'I've seen the whips jabbing people in the shoulder, shouting in people's faces'

Westminster hours: Backbencher's complaints of intimidation and punishment fuel campaign to reduce the number of late-night sittings
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The growing demand for urgent House of Commons reform was highlighted yesterday when a woman backbencher accused government business managers of "appalling" bullying tactics.

The growing demand for urgent House of Commons reform was highlighted yesterday when a woman backbencher accused government business managers of "appalling" bullying tactics.

Tess Kingham, the MP for Gloucester who will retire at the next general election because of her disillusionment with Parliament, said: "It is done on patronage and bullying. It comes down to this: if you keep your nose clean and do exactly what the whips tell you, you will get time off. And when everybody is sitting round early in the morning you will be one of those told that you can go home. If you have done anything slightly naughty - such as abstain on a vote - you'll be there until 2am.

"It is unbelievable. It would not be tolerated in any other workplace. It would be called institutional bullying and people would be off consulting the union.

"I've seen the whips jabbing people in the shoulder, shouting in people's faces, getting drunk and shouting, using threatening behaviour," she said.

Ms Kingham's comments will come as an embarrassment to the Government, which has been eager to portray itself as a champion of better working conditions. Tony Blair, for example, has pledged that he will personally ensure that there will be an extension of family-friendly working hours to the Commons.

However, such plans would meet the fierce opposition of some Tory MPs who argue that any efforts to impose a time-limit on parliamentary debates would amount to a further weakening of Parliament's power.

At present, the House sits on most days from 2.30pm and finishes usually at 10pm but sometimes there are still all-night sittings. The Government can impose so-called guillotine motions and time-limit contentious debates.

Labour MPs, both men and women, want to see a finish at 7pm from Tuesday to Thursdays so that MPs do not have to stay in the Commons until late at night.

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