Commons Reform: MPs want `family-friendly' hours

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The Independent Online
A COMMITTEE of MPs paved the way for reforms of parliamentary working hours yesterday, despite fierce criticism by Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker of the Commons.

The all-party select committee on modernisation of the House, chaired by Commons Leader Margaret Beckett, recommended in a report that the House should introduce more family-friendly working hours and experiment with morning sittings on Thursdays.

But Miss Boothroyd said such changes would limit public access to Parliament, cost more and damage her ability to do her job.

The Government proposed bringing forward Thursday sittings by three hours, to start at 11.30am, with main business finished at 7pm, rather than 10pm.

The proposals, to be debated next week by the Commons, would be implemented from January and run through to the end of the current parliamentary session next autumn.

Miss Boothroyd, in her submission to the committee earlier this year, warned that some benefits of the change might prove "illusory" because they would have "adverse implications for me, for Members, for the public and for the administration of the House."

She warned that the chances for the public to visit the Commons would be cut to only Monday and Tuesday as a result and would be a "pretty thin fare for a people's Parliament".

Opening offices earlier would cost more and could pose problems if an early Thursday sitting followed a late Wednesday rising, she argued.

The change could also restrict MPs' opportunities to seek emergency statements, and her time to get fully briefed about the agenda and MPs' special interests in the subjects to be debated, with the "inevitable result, sadly, of poorer service to Members" .

But the report made clear that while public attention was valued, the committee believed "the electorate expects its Parliament to be a workplace more than a showplace".

The possibility of weekend and recess access was being "actively considered", it added, while acknowledging that a "significant minority" of MPs making representations to it opposed the change.

The committee also rejected Miss Boothroyd's suggestion that the Commons meet for a number of five-day weeks with an occasional whole week when the House would not sit, saying Thursday morning sittings offered more advantages.