MPs to sit at weekends so Commons staff can work at Butlin's

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IT'S hi-de-hi time at Westminster. MPs will be forced to sit on two Saturdays in the early summer rather than extend the parliamentary session further because so many of the staff take a second job at Butlin's in August and September, writes Paul Routledge.

A huge volume of parliamentary business has forced the Government to warn MPs that the Commons will have to sit into August for the first time in many years.

They have been told not to book holidays during the first week - though some have defied the order - because they will be needed to push through complex and controversial bills on Northern Ireland.

The whips' original plans for the House to sit until almost mid-August have been scuppered not by Tory insistence on being away for the "Glorious Twelfth" start to the grouse-shooting season, but by staff problems.

Catering workers and other support staff at Westminster told MPs that they are only employed on 10-month contracts, leaving them without work in August and September. To make ends meet, they take jobs in Butlin's holiday camps and elsewhere at the seaside.

In order to cram in the necessary debating time, MPs will now sit on two Saturdays, 25 July and 1 August. The House will then rise on 3 August for a shorter summer recess than last year, returning in mid-October.

The pressure on parliamentary business comes from a series of Bills implementing the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Bills allowing the release of paramilitary prisoners and putting the new Ulster Assembly on a legal footing must be put through the Commons before MPs can take off on their holidays.

This will be the first time that the Commons has sat on a Saturday since the Falklands War of 1982, and even long-serving back-benchers cannot remember when MPs were compelled to attend two weekend sittings during the summer.

The prospect has not gone down well at Westminster. "It's an absolute b------," said one MP, who did not wish to be named. "This has been a long and arduous session, with the Scottish and Welsh devolution Bills to get through. Now we are told we have to give up our holidays to sort out Ireland."