|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Unless Members live very close to London, if they leave the House at 7.15 or 7.30 pm on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, by the time they arrive homeunless their journeys are very shortyoung children are asleep in bed. Then in the morning they must leave too early to do the school run. The "family-friendly" argument does not hold water. Does my hon. Friend agree with that?
Mr. Heald: Yes, I do. Obviously how serious that is depends on where Members live. It would never be possible for Members based in the north of England, in Scotland or further west to get home in the evenings anyway. My children are all grown up, but if they were young it would not be possible for me to get home to north Hertfordshire in time to see them before bedor even in the mornings, because I would have to get up too early in order to be here for my 8 am meetings.
Mr. Heald: I have an embarrassment of riches, but I will give way to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler).
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): Before he leaves the point about psychologists, could the hon. Gentleman tell us precisely how the causal connection is established? Might it not be that some Members find life more stressful because when they are in their constituencies they recognise that they no longer have safe seats?
Mr. Heald: As I was about to say, according to the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 19 April, those extra symptoms of stress are known as the Kennedy syndromeafter the leader of the Liberal Democratsbecause
Let me respond to the hon. Gentleman's point. Of course we cannot make an exact causal connection, and I would never claim to be a psychologist or to know much about the subject; but I thought it right to present the House with evidence from a serious paper from the British Psychological Society, because I think that we should take account of stress and similar issues. There is a big demonstration in Portcullis House today. It is to do with body mass, stress and so forth, so obviously such matters are important.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): May I return to the subject of family-friendly hours? Many Members live much too far away to visit their families, whatever our sitting hours, but is it right to deny those who live near London the option of doing so?
That is why we are having a free vote. If the hon. Lady and I got on a train at 8.45 pm to return to Royston and Cambridge, we would not arrive home
26 Jan 2005 : Column 343
in time to see our children, if they were young. Indeed, it would make life very difficult to do that every night, as I am sure the hon. Lady does not. Of course she would become much fitter, because she would be cycling home every day rather than twice a week.
Mr. Heald: I think that I had better make some progress.
The change to the old hours on Tuesdays would give Members more time to spend on constituents and their problems, by means of both correspondence and telephone, and when lobby groups visited they would have more opportunities to meet Members. Another non-sitting morning on Tuesday would allow more school parties to visit the House, particularly from further away.
I think that many Members do value the social contacts that still take place on Monday evenings, and which ensure that a Member knows other Members in both his or her parties. That has always facilitated the work of the House. The Whips probably worry about it, because it has led to many an all-party campaign, but a number of us would welcome the extension of the Monday hours to Tuesdays.
Whatever the future of Tuesday sittings, I hope that the decision will be made on the basis of what is in the national interestallowing Members to do the job as well as possiblerather than what is convenient for individual Members. I believe that it would be better to allow more time on Tuesdays for all the tasks that are now required in the lives of busy Members of Parliament.
The other two motions are supported by both the House of Commons Commission and the Members Estimate Committee.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. This may be the appropriate moment to remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I rise to support amendment (a), which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House. I will try to stay within the 10-minute rule, rather than be pulled up at the end, so I will make just a few remarks.
It seems that we have set out on a journey. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on a genuine effort to see whether consensus could be forged. The only criticism I make is that, having found out where that consensus was, the Modernisation Committee made a recommendation locating it somewhere else entirely. There is a consensusit is just not one that the Committee agrees with. The Procedure Committee report more fully and
26 Jan 2005 : Column 344
accurately reflected where the consensus lies. I have signed the amendments that, with lead amendment (a), would restore Tuesday sittings to a 10 o'clock finish.
Helen Jackson: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Howarth: No, I am not going to give way to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Howarth: I have made it clear that I will not give way to my hon. Friend. The reason isI hope that she will have the opportunity to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speakerthat when one has only 10 minutes to make a serious case, there is not time to give way. Although whenever I speak I try to be generous, on this occasion, I am not going to be.
Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm for the benefit of the House and the hon. Gentleman that we now have provision for what we call injury time, which allows and indeed encourages the taking of interventions, even during time-limited speeches?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct, but equally, it is up to each hon. Member whether to give way, mindful of the fact that a 10-minute limit can become an 11, 12 or 13-minute limit.
Mr. Howarth: In view of the special pleading of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)a rare eventI will give way, once, to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson).
Helen Jackson: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, with whom I have discussed this issue on many occasions. Does he agree that many of the hon. Members who will vote to revert to the old hours on Tuesdayparticularly Opposition Members perhaps, but also many Labour Memberswould never have supported the setting up of the Modernisation Committee to instigate the many reforms that it has instigated in Parliament since I have been here?
Mr. Howarth: I have discussed these matters with my hon. Friend on many occasions, as she says, and we have been friends for many years. However, that intervention only confirms me in my view that I should not have bothered to allow an intervention in the first place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) intervened on the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) on the issue of family-friendly hours. For someone such as me, whose family is 200 miles away, these are not family-friendly hours. It would be impossible for me to commute back home to Knowsley from Westminster regularly. Hours could never have been family-friendly for me. However, I accept her point. It is not for me to decide what is family-friendly for someone else. Those who choose to base themselves in London will have a different take on what is family-friendly. It is a neutral argument whether the hours are or are not family-friendly. It depends on
26 Jan 2005 : Column 345
individual circumstances. We should be working towards what is in the best interests of conducting the business of the House in the best way possible. We should not be bothering ourselves too much with the argument about family-friendly hours, because those will vary from family to family and Member to Member.
The original report that brought about change argued that the reforms would bring us closer to the public. Like most hon. Members, I keep a fairly careful eye on opinion polls. I do not necessarily change my views in accordance with the polls but it is important to know what people are thinking. In the two years or so since these reforms have been implemented, I have not noticed a huge outpouring of public affection for the people's elected representatives, whichever party they represent. If anything, if I am to judge by opinion polls and what we read in the newspapers, all of ussome more than othersare more unpopular than we were two years ago. If that was the objective, it seems that we have not satisfactorily met it.
The other argument, which I have always found a bit strange, was that our constituents expect us, like them, to work normal hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), for whom I have huge affection, not only because of her contribution in the House but because of the wisdom that she brings to almost all arguments, made the point that in her working life that never was the case. When I do surgeries on Friday evenings, as I am sure many other hon. Members do, never once has a constituent said to me, "What are you doing here at 9 o'clock at night doing a surgery with us? We expect you to work normal hours." In fact, sometimes they queue up until half-past 9 to see me. Never once do they say, "We don't think it's very good that you are working these long hours to try to resolve our problems."
The same applies to Saturday mornings. When I help to open the new Northwood community centre on Saturdaythe money was provided by a Labour Governmentno one will be coming up to me and saying, "You shouldn't be here at the opening of this community centre. We expect you to be at home having a good rest after your efforts in Westminster on our behalf last week." So that argument does not stack up either.
I want to finish on the point about what is modernisation and what is not. I was in the House in the 1980s, and used to sit up all night. In fact I once made a speech of two hours and 12 minutes on an amendment concerning the Durham Aged Miners housing association. What I found to say for two hours and 12 minutes I have no idea, but I can guarantee that it did not make the legislation under consideration any better. I accept that those days are gone and should remain in the past. Such filibusteringnot that filibustering could ever take place in the House, Mr. Deputy Speakershould not form any part of our proceedings. I do not want to go back to that.
Many of our modernisation measures have been for the benefit of the way in which we conduct our business. I support them for that reason. What I do object to, however, is those who say they are modernisers then defining what modernisation is. If some of my hon. FriendsI will not single anyone outdeclare that such and such is modernisation, then by definition it must be modernisation. I think I am a moderniser, but because I
26 Jan 2005 : Column 346
do not agree with them, I am branded as some northern male dinosaur who wants to spend all his time in the bars and thinks that is what it is all about. That is the subtext of what many of my hon. Friends have said, and the subtext of what they consider to be modernisation.
I will be watching football in the Strangers Bar tonight, hoping that it is a draw because I do not like either Manchester United or Chelsea. But that is not what motivates me. How we conduct the business of the House and how we conduct ourselves as a House of Commons motivates me. Therefore, let us not have any more hon. Members saying, "We are the modernisers, everyone else is a dinosaur." It is not like that.
I started by saying that the Leader of the House made a genuine effort to find consensus. We now know where that consensus is. The argument about modernisation should be about that. It should not be about modernisation as defined by someone else simply because that is what they want.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|