Mr. Howarth: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, but my point, which has already featured in the debate, concerns how this place is perceived. The press are not reporting this place, although the hours have been made easier for them. Perhaps their reporting was better when much of the activity took place when the sun was over the yard-arm than it is at a more abstemious time of day. I do not know; what I do know is that they are not reporting this place seriously.
This afternoon we have a real opportunity to make a modest change that commands support throughout the House, which would even out our week a little, and which would not greatly inconvenience Members with young families who live in London and want to do things on weekday evenings. They would still have Wednesday and Thursday evenings. I think that in the interests of Parliament, in the interests of holding the Government to account and in the interests of managing our time in this place, a move to a 10 pm finish on Tuesdays is the very least we could do.
My amendment (m) makes a fairly modest proposal. It has been obvious to me since I came here in 1992, as I am sure it is to all Members, that our diaries are becoming fuller. We are busier not just here but in our constituencies. The aim of my amendment is to ensure that, on Thursday evening, there is just one vote, and we know when we will be leaving. We would finish our business at 6 pm, or if other amendments are carried, at 5 pm. That is desirable for many reasons.
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Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con): The hon. Gentleman says that he has been here since 1992 and has never been busier. I have been here since 1983 and I have never been busier, but I have experienced two outright clashes between Select Committee and Standing Committee sittings during this week alone. Will he say something about that? We have a very compressed working week now: everything seems to pile on to Tuesday or Wednesday.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman will know Mr. Speaker's views about electrical devices that go off in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman has done nothing more than disturb his own speech on this occasion.
Mr. Donohoe: I apologise unreservedly. It is these newfangled ones. It has never done that before. It must have a mind of its own and known that I was on my feet in the Chamber. Someone may have paged me to tell me that I should shut up, but I do not intend to do so.
I was talking about hon. Members being able to get to meetings. Hon. Members have mentioned that they make use of Monday mornings. We know when we are coming and we know when every day's business starts. The problem is that, every day of the week, we do not have a clue when the business will end.
I am one of the Members who has to travel fair distances on a Thursday night. This week, for example, I have had to book three different flights. There is not much sense in that. Because of the uncertainty about travel arrangements, as well as the other points, the amendment has a lot of merit. My point should be considered.
From some discussions that have taken place, I know that there is a fair strength of feeling in the House about the matter. During just a couple of Divisions, I managed to secure some 52 names. It may not be enough to get a majority, but I appeal to all to consider what I have asked for on the basis of what it will entail.
The Leader of the House mentioned the amendment, as did others. I am satisfied in part with what he said because it went some way towards what I am asking for. However, on the basis of the record over the past few weeks, I would still want to press the amendment to a vote. In the past few weeks, on the Tuesday and the Wednesday, the business has collapsed early without any vote. If the business managers of this place are worth their salt, and I presume that they are, they should be able to order the business of the week so that, on a Thursday, we did not have the kind of business that he mentioneddebates on Iraq, on Second Readings and on the Railways Bill, which takes place this Thursday. Because of that fact more than any other, I believe that what I am proposing is sensible. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to support me.
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Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): When I was first elected just over 25 years ago, I was conscious that I was sent here with the ability to express on behalf of the community that gave me a majority some of its fears and views on the way in which public and Government business was conducted. Along with that went a vote. If there is a scandal between a generation ago and today, it is that there is a great diminution in the consideration of public business on this Floor. That is detailed in the Modernisation Committee report of last year. It is detailed in the Procedure Committee report.
The scandal of the current House of Commons is that it is no longer discussing, or even considering vast chunks of important public legislation. That is a fact. We have had legislation that goes to the heart of our freedoms and the Government's obsession with a security and police state, but we have not been able to discuss it on the Floor of the House of Commons until it comes back from the Lords.
I ask myself: is that a consequence of the hours that we sit or of other rules that we impose on ourselves? Is that because we no longer consistently start business at 2.30pm, but do so earlier? I do not think that it is a question of the hours that we sit, whether morning or afternoon. Something else has happened. One has only to look at the Order Paper: "No vote"; "No debate"; "No debate"; "No debate". The very essence and vitality of this House is being sucked out. But do I believe that that is because we sit at 11.30 am? In truth, I do not, which is why I am indifferent to the motion. I will come to express the views of Aldridge-Brownhills as best as I am able, whether it is 9 o'clock at night or 9 o'clock in the morning.
If I am being truthful, this House is looking to its own convenience. That is what this debate is about. It is much more convenient for modern people with young families in a modern world to go off home at 7.30 pm. I hope that the worm will turn in this House on the Standing Orders that mute our voice. The only war debate that we have had that was important in terms of our vote was limited, and by whom? By the Government, and to one day. There were hundreds of us who wanted to speak in that debate.
The heart of this place is being sucked out, not because of the hours but because of ourselves and the rules that we have constructed. In truth, the report of the Modernisation Committee, of which I am an inadequate member, shames me. The quality of work that comes out of Select Committee reports across a wide range of areas is not the detailed scholarship that we used to see.
I wanted to see from this debate that the House believed in its function, which is to look at the law. We have that one vote that we were sent with, to say aye or no. I wanted the House to understand that every one of us must be able to speak on the Floor of the House of Commons. That is what I wanted to see from the debate.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab):
I realise that time is against me, but I wish to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley,
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North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) to bring back Tuesday evenings. When I was elected to this House 18 years ago, I was acutely aware of the privilege that the people of Halifax had bestowed upon me. This is not like any other job in the world. In this House, we have a voice and we can speak for our constituents. We are not here to do a nine-to-five office job.
When the hours were changed, we were told that it would make Parliament more effective, but I think that the change is destroying Parliament. The place is dead and the truth is that our work is now compressed into two and a half days a week. The conflict between what a normal MP does and attending the Chamber is growing. One need only look at the poor attendance at main speeches to see that.
The second point is that public access has been seriously restricted. I have taken great pride in inviting schools, particularly sixth forms, down to the House of Commons. I usually book a room for a question and answer session and try to take them into the Chamber. That has paid off over the years. I have had volunteers from university in my office who say that that they visited here 14 years ago. We cannot do that now unless we come down on a Sunday night for a Monday morning.
Lunchtime meetings have been dismissed as long lunches, but I meet a variety of people then and I have to choose between doing that or coming here for questions. I am also enthusiastic about all-party groups because my experience of them has been good. Many years ago, I helped to set up the all-party breast cancer group, which has influenced Government policy and been a huge success. Since the advent of the new hours, I have had to step down as one of the joint chairs and I have also had to stand down from other groups close to my heart. That is a shame.