are working and looking after their children perfectly well - instead of condemning them, why aren't we giving them the extra support they need?'

David Cameron's official spokesman dismissed suggestions that pregnant women should not be appointed to the Cabinet.

Asked whether the Prime Minister believed a pregnant woman could serve in the Cabinet, Mr Cameron's official spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing: 'Why on Earth not?'

The spokesman added: 'The Prime Minister's views around maternity leave (entitlements) is that they are universal, they apply to everyone and it is entirely a matter for individual families to take the decisions that they think are right for them, and the Government's job is to support them in those decisions they take.'

Shadow work and pensions secretary Ms Reeves, 36, is due to have her second child on June 15 and said she would begin maternity leave shortly before that date and stay away from work until September.

But she said she believes she will have time before her break to abolish the so-called bedroom tax - the reduction of benefits for claimants deemed to have more living space than they require, which ministers refer to as ending a 'spare room subsidy'.

Ms Reeves told the Mail: 'I'm having a child and I shall be on maternity leave for the early weeks and months of the next government.

'The first thing I would do is abolish the bedroom tax. That's something I can do really quickly. My baby's due in June and I want to cancel the bedroom tax before I go on maternity leave.'

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