Labour women row over House hours

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Plans to make the House of Parliament more "family friendly" have been hit by a serious split between senior women in the Government.

Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the House of Commons, is sympathetic to change but Ann Taylor, the Chief Whip, is not. According to Labour MPs, discussions about the possibility of change have also been held up by the cool relationship between Mrs Taylor and Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker. One ministerial source said: "There has been a lot of criticism of the Tories for opposing modernisation but unfortunately there are people in the Labour Party who are also holding things up."

The matter has been raised with Tony Blair via a parliamentary committee and Labour whips have been warned that there will be an "almighty row" if no progress is made.

One Labour MP said: "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the archaic working hours of the Commons. If we don't do it now, we never will. The Commons should drag itself into the 21st century." Ministers and backbenchers believe that the reforms would send an important signal to the country. One government source said: "We can hardly ask employers to change their ways if we cannot even keep our own house in order."

A petition calling for regular hours has already been signed by 187 MPs from all parties.Since Christmas, there have been 32 sittings after midnight and several of Labour's women MPs with young children have announced that they will stand down at the next election because they cannot cope with Parliament's late hours.

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