MPs' spouses watch clock

Move to control working hours gets lukewarm response
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MPs' spouses were divided yesterday over whether the move towards more "normal" working hours would actually make any difference to the limited time they spend with their husband or wife.

As the House last night debated whether MPs could finish at 10pm, have 10 Fridays off, and start at 10am on Wednesdays, the mere idea made Biddy Cash wife of William Cash, the Conservative MP for Stafford, ecstatic. "I think it'll make a huge difference.If Thursday was free you could arrange to go to dinner or organise speaking engagements."

MPs would be able to serve their constituencies better, according to Nicky Tyler, wife of the Liberal Democrat Paul Tyler. "At the moment I have to organise things for Friday in hopes he'll be there and then spend the next day ringing round saying `I'm sorry business in the House means he can't come'."

Norma Dickens the wife of Geoffrey, Tory MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth, was also in favour as she felt family life suffered under the present system. "At the moment MPs work all hours and family life suffers - the members are there voting until late and not with their families."

Gloria Ainsworth, wife of Bob Ainsworth, Labour MP for Coventry NE, supported the reforms in theory but thought the emphasis was wrong. "I think it would be better if MPs could get home more often. My husband is away from Monday to Thursday and then has to do office work in Coventry so my daughters don't see him very much. I'd prefer it if they had longer weekends rather than cutting down in the week."

The passion for reform was not shared by everyone. Those living further away were not excited by the prospect of a 10pm finish. Elspeth Campbell, wife of Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat MP for Fife NE, said: "This wouldn't affect me at all. As my husband is a Scottish MP, he's stuck in London all week anyway so I can't see him. And my husband works extremely well at night he's not someone who minds the late hours."

David Taylor, husband of Ann Taylor, Labour MP for Dewsbury, agreed. "For most MPs the changes are irrelevant. Those who live in London might want to finish earlier but northern MPs don't mind, it means they don't have to find entertainment in central London."

Julia Amess, wife of David Amess, Conservative MP for Basildon, did not think the family would be strengthened. She said: "If he isn't at the Commons he's working in the constituency, so I wouldn't see any more of him. I can't see it would make any difference and I think they should leave it as it is. It's a tradition."

Logical thinking was the answer according to Edwina Currie's husband, Ray. "The hours they work are not sensible. They could make more use of the mornings and be more efficient."

But he had little sympathy for those who complained about the long hours. "I think most people who go into Parliament are aware of the hours, as are their families, and it doesn't have a particular effect on family life."

Only Kathleen Dalyell, wife of Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, mentioned the implications for the constitution. "On the surface the reforms sound fine. The problem is, how does it affect legislation? We're talking about the way the country is run."