11 July 2012 : Column 333

Backbench Business

Sittings of the House

1.48 pm

Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I beg to move,

That no change be made to the time at which the House sits on a Monday.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to take the following:

Motion 2—Sittings of the House (Mondays) (1.00 pm to 8.30 pm)—

That this House should meet at 1.00 pm on Mondays, with a moment of interruption of 8.30 pm, and accordingly the changes to Standing Orders set out in the table be made, with effect from Monday 15 October 2012.

Standing Order no.Line no.Change

9 (Sittings of the House)


Leave out ‘and’ and insert ‘at one o’clock, on’.



Leave out ‘ten o’clock on Mondays’ and insert ‘half past eight o’clock on Mondays, at ten o’clock on’.

10 (Sittings in Westminster Hall)


Leave out ‘be between half past nine o’clock and two o’clock’ and insert ‘begin at half past nine o’clock, shall be suspended from one o’clock until four o’clock and may then continue for up to a further one hour’.



Leave out ‘two and a half’ and insert ‘one hour, two and a half hours’.

15 (Exempted business)


Leave out ‘eleven o’clock on Monday or’ and insert ‘half past nine o’clock on Monday, eleven o’clock on’.

17 (Delegated legislation (negative procedure))


Leave out ‘half past eleven o’clock on Monday or’ and insert (‘ten o’clock on Monday, half past eleven o’clock on’.

20 (Time for taking private business)


Leave out ‘seven o’clock on any specified Monday or’ and insert ‘half past five o’clock on any specified Monday, seven o’clock on any specified’.



At start, insert ‘half past five o’clock,’.

54 (Consideration of estimates)


Leave out ‘seven o’clock on Monday or’ and insert ‘half past five o’clock on Monday, seven o’clock on’.

88 (Meetings of general committees)


Leave out ‘one o’clock and half past three o’clock in the afternoon on Mondays or’ and insert ‘five minutes to one o’clock and two o’clock in the afternoon on Mondays, between the hours of one o’clock and half past three o’clock in the afternoon on’.



At start, insert ‘five minutes to one o’clock,’.

Motion 3—Sittings of the House (Tuesdays) (No change)—

That no change be made to the time at which the House sits on a Tuesday.

Motion 4—(Sittings of the House) (Tuesdays) (11.30 am to 7.00 pm)—

That this House should meet at 11.30 am on Tuesdays, with a moment of interruption at 7.00 pm, and accordingly the changes to Standing Orders set out in the table be made, with effect from Monday 15 October 2012.

11 July 2012 : Column 334

Standing Order no.Line no.Change

9 (Sittings of the House)


Leave out ‘and Tuesdays at half pasttwo o’clock, on’ and insert ‘at half past two o’clock, on Tuesdays and’.



After ‘a’ insert ‘Tuesday or’.



Leave out ‘and Tuesdays, at seven

o’clock on’ and insert ‘, at seven

o’clock on Tuesdays and’.

10 (Sittings in Westminster Hall)


Leave out lines 4 and 5



After ‘on’ insert ‘Tuesday or’.



At start, insert ‘Tuesday or’.

15 (Exempted business)


Leave out ‘or Tuesday, eight o’clock

on’ and insert ‘, eight o’clock on

Tuesday or’.

17 (Delegated legislation (negative procedure))


Leave out ‘or Tuesday, half past eight o’clock on’ and insert ‘, half past eight o’clock on Tuesday or’.

20 (Time for taking private business)


Leave out ‘or Tuesday, four o’clock on any specified’ and insert ‘, four o’clock on any specified Tuesday or’.

24 (Emergency debates)


Leave out ‘or Tuesday, half past ten o’clock on a’ and insert ‘, half past ten o’clock on a Tuesday or’.

54 (Consideration of estimates)


Leave out ‘or Tuesday, four o’clock on’ and insert ‘, four o’clock on Tuesday or’.

88 (Meetings of general committees)


Leave out ‘or Tuesdays, between the hours of twenty-five minutes past eleven o’clock in the morning and half past one o’clock in the afternoon on’ and insert ‘, between the hours of twenty-five minutes past eleven o’clock in the morning and half past one o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesdays or’.

Motion 5—Sittings of the House (Wednesdays) (No change)—

That no change be made to the time at which the House sits on a Wednesday.

Motion 6—Sittings of the House (Wednesdays) (10.30 am to 6.00 pm)—

That this House should meet at 10.30 am on Wednesdays, with a moment of interruption at 6.00 pm, and accordingly the changes to Standing Orders set out in the table be made, with effect from Monday 15 October 2012.

Standing Order no.Line no.Change

9 (Sittings of the House)


Leave out ‘on Wednesdays at half past eleven o’clock and on’ and insert ‘and on Wednesdays and’



Leave out ‘, at seven o’clock on

Wednesdays and at six o’clock on’ and insert ‘and at six o’clock on

Wednesdays and’.

10 (Sittings in Westminster Hall)


Leave out ‘half-past eleven o’clock

until half past two o’clock’ and insert ‘half past ten o’clock until half past one o’clock’.



Leave out ‘two’ and insert ‘three’.



Leave out ‘two and a half or three’ and insert ‘three or three and a half’.

15 (Exempted business)


Leave out ‘, eight o’clock on Wednesday or seven o’clock on’ and insert ‘or seven o’clock on Wednesday or’.

17 (Delegated legislation (negative procedure))


Leave out ‘, half past eight o’clock on Wednesday or half past seven o’clock on’ and insert ‘or half past seven o’clock on Wednesday or’.

11 July 2012 : Column 335

20 (Time for taking private business)


Leave out ‘, four o’clock on any

specified Wednesday or three o’clock on any specified’ and insert ‘or three o’clock on any specified Wednesday or’.



Leave out ‘, four o’clock’.

24 (Emergency debates)


Leave out ‘, half past ten o’clock on a Wednesday or half past nine o’clock on a’ and insert ‘or half past nine o’clock on a Wednesday or’.

41A (Deferred divisions)


Leave out ‘eleven’ and insert ‘ten’.



Leave out ‘eleven’ and insert ‘ten’

54 (Consideration of estimates)


Leave out ‘, four o’clock on Wednesday or three o’clock on’ and insert ‘or three o’clock on Wednesday or’.

88 (Meetings of general committees)


Leave out ‘, between the hours of

twenty-five minutes past eleven o’clock in the morning and half past one o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesdays or between the hours of twenty-five minutes past ten o’clock in the morning and half past twelve o’clock in the afternoon on’ and insert ‘or between the hours of twenty-five

minutes past ten o’clock in the morning and half past twelve o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesdays or’.



Leave out ‘, twenty-five minutes past eleven o’clock’.

Motion 7—Sittings of the House (Thursdays) (9.30 am to 5.00 pm)—

That this House should meet at 9.30 am on Thursdays, with a moment of interruption at 5.00 pm, and accordingly the changes to Standing Orders set out in the table be made, with effect from Monday 15 October 2012.

Standing Order no.Line no.Change

9 (Sittings of the House)


Leave out ‘ten’ and insert ‘nine’.



Leave out ‘six’ and insert ‘five’.

10 (Sittings in Westminster Hall)


Leave out ‘two and insert ‘one’.

15 (Exempted business)


Leave out ‘seven’ and insert ‘six’.

17 (Delegated legislation (negative procedure))


Leave out ‘seven’ and insert ‘six’.

20 (Time for taking private business)


Leave out ‘three’ and insert ‘two’.

24 Emergency debates


Leave out ‘half-past’.

54 (Consideration of estimates)


Leave out ‘three’ and insert ‘two’.

88 (Meetings of general committees)


Leave out ‘twenty-five minutes past ten o’clock in the morning and half past twelve o’clock in the afternoon’ and insert ‘twenty-five minutes past nine o’clock and half past eleven o’clock in the morning’.



Leave out ‘ten’ and insert ‘nine’.

Motion 8—September Sittings—

That this House considers that the Government should bring forward motions to provide for the House to sit in September from 2013 onward.

Motion 9—Sittings of the House (Tuesdays) (7.00 pm to 10.00 pm)—

That this House should sit on Tuesdays from 7.00 pm until 10.00 pm to consider Private Members’ Bills.

Mr Knight: I commend the Procedure Committee’s report on sitting hours—HC330—to any Member who has not yet read it because it will be helpful in determining the decisions to be made during this debate.

11 July 2012 : Column 336

I have been surprised over the past two weeks to see reports in certain sections of the press suggesting that MPs were demanding shorter hours, and that at a “time of national crisis”, we were seeking to cut back on the number of hours that we work. That forced me to re-read my Committee’s report. As I suspected, I discovered no such proposition in it. In fact, the Committee concluded that the hours we spent at Westminster were broadly correct and should continue. I guess that the headline “MPs resolve to work as hard as ever but may choose different hours” does not have the same attraction for a sub-editor, even if it is accurate.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): It is difficult to believe that all the media got it so wrong. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether his amended press release was taken up and reported by any of the media?

Mr Knight: Rather strangely, two sections of the press that had misreported what we were doing have now made changes on their website. It could well be that the truth has finally caught up with them.

It is usual for Select Committees to reach a firm conclusion and to ask the House to follow it, for very good reasons, but this usual practice is against the background of a Committee identifying an issue that needs attention or discovering a defect in our law or perhaps a fault in ministerial practice that warrants a particular remedy. That is not the case today. Although the Procedure Committee has expressed its view in the report, I wish to make it clear that on the issue of sitting hours, the Committee appreciates that each Member of Parliament has a different way of working. That means that in considering the House’s sitting hours, there are no mainstream options that are “right” or “wrong”, “antiquated” or “modern”, “effective” or ineffectual”: the whole issue is a matter of individual preference.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that it is all a matter of individual preference. I travel from the Hebrides, and if we had a 1 o’clock start on Monday the furthest I could get by that time is Glasgow airport.

Mr Knight: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I shall come on to Mondays shortly.

The Procedure Committee accepts that our sitting hours are a matter of judgment for the House as a whole, which is why I have tabled motions to facilitate the majority view prevailing in respect of days Monday through to Thursday. Any changes made by the House will have consequences, which I hope Members will reflect on before they decide how to vote.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I am sure my right hon. Friend would be the first to recognise that it is not just a matter of individual preference; the House does not sit only in the Chamber, because Select Committees have to meet, preferably at times when they are not interrupted by votes and when witnesses can come a long distance to attend the meetings. That explains why Tuesday mornings, for example, are extensively used by Select Committees.

11 July 2012 : Column 337

Mr Knight: The right hon. Member has identified one of the consequences that would come into play if the House decided to change its sitting hours on Tuesdays.

It is not my intention on behalf of the Procedure Committee to cajole the House to vote in any particular way. I have tabled a number of motions to facilitate the House’s expressing a view, and if it wishes to make a change to sittings on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays, it can do so today by voting for the appropriate motion.

I shall deal with the motions in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper, starting with motion 1, which is to retain the status quo on Mondays. Many Members told the Procedure Committee they feel that earlier sittings would compromise the ability of Members from constituencies distant from London to make the journey to Westminster on Mondays—the point well made by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil). Those with constituencies closer to Westminster also made it clear that they valued the opportunity to carry out some constituency business on a Monday morning. If this motion to make no change to Mondays is passed, no further proposals will be put forward in respect of Mondays. If it is defeated—but only if it is defeated—I will move motion 2, which proposes a slightly earlier start. As no further proposals relating to Mondays have been tabled by any other Member, this will be the only alternative the House will be asked to consider.

Motion 3 is to retain the status quo on Tuesdays, and I will move it at the appropriate time. Similarly, if this is passed, there will be no further proposals dealing with Tuesdays. As I understand it, the other Tuesday motions—4 and 9—will in that event fall.

Sir Bob Russell: In its deliberations, did the Procedure Committee take into account the fact that the House used to have earlier Tuesday sitting hours, but it quickly restored the afternoon start because of the consequences, some of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) has already alluded to?

Mr Knight: The Procedure Committee was well aware of why, having decided to sit earlier on Tuesdays as an experiment, the House subsequently failed to ratify that experiment. Speaking as a Member representing a northern constituency, I can point out other consequences. If we were to sit earlier on a Tuesday, some 750 people a day would not be able to have a tour of this building on Tuesdays, which is the day when most of my constituents prefer to visit Westminster. Denying them that opportunity would mean that they would have to come here on a Monday, when they would have to compete with commuter traffic in making the journey. That could force some constituents who can ill afford it to stay the night in London if they want to have a tour of this building. That may not be an overriding consideration, but it should be borne in mind before the House votes.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): I have two points on the debate so far. First, the House today is a different place—there are an awful lot more women, and more younger people with important family commitments. Members may well have wanted to change the arrangements back then, but it is important to

11 July 2012 : Column 338

understand that the House is different now. Secondly, we now have a different expenses regime under the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and many more Members have to get back late at night. It is difficult, particularly for women, to make these journeys at 10.30 and 11.30 at night. That is another difference between the House that made the change previously and this House.

Mr Knight: The hon. Lady is quite right. That is why the Procedure Committee felt it important to have this debate today to test the mood of the present Parliament on what hours it chooses to sit. On her latter point, I have always been of the view that any expenses regime should model itself to fit the hours we choose to work, and not the other way around.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): I thank the Chairman and his Committee for the work they have done on this issue. I would like to follow up the point about how the sitting hours affect Members with family responsibilities. I first entered the House when I had a seven-year-old son. There is no change in the hours that could make the House more family-friendly to those whose children are hundreds of miles away. If we are to debate this issue, we should do so on the correct grounds. It is often said that a change in the hours is more family-friendly, but that is true only to those whose families live near the House.

Mr Knight: The hon. Lady makes her point very well indeed.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of tourism here. It is important for our constituents to visit the House, but I think that his point about the expenses regime also applies to tourism—in other words, we should facilitate tourism around the hours the House sits. To address the problem he raised, perhaps we could look at other options, such as providing greater facilities at the weekend, which would be much more convenient for many of our constituents.

Mr Knight: That is one option, but I have to say that my constituents prefer me to give them a guided tour, and I prefer to give them a guided tour rather than putting them into the hands of others.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Following up the important intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), does the right hon. Gentleman agree that for those fortunate enough to bring up their children in inner London, as I was, notwithstanding the fact that I have a constituency 225 miles away, there is no rule to say that a 7 o’clock finish on a Tuesday is more “family-friendly” than one at 10 o’clock? As I know for certain, having talked to younger Members today, it varies greatly according to the family circumstances. No one should presume to speak for those Members—men or women—who happen to have young children about what is “best for them”.

Mr Knight: And of course it depends on the whipping that is in force on any particular day as well. I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point.

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Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): The Chairman of the Procedure Committee is making an extremely good speech and balancing all the different factors. He says that “it depends on the whipping”, but I am sure that he will accept that often on a Tuesday night, when there is no Whip and Members are not engaged with a debate, one still finds Members in their offices until 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night—even when no votes are taking place and there is no engagement in the Chamber. That is the reality of this place.

Mr Knight: That is certainly true; I think we are all aware of that. It may not be a matter of any moment for Opposition Members, but, if the House were to decide to sit earlier on a Tuesday, it would in effect scupper many ministerial visits to different parts of the country during the daytime. Opposition Members might not be bothered about that now, but there might come a time when it does matter to them.

To return to the process, if the Tuesday motion on retaining the status quo falls, I understand that the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) will then move motion 4, which I have also signed, recommending that our sitting hours on a Tuesday change to mirror those currently in force on a Wednesday.

I understand also that if the right hon. Lady is successful and the motion is passed, she might also move motion 9, at the end of this business on the Order Paper, recommending that private Members’ Bills be taken on a Tuesday evening after 7 pm. I have considerable sympathy for the House looking at whether we move the time for debate on private Members’ Bills, but, if her motion becomes eligible to move, I ask her again to reflect on not doing so—for five reasons.

The Procedure Committee has resolved to undertake a full report into private Members’ Bills and the procedure relating thereto. I have also been to see the Leader of the House, because it is important that the House, at an early date, decides whether it wishes private Members’ Bills to continue on a Friday or to move to another day of the week—not necessarily a Tuesday.

I am pleased to say that the Leader of the House accepted the strength of the necessity for an early decision on the matter, and he made it clear to me that he intends to provide time for the Backbench Business Committee, either in the September spill-over or shortly thereafter, when I hope that the Committee will allocate a debate for that purpose. So we have had a promise of time to debate the question of when we deal with private Members’ Bills, and it should be a wider one than just, say, moving them from Friday to Tuesday; the House should debate whether to take such Bills on a Wednesday—perhaps even a Thursday might be an option—or keep them where they are on a Friday.

There are consequences of just moving such Bills from a Friday to a Tuesday, not least that such business will be more likely to attract a payroll Whip if the Government of the day find it unpalatable.

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman indicates that the payroll vote may become a factor in any consideration of private Members’ Bills, but it would apply whenever such Bills were debated, and there are of course other mechanisms that Governments use to talk them out on a Friday. Specifically, will his thinking encompass running

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such Bills parallel to the sittings of the Chamber, or are we talking solely about putting them on at the end of regular business?

Mr Knight: As the Procedure Committee has only just resolved to look into the matter, I would not want to cut off any avenue of discussion. I think that it will be happy to look at both suggestions—[Interruption.]

I know that one other aspect of the matter which the Committee wants to look at is the steps that we take to reduce the likelihood of just two or three Members completely destroying a Bill that has the support of many. There are various ways of doing so, one of which is to put the Question on a private Member’s Bill’s Second Reading after a certain amount of time has elapsed, rather than Members having to get 100 people here to vote in the affirmative.

So we are seeking to be helpful; we have been promised an early debate about the matter; and on that basis I hope that the House will be prepared to wait until September for a wide-ranging debate about private Members’ Bills and where we allocate them within our sittings, rather than accept motion 9 today. I thought that someone else was seeking to intervene.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend made my point for me.

Mr Knight: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. Apparently I made his point for him.

The short delay between today and September or the first week in October is not long enough to delay the implementation of any recommendation that we bring forward. Nothing will be lost by waiting, so I hope that on reflection the right hon. Lady will decide not to move motion 9 if it becomes possible for her to do so.

Motion 5 is to retain the status quo on Wednesdays, and again I shall move it at the appropriate time. Similarly, if it is passed no further proposals will deal with Wednesday and the remaining Wednesday motion will fall. If the Wednesday motion on retaining the status quo fails, I will move motion 6, which recommends that our sitting hours on that day change to mirror those currently in place on a Thursday, namely 10.30 am until 6 pm.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): If we move sitting times on a Wednesday, my concern, which applies to Tuesday as well, is that we will curtail the time that Members have to arrange meetings with constituents and others in this place. It is very tricky to organise meetings when the House is sitting; I have had to cancel two appointments this afternoon to take part in this debate. So I have great concerns about contracting the time that Members have available to meet constituents and others.

Mr Knight: My hon. Friend makes a fair point, and I assume that those concerns will lead him to vote for the status quo when the time comes.

Motion 7 is to bring Thursday sittings forward by one hour so that the House sits from 9.30 am until 5 pm, rather than from 10.30 am until 6 pm. Any Member who wishes to see the status quo retained should vote against the motion.

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Mr Gray: I am a member of the Procedure Committee and, therefore, I signed up to the report, which was of course unanimous, but since we produced it a number of people who live, for example, in Milton Keynes and similar places have brought to my attention the fact that, to get here by 9.30 am, it would be necessary to catch peak time trains, and that, given the strictures on our expenses, that might not be so good and, in order to accommodate them, might be a reason for leaving things at 10.30 am.

Mr Knight: Again, my hon. Friend, who is a very valued member of the Committee, has put forward an argument for certain Members voting for the status quo.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): This is probably the best laid out Order Paper that we have had for any such debate, as far as making things clear goes, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on how he has set out the options—so that people understand them and know what they are voting for. I may have missed this earlier, but if people vote for any new hours when will they be implemented?

Mr Knight: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the first part of his intervention. This way of proceeding was not without controversy, but I am pleased that he feels, as I do, that it is the best way of doing so. I am obliged to the Government and to the Backbench Business Committee, and the reason we are having this debate today—as I understand it, and I stand to be corrected by the Deputy Leader of the House—and, in effect, debating sitting hours ahead of some of the other recommendations in the Committee’s report is that if the House votes for any change, the Government and the House authorities will be able to put the necessary changes in place for when we return in October.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): Further to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), does my right hon. Friend not agree that, on sitting hours, we should set ourselves up so that the Chamber and the House work and we do our jobs in the most effective way, and that, although the point about whether someone travels at peak time is an interesting one, it should be a secondary consideration?

Mr Knight: That too is an interesting point, but I believe that it is for individuals to decide at what time of day they consider themselves to work most effectively, and that is why I have hesitated to tell the House in which direction it should go today. I think that this is a matter for the House itself: I think it right for this Parliament, elected in 2010, to make its decision—a decision with which the majority are happy—and we know that that will happen in less than two hours’ time.

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con) rose—

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con) rose—

Mr Knight: I have already given way a number of times, but I shall continue to do so, as I see that two of my hon. Friends wish to intervene.

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Mr Burley: My right hon. Friend said that the House should reflect on what is the optimal time of day for Members to work, and I think that that goes to the heart of the debate. Does he accept that for many new Members such as me—those of us who arrived in the House two years ago—10 pm is not the optimal hour of the day at which to work? Back in the real world, the optimal working hours are from nine in the morning, when people are fresh, until about 6 pm.

Mr Knight: I am not sure whether I agree with my hon. Friend. I am Knight by name, night by nature. Perhaps I have hung around with too many musicians, but I tend to like working during the evening.

Philip Davies: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is plenty of work to be done that can easily see us through until 10 pm? I am not entirely sure why Members should have nothing to do after 6 pm, given all their constituency work. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that what we are being asked to do is choose between the competing claims of Select Committees, the House and Westminster Hall? At present there is plenty of time for Members to participate in all three, but a change in our hours would not allow that to continue.

Mr Knight: As I said at the outset, any change will have consequences. My hon. Friend has correctly identified one of those consequences, namely the clash with Committee sittings on Tuesday mornings.

Let me now, for the benefit of all Members, say something about the mechanics of the voting that will take place later. I have had a discussion with the Patronage Secretary, the Chief Whip, and because there is to be a genuine free vote for Government Members and also, I trust, for Opposition Members, and because there are differences of opinion in the Government Whips Office, he has agreed that the Government Whips will act as Tellers on motions 1 to 7. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) will therefore not need Tellers for the vote on her motion to change Tuesday sittings, although if she wishes to push her later amendment, she will need Tellers for that. The Government have taken a view on September sittings, and if any Member chooses to divide the House on my motion on the subject, Tellers will also be needed then. I hope that that is helpful to all Members.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I congratulate the Committee on an excellent report which is thorough and very readable, and which makes some sensible recommendations.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if, at the appropriate time, a majority voted against September sittings, it would be disastrous for the reputation of the House? It is quite wrong, and always has been, for the House not to sit for 10 continuous weeks, and I hope that when the motions recommended in motion 8 are put to the House, it will vote overwhelmingly in favour of continuing the September sittings.

Mr Knight: I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but I must tell him that the evidence that the Committee received from Members was rather mixed. There was little, if any, enthusiasm for September sittings.

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Many Members felt that little of substance was achieved during those two-week periods, and that any presentational benefit was outweighed by the financial costs of setting up the House so that Members could be brought back for just eight or nine sitting days before the conference recess. Many also regretted the loss of opportunities for constituency work in September, particularly visits to schools.

However, the view in other quarters—including, I believe, the Government—rather reflected that of the hon. Gentleman, namely that any move to return to the long summer recess would be very difficult in presentational terms, and would also create a long period during which the House would be unable effectively to fulfil its task of scrutinising the Government and holding Ministers to account. Indeed, that may well be the view of the official Opposition.

Mr Straw: Under a Labour Government, when we were operating the old system of no September sittings, the House had to be recalled on three occasions. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the cost and disruption involved in recalling Members from their holidays, and the disruption of works in this building, far outweighs the cost of programmed, regular September sittings?

Mr Knight: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. However, I should add that the Clerk of the House has estimated that the additional cost of September sittings is some £1.5 million, mainly from the capital budget. That cost arises from the need to manage some projects within the tighter timetable that results from the breaking up of the long summer recess. Costs will of course vary from year to year. The key factor for the Parliamentary Estates Directorate is certainty about the parliamentary calendar to allow for effective planning. One reason for the Committee’s wish for the matter to be decided today, either way, is that at least it will bring certainty to 2013 and beyond.

The House has not had an opportunity since the general election to debate the question of whether September sittings should become the norm. We have had two years of September sittings since the election, and we think that the time is now ripe for all Members to judge the desirability of such sittings. The House has already agreed to a motion providing for a sitting in September 2012, and today we have an opportunity to decide whether we should sit in September from 2013 onwards. I have proposed that we sit in September, and any Member who opposes September sittings should divide the House and vote against motion 8.

We all have our own views on the sitting hours that we personally prefer. Today the Procedure Committee, above all else, wants the House of Commons, in the present Parliament, to have an opportunity to decide its own sitting hours. I hope that the motions that I have tabled will enable that to be achieved simply and with the minimum of fuss.

2.16 pm

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) and his Committee on their report, and on facilitating today’s debate. I also thank the right hon. Gentleman personally for the assistance that he

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has given me in ensuring that there was a proper range of options on the Order Paper.

When I entered the House 25 years ago, 40% of our sittings lasted until midnight or beyond and we were here five days a week. We had no computers, no mobile phones and no e-mail, and very little time was available for constituency work.

Sir Bob Russell: Utopia!

Dame Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman says that it was Utopia, and indeed there were Members at that time who boasted about how infrequently they visited their constituencies. A few could recall the days when a brass band and the stationmaster greeted such an arrival.

I was determined to try to make a change. That is why, in 2001, I joined the Modernisation Committee chaired by Robin Cook which introduced the reforms that shape the parliamentary timetables of today. However, 10 years have passed since then. Everything has changed, and I believe that the House must change too.

Our constituents present us with a paradox. They despise us as a class, but individually and locally they value us. They are ever demanding—through e-mails, campaigns, packed surgeries, and constant invitations for us to support local events—and Parliament itself proceeds at a faster pace than ever under the glare of an all-pervasive media. As the Procedure Committee observed,

“This is an extraordinarily demanding role.”

The Committee found MPs working an average of 70 hours a week while the House was sitting, taking few holidays, and often remaining in touch even then and even when away with their families. For many Members, this life is very different from the one they led before entering the House.

Most telling was the Hansard Society survey that found that the effect of becoming an MP on personal and family life was universally negative. That is not a complaint. We are all volunteers and most of us fought very hard to get here, but the question is this: is that a reasonable state of affairs or could we improve how we work? Would it not make better sense, as the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) said, for the House to sit earlier in the mornings, functioning more like the other institutions of our national life? Might we not make better decisions if we started earlier and finished earlier? Constituents are always amazed that we begin to vote at 10 pm on two nights of the week.

Personally, I would be more radical than the options on the Order Paper, but I think that the 11.30 am start and 7 pm finish on a Tuesday is where the greatest consensus for change lies.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that talking about an 11.30 am start or, as a journalist did on Twitter this morning, a 2.30 pm start demeans the work of Members? I do not know of any Member who starts their working day at 11.30 am or 2.30 pm.

Dame Joan Ruddock: I have already said that we work 70 hours a week. Those were the findings of an independent committee and of the Procedure Committee survey, so we clearly are working all sorts of hours. I think my hon. Friend knows that I am talking about the formal sittings of the Chamber.

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Dan Byles: As a new Member of the House with a young family and a seven-and-a-half-month-old daughter, I am open to the argument that more family-friendly hours might make it easier for Members with young families, but I also sit on the Energy and Climate Change Committee. It is a busy Committee that meets Tuesday mornings, and I do not see how such a change could be made to fit with Members’ other responsibilities, which we usually discharge before the House sits.

Dame Joan Ruddock: I am sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says, but in the past six weeks just 15 of the 35 Select Committees have met on a Tuesday morning.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): I agree with everything that the right hon. Lady is saying in her excellent remarks. The Treasury Committee, on which I sit, meets in private at 9.45 am on Tuesdays for a 10 am start. I take my daughter to school and am here by 8.30 am. Why not start then?

Dame Joan Ruddock: I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for real change, but we have on offer what we have on offer.

Mr Gray: I am not certain what precise thesis the right hon. Lady is advancing. She says that we all work 70 hours a week—I suspect we do more—but is she saying that Members should work for fewer hours a week? If so, how would we deal with the constituency demands she described? Or, if we are to continue working that long, why should we necessarily change the formal sitting hours, given that we will still be doing other things in the evenings and before we sit?

Dame Joan Ruddock: I think the hon. Gentleman fails to grasp one point.

Mr Gray indicated assent.

Dame Joan Ruddock: He has indeed. The motions are concerned with the hours in which the House sits. That is all we are concerning ourselves with. What matters to most of us is that we have to vote on legislation that comes before the Chamber. The timings determine when we are obliged to be here, as opposed to our offices, our local offices, at home working or anywhere else. It removes choice. It is about the choice of when we are required to be here and voting. If the sitting hours of the day are moved forward, there will be no question of working fewer hours; we will simply work different hours.

Mr Straw: My right hon. Friend referred to the Hansard Society findings about the pressures on families when people enter the House. Those are undoubted. Does she accept, however, that the vast majority of Members have constituencies and families way beyond commuting distance from here, so whether the House finishes at 7 pm or 10 pm is irrelevant to whether they see their families? Moreover, as I know from talking to new Members, the pressures on families arise not from whether we finish at 7 pm or 10 pm but from the fact that Members are under increasing power to work on Fridays, during the day and in the evening, and on Saturdays and Sundays?

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Dame Joan Ruddock: Again, I am sympathetic to everything that my right hon. Friend says. He is absolutely right, and if he is patient, he will hear that I have taken account of all his points.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend admit that she is not distinguishing between sitting hours and what we do in those sitting hours? She is conflating the two. Will she separate those two things, because the sitting hours are one thing but what we do in them is something completely different?

Dame Joan Ruddock: I think my hon. Friend is teasing me, because she knows exactly what I am suggesting. The sitting hours of the Chamber are the hours that condition the voting patterns, which most of us consider to be mandatory. I am talking about the opportunity for Members to consider bringing forward the mandatory voting hours to earlier in the day. Each person will choose how they vote during all the hours of the day and, indeed, all the hours of the night.

I do not claim that the proposed reforms are family-friendly. All families are different, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said, nothing is family-friendly if the family are hundreds of miles away. To bring forward the sitting hours, however, would be more people-friendly and would give us more control over our own time and more choice about how to spend the remaining hours of the day. It is not just a London issue either. The gap in preferences for earlier hours between those in the London area and those outside it is not that great.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend makes a series of excellent points, the most pertinent of which concerns the moment of interruption. The hour upon which we vote is clearly, for most Members, the most fixed moment of our diaries. It is clearly the most important decision that we can make. Although we can talk about the complications of Select Committees, where our constituencies are or our particular family make-ups, the point about flexibility is the most important one. That is why I advocate her position of making that hour as early as possible in the day.

Dame Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I echo the right hon. Lady’s remarks. Although I cannot return to my constituency in the evening, I still think this issue says something about our institutional culture and what we think is a normal working practice.

Dame Joan Ruddock: The hon. Lady might also feel that if she gets home a little earlier in the evening, perhaps she has more time to talk to her family.

Sir Robert Smith: It is important to remember that we are talking about the moment of interruption. When we bring forward the moment of interruption, as we have done on Wednesdays, the business managers often find it convenient to schedule business for after the moment of interruption, because the House is sitting more normal hours. There is no guarantee that people planning their diaries will know what time is available after the moment of interruption until the week before, when the business statement is made.

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Dame Joan Ruddock: I have looked at the figures. The coalition Government have been very bad about doing that, but the Labour Government were not. We were much more disciplined. I think that the hon. Gentleman should complain to those in charge, not to me.

In the survey of more than 500 MPs that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and I conducted over a year ago, the most frequent demands from Members were for more control over time, more predictable voting times and debates, and Friday to be recognised as a constituency day for everyone. A few recorded their difficulties in getting home on Thursdays, and I very much welcome the Procedure Committee’s motion to start and finish one hour earlier on Thursdays.

Kevin Brennan: On the matter of the moment of interruption on Mondays and Tuesdays, is it not the case that we are talking about 68 days in the year when Members are required to be here until 10 pm? The proposals being put forward would take away 34 days of the year when we might be required to be here on Mondays and Tuesdays—and we are not always required to be—because we meet for only 34 weeks of the year. Why is being here for 68 days until 10 pm—possibly—such a terrible thing?

Dame Joan Ruddock: I can only tell my hon. Friend that although this might not be something that people want to acknowledge in this public place, the vast majority of MPs say that they are perpetually tired, that they are stressed and that they find the late hours a particular problem. That is what people say when they are speaking in private. I acknowledge that having an earlier start and an earlier finish would make many of us feel better, think better and probably be healthier.

Mr Burley: The right hon. Lady is being modest in saying that this proposal is people-friendly and not family-friendly. Does she agree that were an MP with a family in my constituency in the west midlands, which is still more than 170 miles away, to finish earlier, at say 5 pm or 6 pm, they could drive up to their constituency, spend an evening with their family and then drive back? The argument that just because the constituency is far away an MP might as well stay here until 10 pm as they will never see their family is totally ludicrous.

Dame Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman makes one of the key points: this is about choice and the fact that all families are different. As I said, some people will be able to take opportunities. I simply say to our colleagues: just because it does not suit you because you cannot do it, why would you prevent another person from being able to do it? We should be generous in our support of our colleagues. None of the proposals to be voted on today mean that MPs would work fewer hours. I am not advocating fewer hours, but simply a rearrangement within the day and the week; this is a very small attempt to make this workplace more manageable.

Dan Byles: A couple of times the right hon. Lady has alluded to the idea that what we do here is very different from what is done in other organisations. I just say to her that I have many friends in the private sector, and some in the public sector, too, who work until 10 pm, when they are busy and there is a lot of work to be done.

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Dame Joan Ruddock: I could not agree more. I have a constituency of many very poor people and one of the things they do is work antisocial hours. They have several jobs and many of them work through the night, but believe me they do not want to do it. They would wish to be able to work in the hours of daylight and to do a normal and reasonable job. We owe it to ourselves to consider whether that would not work for us as well.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Given that this debate is focused on the Tuesdays, because most people believe that the Mondays should remain the same, and because whether we finish at 6 pm or 7 pm on Wednesdays is neither here nor there, is not the way to solve this problem without major upheaval to keep the sitting hours as they are but just move one-line Whip business or Back-Bench debates, which tend to have a one-line Whip—or they do not necessarily have a three-line Whip—and private Members’ Bills to Tuesday nights? People would then have the option on whether or not to stay here in the Chamber.

Dame Joan Ruddock: That is an interesting suggestion, but the hon. Gentleman would have had to put it to his Government business managers before the debate to see whether they would have done it. We are too late for that now, because we have the motions on the Order Paper.

Andrea Leadsom: I want to reiterate, with the right hon. Lady’s support, that this is absolutely not about Members working fewer hours. Unfortunately, the media tend to focus on MPs trying to vote themselves fewer hours, but that is not the case here. This is, exactly as she says, about the precise moment of interruption, when we are required to be here 99% of the time. If that moment is at 10 pm, people are given very little flexibility. If it were to come earlier, we would be able to make the choice to be working at home or in our offices. I entirely support the right hon. Lady.

Dame Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to the hon. Lady.

I now wish to discuss the Friday sittings. I have heard what the Chair of the Committee has said and I will be considering that as the debate goes on. It is very important that we discuss Fridays. The Friday proposal appears to be the most contentious, because we have heard dire warnings of reputational damage to MPs and the suggestion that MPs are going to be skiving off. Those of us who want to see private Members’ Bills moved from Friday to earlier in the week are not advocating a four-day week. On the contrary, all the evidence shows that MPs’ hours are already, as I have said, double those of a standard working week. MPs are rightly in their constituencies working for their constituents on a Friday.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are a number of Members who, like me, have constituency advice surgeries on Friday? As a result of those, I have not been able to participate in debates on private Members’ Bills where I would have wanted to contribute. Friday is the only day when I can make sure that I am there for my constituents, and I do not want to have to choose between legislation and my constituents. This House is getting more powerful and private Members’ Bills can make more difference,

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and I genuinely think it ought to be easier for Back Benchers to participate in private Members’ legislation. This change would make that possible.

Dame Joan Ruddock: I absolutely agree. As I was saying, our constituents want us to be in our constituencies working for them on a Friday. It is also where we want to be, and the record bears that out. On the 17 sitting Fridays in the 2010 to 2012 Session, recorded attendance varied from 19 to 134. Indeed, according to the records, some of the strongest advocates of a five-day Westminster week have never attended a Friday sitting—I have all the names.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): I can tell the right hon. Lady that she has completely won me over to her arguments, which she has made so powerfully. Does she also agree that Friday is the day when we go to see schools and hospitals—when we meet ordinary people who live in the real world and work normal hours?

Dame Joan Ruddock: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady because she is 100% right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, the worst thing that can happen if a Member comes to a private Members’ Bill sitting is that they end up wiping out their entire Friday and, in particular, their surgery. I am convinced that we should move parliamentary business from a Friday, and if we bring Tuesday business forward by three hours we could accommodate private Members’ Bills on a Tuesday evening. Attendance for Back Benchers would be optional and voting would be guaranteed at 10 pm, thus ending the farce of talking out these precious Bills, as happens at the moment.

Any changes to MPs’ hours will, of course, require change to the working patterns of the staff and officers who make this place work for us. Care will need to be taken to ensure that they are not disadvantaged. If we sit earlier on a Tuesday, there will be, as on Wednesdays now, a continuing need for some services to continue beyond the time voting begins.

The reform proposals available to MPs today are modest; they involve no reduction in hours but an important rearrangement. The afternoon start on a Monday is, I believe, in the best interests of the House, enabling all MPs to travel from their constituencies in the morning and still do an eight-hour day. But on all other days I am committed to change. Not only will that benefit many sitting Members of this House, but it would help to bring into this House a wider range of future candidates, as they would believe that this is a place in which they could work. So I recommend voting against the no-change motions for Tuesday and Wednesday, and voting positively in favour of earlier hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and moving private Members’ Bills from Friday. This is a chance to make a small change and a small gain, but it is an opportunity that will not come to this Parliament again. I hope that Members will seize it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Many Members wish to speak, and a few minutes—not many—will at some stage have to be allowed for the Front-Bench Members’ contributions.

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There is not a formal time limit, but I appeal to Members to make brief contributions, in the interests of their colleagues.

2.40 pm

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): I am a member of the Procedure Committee, and I must start by thanking its Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), for putting together these clever motions, which mean the House will get a chance to vote on these measures, and the Backbench Business Committee for giving us time to debate them.

It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock). She stated her case very eloquently, and I have enormous sympathy with it. I came to the House fully aware that this was not a family-friendly job, and I have to say that there is no family-friendly job; there is no job out there that allows people both to spend significant amounts of time with their families and to make a full contribution in their employment. I am not looking for more time with my family, therefore, but when we sit here at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night—often tired and unable to think clearly because we have been working since 8 am or 9 am—I think that staying here until so late is, perhaps, not the best way for us to conduct our business.

Being an MP is a vocation, as was said on several occasions during Procedure Committee evidence sessions. It is a way of life; it is not a job. That was brought home to me by a text message I received from my dairy farmers at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning, letting me know about the summit they are currently attending in Central Hall in Westminster. I do not switch off. I do not have time off at the weekends. I do not have time to spend not doing this job—not having this way of life.

However, I do think that this House should sit—to debate what is, of course, very important business—at a time that is relevant and reasonable, and that works in terms of the outside world. That is a very important point. The outside world has no idea what we do. I have often had journalists come to shadow me, and they are astounded by the wide variety of different things we do, and that we work so late. When the hour of interruption comes at 7 o’clock this evening, there is nothing to stop anybody carrying on working until 10 o’clock if they wish. Nobody is going to be prevented from doing that, but at least with this change of hours Members can, if they want, do what their constituents do: read the latest book, see the latest film at the cinema, read their Committee papers—

Anna Soubry: Or get a life!

Karen Bradley: My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

There is nothing to stop us working on into the evening if we have the hour of interruption at 7 o’clock on a Tuesday. If we want later sittings on a Tuesday, there is nothing to stop us deciding to have longer Adjournment debates, or more time for Back-bench business. This House can carry on functioning, but 7 o’clock is a perfectly reasonable time at which to set the hour of interruption when Government business should finish.

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That is why I support the change in business on Tuesday. I will support the status quo on Monday, however, as I understand that many Members have to travel a significant distance or get things done in their constituencies on a Monday morning. Although I would be happier to start slightly earlier on Mondays, I would not wish to impose that on colleagues. We are all here in London on Monday night, however, so why not get started on Tuesday mornings?

In respect of Wednesdays, I have a point to make about Select Committees. I sit on the Work and Pensions Committee. We start at 9.15 on Wednesday morning, and we finish by 11.30 so we can come into the Chamber for Prayers. It is perfectly possible to have Select Committee business before 11.30—or for Committees to sit during House sitting hours on Monday afternoons, as we also sometimes do.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that bringing Wednesdays forward to 10.30 would impinge on the sitting times of Select Committees, such as the Education Committee, which I chair? She makes a strong case in respect of Tuesdays, however.

Karen Bradley: I will not support the Wednesday change; I will support the status quo for that very reason. Wednesday is one of the most effective days in the week in terms of my business, as I have my Select Committee and then we come into the Chamber for House business. It is a very easy day to get things done.

I support the change by one hour for Thursdays. That is not particularly relevant to me in terms of my getting back to my constituency, but I am fully aware that some Members have very long journeys, and being able to get a 6 pm rather than a 7 pm train can make the difference between getting home in the evening and having to get on the sleeper train. In the interests of all Members, it would be appropriate for this House to move to a 9.30 start on Thursdays.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I have read the Committee report, and I found the hon. Lady to be a pivotal member of the Committee. I, too, support the change for Thursday. However, are not the arguments for no change on a Monday, which I think she has accepted, just as valid as the arguments for change on Thursdays?

Karen Bradley: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I agree with him, which is why I will support the status quo on Mondays and the Committee’s recommendations for starting an hour earlier on Thursdays.

I will not support the motion on private Members’ business. The Procedure Committee has just started an inquiry into what might be done to improve private Members’ business, and I would like to hear the evidence on that before making a final decision. I appreciate what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire said about our having a debate on that very soon. I am content to leave that matter for now, therefore.

I will support the motion for September sittings. It is important that we hold the Executive to account during September. We should not have a 10-week break when the Executive is not challenged.

I will therefore support a change on Tuesdays, and no other changes as things currently stand.

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Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. There is no formal time limit on speeches, but there is now heavy pressure on time. I want to accommodate colleagues, so I call for brevity. We will be led, with great distinction, in this exercise in succinctness by a very senior Member of the House: Mr Jack Straw.

2.47 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): I shall stick to five minutes for my speech, Mr Speaker.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) for the work he and other members of the Procedure Committee have done. I have no nostalgia for the old hours at all. Sitting into the small hours and going on until 11.30 pm was absurd. I also strongly support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) said about Friday sittings. We should not move private Members’ business to a separate ghetto after normal business. There should, for example, be 13 days allocated to private Member’s Bills in the normal sitting week, which the business of the House committee that would be formed would allocate according to need, and there should be proper knives coming down for that business, as with any other business.

We would be in grave error if we moved to a 7 o’clock finish on a Tuesday, however. We tried that, based on the 2001 Modernisation Committee report, and it was found not to be workable. In the words of one of my hon. Friends—who is not known as a neanderthal—in the Tea Room earlier, it was a “nightmare to operate.”

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): When it came to the vote, 225 voted to retain the early hours and 292 voted against, so 225 Members of the 2001-05 Parliament thought the hours did work.

Mr Straw: My hon. Friend makes my point. The vote was decisively lost—[Interruption.] It was lost.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Straw: I am afraid I will not take any more interventions, or I shall suffer the injunction of Mr Speaker.

I remind the House of what was said at the time in favour of those changes. We were told that the changes to the hours

“would bring us closer to the people”.

Extravagant claims have been made about changing the hours, which have all turned to dust.

I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford did not push the family-friendly argument, as that was the argument that was made before and, as we have now accepted, there is no single rule about what suits families. As it happens, my family were brought up in London even though my constituency is a distance away. I did my best, like every other Member of this House, to meet my family obligations, including chairing the governing body of our children’s inner-London comprehensive. The old hours happened to suit that, because I could go and come back. The thing that made the biggest difference to family-friendly

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hours was nothing to do with the formal hours at which we finish; it was pairing. I was able to pair with Conservative colleagues who also had small children. If we wish to get back to sensible arrangements that take account of individual circumstances, we must put pressure on the Patronage Secretary and our own Whips to reintroduce a pairing system. A natural equilibrium results from a pairing system, as those like me, old stagers who do not have families to go back to, give way to those who do have families to go back to.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Straw: I will not, if the hon. Lady will excuse me.

Finally, the reason we had to change back, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) pointed out, was that there was a clash with the meeting of Committees and with the meetings of Government in Cabinet and Cabinet Committees. I tell my hon. Friends that I do not wish us to stay in opposition as a perpetual state; I regard it as temporary. I wish to be on the Government Benches. The change would also be disruptive, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition would find, to the work of the Opposition. The shadow Cabinet meets on a Tuesday morning and will find that all sorts of meetings cannot happen.

The hon. Gentleman who is the Member for Slough—

Iain Stewart: Milton Keynes South.

Mr Straw: One of those new towns, anyway he made some important points about Tuesday morning being the only time of the week when he felt safe about holding meetings.

I hope that, taking account of all those factors, Members will not make the error that they made in 2001 and that the House had to put right, by a big majority, just a few years later.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has done a great service to the House and been very considerate in speaking with such brevity. I know that we will now hear two extremely brief speeches from the two Front Benchers.

2.52 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I will do my best, Mr Speaker. I ought perhaps first to apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House who, as some Members will know, is in his constituency for the arrival of the Olympic torch today.

I thank the Procedure Committee for its work on the issues and the Government will respond to the issues that are not covered by today’s motions in due course. I can also confirm that the motions before the House do not cover changes to Standing Order No. 14, on the arrangements and timing of public and private business, but we will bring forward consequential amendments if the House decides to change the sitting times.

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I also want to make it clear that the Government have not taken a position on the changes to the sitting days of the week, as these are matters for the House and each individual Member’s preference, including that of members of the Government. We welcome the starting point, which involves maintaining the current number of sitting days and the present pattern.

There is one proposition on which the Government have a strong view, however, and that is September sittings. We remain of the view that the House should continue to sit in September for precisely the reasons mentioned by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). I believe that Ministers should be held to account by this House and that a long break in the middle of the summer does the House’s reputation and its ability to scrutinise Ministers no good at all.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Some of us have been campaigning for a long time for private Members’ Bills to be moved from Friday mornings to Tuesday evenings because it would be a good idea if more Members could see their legislation not being dealt with capriciously but being allowed to enter on to the statute book. That would also require the Government, on occasion, to allow more than one Committee to sit on private Members’ Bills. Will the Government commit to do that if the House changes the rules?

Mr Heath: That is a curious intervention to make when I was talking about September sittings. I shall now move on to the days of the week, but let me just mention the fact that European scrutiny requires us to sit in September, too, if we are to make an effective job of it.

Let me now deal with the days of the week and make a few observations on the effects. On the question of an earlier start on Monday, as a west country Member of Parliament I share the views that will be expressed by many about the difficulties that might entail. We must be very careful not to make arrangements based on the interests of those who live within the M25 while ignoring those outside it. In passing, let me point out that changing the times for Mondays would also change the start time on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after recesses when they are the first day back.

I think the most contentious issue is the sitting hours for Tuesday and I hope I will not alarm the press if I say that there is a division of opinion between me and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on that question. He favours a change and I do not. I do not because of the arguments that have already been made about the difficulty in reconciling the priorities of Members of the House if we make that move. That was my experience when we last experimented.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab) rose

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op) rose

Mr Heath: I am trying to give everyone a chance to speak, so if I take an intervention it will be at the expense of a short extension to my speech.

Valerie Vaz: I shall be very quick. The Deputy Leader of the House mentioned a split, so will he confirm whether there will be a free vote for everyone in the House, including the payroll vote?

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Mr Heath: Absolutely. I have made it absolutely plain that the only point on which the Government are taking a view is the September sittings. Everyone is at liberty to vote as they wish on everything else.

There will be difficulties on Tuesdays in finding ways to reconcile the interests of Select Committees and our other duties in the House. I do not like the idea of Members having to choose between one thing and another and I also have an interest in that I would like schools from my constituency to be able to visit the House occasionally. Others will take a different view, however, which has been expressed and it is for the House to decide on that point.

The proposed changes to Wednesdays are manageable and we could do it. There would be a knock-on effect on Prime Minister’s questions, but we would have to return to that point. Obviously, it is for the House to decide.

As for Thursdays, there is a travelling issue involved, but there are also issues for the workings of the House, including the tabling of urgent questions and other deadlines, and Members ought to have regard for the effect on Committees and House staff.

On the motion in the name of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), I must say that I agree with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight). The Committee is carrying out an inquiry into private Members’ Bills and I think we should wait and hear what it has to say. I do not think that we should pre-empt it. She provides an option, but it is not the only option to deal with the long-standing issue of private Members’ Bills. I had to smile when the right hon. Lady was talking about Members talking out private Members’ Bills, because I remember our altercations on a Bill in my name when she was the Minister not so long ago. There are issues, but we should let the Procedure Committee do its work and come back to the House with recommendations rather than pre-empting that decision.

In conclusion, the Government will work with the Procedure Committee on whatever results from our deliberations today. We will try to facilitate with the Backbench Business Committee early consideration of Standing Orders if the House decides in favour of a change. I urge the House not to vote for a change to September sittings and, for the rest, Members will make up their own minds.

2.58 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): I pay tribute to the work of the Procedure Committee and its Chair, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), and commend him for the very clear way in which he outlined the Committee’s position on various issues.

On the question of private Members’ Bills and Friday sittings, I acknowledge entirely the frustration and sense of futility felt by some hon. Members who are trying to introduce Bills with a significant level of public interest, which are talked out because the Bill at the top of the queue has taken all the time available. The challenges in moving our consideration of private Members’ Bills to one of the evenings in the week, however, are substantial and are outlined in the report. The report rightly asks

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the House to take a view. It is right that Members should make up their own minds on this important issue if my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) seeks a decision on motion 9.

The report is also helpful in making clear the importance of our work here, that it has not diminished and that there is no room for any reduction in either the days or weeks that we sit during the year. We know that the House engages in a range of important activities in the passage of legislation. On occasion, it works as a Committee of the whole House, which depends on whether the appropriate committal and programme motions have been agreed. The House also scrutinises the Government at oral question and on statements, and urgent questions can be tabled. It guarantees opportunities for the Opposition to hold the Government to account and it enjoys the successful new innovation of the Backbench Business Committee. Overall, the work of the House is crucial in holding the Executive to account. That is why we support the report’s recommendation that September sittings should be maintained. That will guarantee that the House is not in recess for too long, incapacitating its ability to fulfil its task in scrutinising Government and holding Ministers to account.

I come now to sitting hours on Monday to Thursday. Our response is based on two principles: first, that we need decisions on hours that minimise the harm to families as much as possible, and, secondly, that we will always favour sensible reform. In other words, we need reform that works in how it fits the demands of the work load placed on the House and the role of individual Members in discharging their responsibilities here. That is why we favour the retention of the current sitting hours for Monday.

That is primarily because the current sitting hours allow a reasonable amount of time for Members who live in the constituencies that they represent to get to Westminster for the week’s business. In addition, many London Members find Monday mornings useful for constituency business. I hope that a majority of Members in the House today will concur with our view and vote to retain the current sitting hours for Monday.

On Tuesdays, we understand the argument put by both sides of the debate. It is true that an earlier start and an earlier finish, as recommended in motion 4, will create more opportunities for Members to have people time and to spend valuable time with their families.

Sir Bob Russell: rose

Angela Smith: I want to give others a chance to speak.

The latter is not the case for those of us who are separated from our families during the week by virtue of distance, but that should not blind us to the fact that we should, if it is practical and sensible to do so, create opportunities for those Members who do have family with them in London to enjoy more opportunities to spend time with them. That would be the equivalent of saying that because I cannot have something, others cannot have it either. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said, there is a precedent for this new arrangement. However, it was not made permanent and it was defeated in a motion in

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2005. I remember that occasion almost to the day, as my predecessor, Helen Jackson, resigned in the wake of that decision.

The main reason for the reversal was the perceived clash between the new hours and the work of Public Bill Committees and Select Committees, and access to the House for members of the public. There are genuine concerns about any change in hours and we should not underestimate the importance of allowing our constituents access to the House. The arguments in relation to Tuesday hours are finely balanced and Members will have to make up their own minds. But in doing so they should be careful to balance the needs of Members to discharge their responsibilities effectively with the importance of allowing Members reasonable access to decent quality time and time to spend with their families.

The same arguments apply to Wednesday and Thursday sittings in terms of balancing family life and the work of the House. However, the tensions here are even stronger than in relation to Tuesday sittings, because of the difficulties of Public Bill Committees, particularly on a Thursday morning, and the access to the House of members of the public on a Wednesday morning. Members should be careful in making their decision and should balance the need for quality time and their responsibilities in the House.

3.4 pm

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) persuaded me to vote for motion 4. However, having heard the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), I have no hesitation in voting for motions 4, 6 and 7. She is absolutely right; we have to change the hours of the House. I speak with no self-interest. My daughters, at the ages of 20 and 22, are interested in seeing me only when I spend money on them. Equally, I am an absolute traditionalist. As a criminal barrister I was proud to wear my wig and gown because it served a function. I like tradition if it is functional, and that is the point of view that I come from when I say that unless we sort out this place we will have a crisis in our democracy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) rightly identified, ordinary good, decent people will not come to this place unless we sort out our expenses system, so that it is more sensible, decent and proper, and we sort out our hours, the way in which we work, our procedures and our practices.

We must also be honest in this debate. With great respect, if the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) were representing a marginal seat now, he would not be able to have his family here in London. He would be bound to have his family in his constituency, because of what would be said by his opponents, be they Tory, Lib Dem or Labour—I speak with absolute authority because, as you know, Mr. Speaker, I have a very marginal seat. In this day and age, the stuff that is slung at Members in a marginal seat is such that one has to live in one’s constituency. If we do not, we will be punished by our opponents. It is a fact that some Members of the House—in many ways it is heartbreaking for them—cannot have their very young children here. They must have their family home and their very young children in their constituencies or they will be criticised consistently.

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I worked as a criminal barrister, a job I loved very much. We would sometimes work 60 or 70 hours, absolutely mad hours, but as the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford absolutely identified, it was the certainty of the hours that allowed us to lead normal lives. Courts sat at 9.30 until 4.30, so we could organise our hard-working lives around those hours. That is why she is right and that is why I support motions 4, 6 and 7. If we do that, we can all get a life and that will make us better Members of Parliament.

3.7 pm

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): We all work long hours in this place, and however we jig them that will remain the position. However, we should hesitate a little before complaining about the hours that we work. They are long, and most of us have weekend duties and will continue to do so, but other people do as well. We are not going to get a great deal of public sympathy if we go round our constituency complaining that our hours are long and all the rest of it. The obvious reaction will be: “If it’s so terrible, why do you stand for re-election?” We have to be a little careful about complaining. If there are lazy Members in the House, which I very much doubt—I do not know how they would get away with it—there must be very few indeed. All of us, wherever we sit in the Chamber, work long hours to carry out our duties here and in the constituency.

I am in favour of the present arrangements for Monday to Friday. As for Thursdays, I am not particularly concerned. I was and still am a member of the Home Affairs Committee, and when the House met at 11.30 on Tuesdays there was a clash. We had to decide where we should be. We had to decide whether to carry on in the Committee because we had further business, or come to the Chamber to participate in oral questions. There are bound to be strong feelings about the time we should finish, particularly on a Tuesday, but for the life of me I cannot see any advantage for the great majority of Members whose constituencies are hundreds of miles away in stopping at 7 o’clock.

The main reason I am on my feet is September sittings, which I am very pleased about. I do not often praise the Government, but I certainly praise them and my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) for supporting our sitting in September. I long campaigned for that in the 1980s and 1990s, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) may remember, because I simply could not understand why on earth we should break up for 10 weeks. As far as Governments are concerned, it is a tremendous advantage, because there are no oral questions, no statements and no points of order—it is almost a paradise for them.

Members talk about their constituency duties, such as visiting schools, holding surgeries and all the rest of it, and yes, they are very important, but we should bear it in mind that, apart from anything else, our job first and foremost is to be here holding the Executive to account. That is the first priority. If we break up for a continuous 10-week period, we are not doing our job. There might come a time when it is possible to rejig the conferences in such a way that we do not have to break up again after them, but in the mean time, as the Procedure Committee reported, there is apparently no opportunity for the parties to change the conference

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season. The September sittings are very important. I know that we are not conditioned by the media, but we can imagine what the press reaction would be: “MPs take 10-week holiday.” We call it a recess, but has anyone heard that word outside the Westminster village? The word that is bound to be used is “holiday”.

Mrs Grant: I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and know that he has a lot of experience in this place, but does he not accept that it is also very important for Members to have some semblance of a family life, and not just younger Members with child care responsibilities but older Members who now face caring for elderly parents?

Mr Winnick: Of course. We all have responsibilities in our political and private lives. We are all accountable to someone or other, and that is very important, but with the greatest respect, I do not think that the hon. Lady’s point has a great deal of relevance to September sittings. The last time there was a vote on September sittings we lost it. I hope that this time we will win it, and win it with a decisive majority.

3.12 pm

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): I am delighted that we are having this debate, because it is the only opportunity any of us will have to change this Parliament, so how we vote today is important. I welcome the spirit of the debate, which was exemplified by the contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), who said quite rightly that every MP has a different way of working. I am sure we could all come up with a slightly different arrangement, so there is no right answer.

I approach the debate with a simple perspective this afternoon: I am a new MP, I have been in this place for only two years, and I am 33 years old. I have not become institutionalised yet, although I fear that every day I become a little bit more so. I hear comments by older MPs about a gilded cage and so on. We sit until 10 o’clock at night wondering whether waiting for the 10 o’clock vote while eating or drinking is work or not, because it is not really work as our constituents would understand it. Equally, we cannot leave so it is not private time. We start to get into the idea that it is a lifestyle, and one that we have chosen. It is a bizarre way of working. As someone who still remembers working in the private sector, I want briefly to bring to the debate the perspective of what it is like back in the real world.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Is my hon. Friend’s key point that our constituents want to know that the time we spend here is as productive as it could possibly be?

Mr Burley: I could not have put it better myself.

I want to give just one example from before I came to this place. One of the reasons that has been given for why we start so late on Mondays is that Members need to commute from their constituencies. I remember working on a project in Newcastle when I was living in London, and we were expected to be at our desks at 9 am. We got a 7 am flight from Heathrow, arrived in Newcastle at 8.10 am and were at our desks by 8.45 am, often before many of the local people. There is an article on the BBC

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news website today entitled “MP with… the longest commute” As some Members may know, he is the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who commutes 1,400 miles each week. His 713-mile trip each way is astonishing, including two flights, three trains and two tubes. He still gets here for 12.30 pm, so even he can arrive for that time. Even accounting for the longest commute of any MP, we do not need to start at 2.30 pm on Mondays.

It has been said that we need to allow for Select Committees and therefore need to start at 2.30 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, but as has already been said, Select Committees also meet on Wednesdays when the House is sitting and Tuesday afternoons. It cannot be the case that we have to say that every single Member must be able to attend every single minute of every debate. Members choose to be on Select Committees, to do other things and to go on trips, and that is fine, but we have to accommodate that into normal, productive working hours that are at the beginning of the day at 9.30 am onwards and not until 10 pm.

Dan Byles: If we end up having Select Committee meetings on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons, Members will have to choose between those duties and their core function, which is to be legislators.

Mr Burley: They are already doing that, and that is my point. They are already making that choice because Select Committee meetings already clash with the working hours of the Chamber.

I am conscious of the time and so will make only a couple more points. We have a problem, and one in which I know you, Mr Speaker, take a personal interest: the late-night, boozing, alcoholic culture of this place. That is something that is made worse by having to wait around until 10 o’clock to vote—[Interruption.] I cannot hear what they are saying—[Interruption.] It is also at lunchtimes, they say. It is anti-family. Even if a Member’s family is 150 miles away, they can still talk to them on the phone, Skype them or drive up to visit them, or the family could drive down to visit the Member. They can do other things in the evenings.

We see how few women MPs there are in this place. How many women, especially those with young children, must look at the working hours of this place and think, “Yes, that is something I aspire to. I want to work those hours and to work until 11 o’clock at night, away from my family”? Frankly, we can see that there is not a very good mix of society here. There are not very many normal people in this place. If we want more normal people who have lives—[Interruption.]

I have two final points. Members have talked about tours. This place is closed for 20 weeks of the year; surely our constituents can go on tours in 20 weeks. The hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) has an understandably traditional view of this job and believes that we are here to be legislators and that we represent our constituents in Westminster, not Westminster in our constituencies. As a new MP who represents a constituency next to his patch, and a very marginal one, I have to say to him that that is not the reality today. As a new MP who represents a marginal seat, I am expected to run jobs fairs and business awards evenings, to hold many surgeries, to go to every fete opening and to visit schools—

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I am expected to do the lot. The job has changed, and it is old-fashioned to say that our job is to be down here legislating; our job is also to be in our constituencies.

I conclude with a comment on September sittings. I ask the Government whether they have considered the cost of September sittings. As we heard from the Procedure Committee, the cost of sending just the builders on the estate home for two weeks is £1.5 million because they cannot carry on their work. Then there is the cost of MPs commuting down here, the cost of all the staff and so on. Is spending up to £10 million keeping this place open for two weeks really the best use of taxpayers’ money? Many of our constituents would question that.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. We have only 30 minutes left and several Members are still seeking to catch my eye. I appeal to colleagues to make very short speeches to allow others to contribute.

3.18 pm

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): I welcome the Procedure Committee’s report and thank the Committee for allowing me to give evidence. I have only one point to make. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) said that I teased her when I tried to draw a distinction between our sittings hours and what we do, but I was not teasing her. It is very important. The difference between what MPs do today and what they used to do in the past is dramatic. What we do in our constituencies has become much more important. Casework, campaigning, visiting schools and all the things the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) mentioned have become much more important than they used to be, but we as individual MPs have to decide how to deal with that. It has nothing to do with sitting hours. The sitting hours are supposed to be arranged around what we do in Westminster, where we have Committees, all-party groups, meetings and any number of different things.

A variety of Members have spoken about the different kinds of constituency and the distances that they have to travel. There are inner-city and rural constituencies and constituencies far away and close by. We have also heard details from any number of Members about their domestic arrangements. The issue is that every single MP has different domestic arrangements. Some people have families and some have social lives—[Interruption.] Very lucky people have both.

The point is that we are not here to fit our hours around those families and social lives, but to make and change laws. We are supposed to be running the country; we are not here to look at sitting hours and fit them around my children’s bed times. In looking at the sitting hours, what we are doing today is wrong. We should be considering the changing role of MPs, because that is the issue. As individual MPs, we have to sort that out between ourselves and our constituents rather than looking at changing the sitting hours.

Jo Swinson rose—

Natascha Engel: I will take a very brief intervention.

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Jo Swinson: Does the hon. Lady not accept that in our roles as legislators, it is incredibly important that we should be able to work efficiently and make good decisions? Important decisions are made here. Sitting late into the night does not always guarantee good decisions. Having a bit more control over how we can arrange our working lives would make for more efficient and effective working.

Natascha Engel: I do not really take that point. If the problem is late-night sitting, people should get up later. The sitting hours are not the problem. The hon. Lady mentioned the efficiency and effectiveness of an MP’s work. The sitting hours are not the issue. The issue is what we do when we are here and what we do in our constituencies.

Mrs Grant rose—

Natascha Engel: I will give way very briefly and then stop.

Mrs Grant: Does the hon. Lady not accept that the role of an MP and the hours we spend here are inextricably linked?

Natascha Engel: I do not. What I do accept is that there is a job of work that MPs do in Parliament and a different job of work that we do in our constituencies. How we manage that is down to us. We have to make sure that everybody can manage to work around our sitting hours. Although what we have at the moment may not work perfectly for everyone, I think it works for everyone. I will leave it at that.

3.22 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I will be very brief, because I am a member of the Procedure Committee; my voting record on the Committee will show my views on these matters.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for providing this debate, as we all know about the enormous pressure on its time. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) for opening the debate and setting out the issues so clearly.

Whatever the House decides today, there will never be enough time for any of us to meet all the demands on our time, both as individual MPs and in respect of debating the wide variety of subjects of concern and interest to us and those we represent. I ask Members, as they reach decisions today, to consider the effect of the different options on the staff of the House and their families. The issue is about not just what suits us, but the effect it will have on the staff of the House.

As a member of the Procedure Committee and having considered these matters at great length, I have come to a conclusion. If half a dozen MPs are sat around a table, they will finish up with at least six different ideas about the days and times when the House should sit. I caution hon. Members that, whatever change we decide to make to the current sitting hours, there will inevitably be knock-on effects elsewhere, which may well produce unintended and possibly unwelcome consequences.

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I hope that hon. Members on both sides have found the report and the debate useful in trying to reach a conclusion and decision about this most knotty of matters.

3.24 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I thank the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) for all his Committee’s work and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) for her eloquent speech. Notwithstanding the considerable progress made since the right hon. Lady first came into Parliament, we still have a long way to go before this institution is fit for the 21st century.

As I walked into the Chamber today, I noticed the snuff box still provided for MPs by the entrance. That is perhaps just a faintly amusing anachronism, which falls into the category, mentioned by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), of traditional things that are not harmful. I would say that our late sittings fall into the category of things that are anachronistic and harmful. They are harmful to the health of Members—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I appeal to Members to show courtesy to those who are speaking, rather than wittering away as though their own conversations were somehow more important. Sit quietly—and if you are not interested in doing so, get out. We can manage without you.

Caroline Lucas: I was saying why I thought late hours were harmful. They also give out the impression that things here are suited to the workings of a gentlemen’s club, and that gets in the way of efficient working.

I hope that Members will take this opportunity to bring the Commons out of the snuff age and into the 21st century. We should not be afraid of change because we will all benefit from a more modern House of Commons. When I say “modern”, I fully appreciate that on some days the hours that help some families closer to Westminster will be different from the hours that help families in constituencies further afield.

We have to take on a system that takes the mix of constituency distance from Westminster on board, and there is a solution for Tuesday and Friday that could be an improvement for all Members. I shall come to that after commenting briefly on the other days. I share the commonly held view that the distances that many Members need to travel are a sound reason for leaving Monday’s hours as they are. Ideally, I would like a slightly earlier start time on Wednesday, but I could certainly live with an 11.30 start if Members felt strongly about it. As for Thursday, many Members share the view that the earlier we start and finish the better, so that those whose constituencies are far away at least have a chance of staying for important debates and getting home at a reasonable hour. I hope that the 9.30 to 5 o’clock Thursday will be adopted.

I turn to the case for the earlier start time of 11.30 on Tuesday, which I support. I want to address concerns that that is, apparently, just a measure designed for the benefit of MPs with constituencies near Westminster. To many who are promoting the change, it is about being people-friendly, allowing people control over how they organise their lives and work, and having greater

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certainty over how we arrange our working lives. Yes, it will directly help family access for some; as long as that does not make it worse for others, we should not be saying, “If it doesn’t help me, why should I help you?”

We should be mindful that, whenever possible, we also have a duty to lead by example with good working practices. Late hours are not good for House of Commons staff who have to clear up afterwards and keep the place running. We are also allowing an unhealthy working culture to prevail. If we do not reform where we can—and Tuesday is the obvious candidate for reform—we send the message that hard-working people are not entitled to a healthy work-life balance. People, and even MPs, are entitled to that. We are often characterised as taking long holidays when in fact most of us are working hard in our constituencies.

The issue is about creating a House of Commons that is both effective and people-friendly. Of course, family arrangements often differ depending on how far away from our constituencies we are here in Westminster, but that can be addressed if we combine an earlier start on Tuesdays with moving private Members’ Bills to Tuesday evenings. Starting Tuesday’s business at 11.30 am and giving PMBs the Tuesday evening slot would have three benefits. It would give PMBs the prominent midweek slot they deserve, it would deal with the problem of filibustering, and it would allow Fridays to become an official constituency day.

We need to send out a very clear message that the House of Commons is a reasonable place in which to work—a place where people can work even when they have family commitments both far and near. That is why we have to make this place a more friendly place for women. The House of Commons is 81% male, and that is a shocking figure. If we frame our sitting hours around modern life instead of allowing the continuation of a system based on hangovers from the snuff-snorting era, we can send out the important message that we are not happy with the status quo of 81% men and want to be a place where the population is properly represented. Changing sitting hours will not solve everything, but it will make things better. I very much hope that by supporting motions 4 and 9 we will take the opportunity to make this place more contemporary and even just slightly more appealing to those who are staggeringly under-represented.

3.29 pm

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I would like to put in a request for friendly working hours for grandfathers, who seem to have been omitted, and for grandmothers where appropriate.

The real losers in this proposal will be the 20,000 visitors, predominantly schoolchildren, who come here on Tuesday mornings. In supporting retention of the current hours, I bring to Members’ attention the views of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), and the Deputy Leader of the House, who spoke with their experience of the time when we had earlier starts on a Tuesday. This will not only rob 20,000 children of visits on a Tuesday morning but impact on the 15 Select Committees involving 180 right hon. and hon. Members. We have two late-night sittings

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on a Monday and a Tuesday and two earlier finishes on a Wednesday and a Thursday. That is a fair compromise that keeps most people content, and I suggest that we stick with the status quo.

3.31 pm

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): I recognise that for people watching from the Public Gallery and outside, this is clearly not the most important issue facing Parliament, but it is useful that we have found a short period to debate it. For those of us who can no longer describe ourselves as new MPs but are of the 2010 intake, it is the first opportunity to comment on our sitting hours.

I acknowledge, as have many Members, the thoughtful and helpful report presented by the Procedure Committee to provide a framework for this debate. I am surprised that the Chair of the Committee was surprised by the reaction of the press. We must recognise, sadly, that we have a press that all too often is willing to take every opportunity to undermine confidence in democratic politics.

The Chair of the Committee usefully made it clear in his opening remarks that this is not about the extent of the hours that we work but how we manage them to maximum effect. In that context, as a northern MP, I acknowledge the points that have been made by many Members. This is not, for me, about family-friendly hours—being away from home for four days a week is not an issue—but about how we can operate more effectively. An earlier start and end to Tuesdays would provide greater flexibility. It would not mean that we would not work late on a Tuesday but, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said, it would give us more control over how we plan our work. It would mean that we could organise meetings inside and outside Westminster, at times when other people could attend, with greater confidence and without always having to pull out of them at the last minute. It would give us the opportunity, just sometimes, to have a night off. I must say that it would occasionally be good to be able to get away on a Monday or Tuesday in time to stock up the larder before the supermarket shuts.

As the Procedure Committee acknowledged, the main argument in favour of the current Tuesday hours was made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), in his role as Chair of the Liaison Committee, in relation to Select Committees. As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, I place great importance on my participation in it and find it enormously rewarding, but it is not beyond the imagination to bring our sittings forward for a 9 am private start and a 9.30 am public start. The same applies to Public Bill Committees, where I understand that that already happens.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): The last time we did this, it created absolute chaos for Select Committees, not only as regards Members having to start at 9 o’clock but in trying to get witnesses here for that time. It did not work, and we will threaten our Select Committee procedures if we go back to that nonsense.

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Paul Blomfield: I acknowledge the point that has been made, but contrary opinions have been expressed by others who were around in that period. Indeed, some Select Committees appear now to be—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Again, a large number of rather excitable private conversations are taking place. We owe Members the courtesy of a fair hearing.

Paul Blomfield: As has been pointed out, there are Select Committees that meet earlier and that seem to manage to arrange for witnesses to attend.

The argument for earlier Tuesday sittings, as well as standing on its own merits, provides the opportunity to move the debates on private Members’ Bills to Tuesday evenings. As a Back Bencher, I believe in the importance of our having the opportunity to drive change through the House. Although I acknowledge the other options that the Chair of the Procedure Committee shared with us, moving those debates to a Tuesday evening would give many of us a greater opportunity to attend.

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): When we first had sittings on Wednesday mornings, I was the Government Whip responsible for private Members’ Bills. I suggested then—this was before we had sittings in Westminster Hall—that we could move private Members’ Bills to Wednesday mornings. We opened up Westminster Hall to make that easier. The reason I made that suggestion was that if we debated private Members’ Bills during the normal sitting week, it would make it easier for the Government. Is that what my hon. Friend is proposing?

Paul Blomfield: Not for one moment.

As has been pointed out, there are options on how we deal with private Members’ Bills. It is unreasonable that at the moment, those of us who plan our diaries so that we have constituency time on Fridays have to choose between going to our constituencies and attending the House to support private Members’ Bills, whether of our own volition or because we have had representations from our constituents to be there. Over the past two years, I have done that on three occasions. Frustratingly, on each occasion the Bill was talked out. I fear that if we do not agree to change our Tuesday sittings, we will exclude one important way in which the Procedure Committee might address the issue, because the slot will not be available for private Members’ Bills. There are stronger arguments than that, but it is one dimension of the argument.

3.37 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I rise briefly to support the options not to change our arrangements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) said, there is a good balance at the moment.

I will make two points. The first, and most important, is that nothing that we are debating today would change our work load. We can debate the order in which we deal with it, but our work load would not be diminished one iota by these proposals.

I have listened carefully to the argument that some hon. Members have made that an earlier point of interruption on Tuesday would give us greater flexibility

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in organising our business. I do not accept that. Tuesdays for me, and I suspect for many other Members, are the critical day in the week, when I have to cram in many competing requirements. My Select Committee sits on Tuesdays. This Tuesday, there was also a Westminster Hall debate that I wanted to fit in and there were various other meetings. Those bits and pieces could not be moved to the end of the day. If the main business in this Chamber was brought forward, the amount of time available for those other important matters would be restricted, to the detriment of our ability to do our jobs.

Mr Graham Stuart: I am torn on the proposals for Tuesdays, but I am quite clear that moving the sitting time forward an hour on Wednesdays would disrupt the work of Select Committees, such as the Education Committee, with very little benefit. Wednesdays work. Whatever else the House votes for, I urge it not to vote to change Wednesdays.

Iain Stewart: I concur with my hon. Friend.

My second point has not been made in the debate thus far. It concerns our friends at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. I fear that if the point of interruption gets earlier, IPSA will deem that it is not appropriate for many Members to stay in Westminster overnight and will require them to return to their constituencies. I faced that problem in my first few months in the House, and three to four hours a day were added on to my work load. I ended up having four and a half hours’ sleep a night, which is not sustainable. I fear that if we moved the moment of interruption forward, IPSA would conclude that more and more Members should be forced to commute. That would not be helpful to Members’ health or their ability to conduct their business.

3.40 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I have been in this House for a long time—some people may think too long—and over the years I have found little more degrading than the aspect of the House staring into its own navel and discussing how this place should operate, which hours would be most family-friendly and convenient and which hours would allow Members to get home early.

My father worked in a factory, and he got up in the morning to get there for 7 am. He worked the hours he was told by his bosses to work, with the trade unions doing what they could to help him. Then he came home in the evening and spent the rest of his time with his family—unless he went out playing cards, whose winnings he would give to me.

I find it incomprehensible that the House should look in on itself in this way at a time of mass unemployment, when our constituents thank God if they have a job at all, regardless of the hours that they have to work. They thank God that they have somewhere to go and collect money to keep their families.

Barbara Keeley: One important consideration for me and my constituents over the next few months is that I have a private Member’s Bill on social care and carers. That is important to them and many other people. I believe it would be much better if I could have that Bill considered on a Tuesday evening and spend my Fridays where I should be, in my constituency.

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Sir Gerald Kaufman: I do not understand my hon. Friend’s approach to this. When I first came here we had a five-day week, and Government business alternated with private Members’ Bills on Fridays. I do not want to be arrogant or patronising, but I think I look after my constituency as well as any Member, and I can do it in the hours that we used to have, let alone the current ones. I can get to my constituency and do my jobs. I had eight engagements last weekend, and I managed to fulfil them without having family-friendly hours at the House of Commons.

I have a duty to be in my constituency, but I was elected to come here and represent my constituents. I am a Member of Parliament, not partly a Member of Parliament and partly for hanging around.

Jim Dowd: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the House has spent the whole of this week discussing things that do not matter to our constituents at all?

Sir Gerald Kaufman: I agree totally. I have surgeries every weekend, and I have people coming to see me who have hardly any money to live on. I have just had letters from constituents in the same situation. It is my job to try to help them against a Government who do not care about them. The very idea that we should spend two days in this House of Commons talking utter and total rubbish about reforming the House of Lords, when people are anxious about their jobs, their NHS and their pensions is absolutely sickening. Now we are spending a whole day debating the House and hon. Members are absorbed by it, offering all kinds of different useful formulae to make this place more attractive to Members. When my father worked at Montague Burton’s tailoring factory in Leeds making suits and clothes, he was not given a chance to make his work more attractive for him. He was bloody lucky to have a job at all.

We are lucky to be here and to have this marvellous opportunity to speak for our constituents, and we are paid very well indeed. Millions of people cannot believe how much hon. Members are paid when they are paid so little—assuming they are not on benefits. It is therefore about time the House stopped this navel gazing. Our job is to hold the Government to account; it is not to say, “I want a tidier and more useful day. I want to be able to get home on a Thursday afternoon.” If hon. Members want that, I suggest they find another career.

3.45 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I shall be very brief given that I have only about two minutes to speak.

I am astonished that the House is considering changing the moment of interruption on Tuesday and putting private Members’ Bills on the same evening for two simple reasons. First, the payrolls—the Front Benchers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries—will go in and tell loyal Back Benchers that they must stay here until 10 o’clock in the evening.

Secondly, the other group of people of whom there has been absolutely no mention at all are the staff of the House, who would have to stay here until 10.30 pm, 11 pm or later—I am talking about the workers of Hansard, the security staff and the Doorkeepers. They would then have to come back first thing in the morning

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for the earlier starts on Wednesday for Select Committees and Public Bill Committees. Not a single Member, when they have spoken of family hours and of supporting people, has recognised the fantastic work done by the staff of the House and the impact on their lives of such a change. For that reason and that reason alone, we must reject the proposition to change the Tuesday evening.

3.47 pm

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): We have heard a number of insightful contributions and a number of anecdotes. I do not mean to add to the latter and want to add only to the former.

I make one, simple case: it is perfectly appropriate for this Parliament to express an opinion once about its sitting hours. That is not disproportionate. If all hon. Members would choose a different way to serve their constituents, surely the maximum flexibility is the best route to go down. Changing the moment of interruption on a Tuesday night would make a small difference, but it would be significant if we are to serve our constituents in the way they expect.

Mr Speaker: Order. Under the order of the House of Monday, I am now required to put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motions relating to sittings of the House. I will put them in sequence. If any of the motions to maintain the status quo for Mondays to Wednesdays is agreed to, the alternative motion relating to that day will fall and will not be called. Before I put the Question on motion 1—Sittings of the House (Mondays) (No Change)—I remind the House that if the question is agreed to, motion 2 will fall.

3.48 pm

Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the first motion, the Speaker put the Question (Order, 9 July).

Question agreed to.


That no change be made to the time at which the House sits on a Monday.

The Speaker then put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, 9 July).