Parliament & Politics: Labour blocks plan to cut MPs' hours

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LABOUR leaders have blocked a plan to reduce MPs' working hours, which were blamed by the wife of one Tory MP for wrecking her marriage, writes Colin Brown.

Silvana Ashby, the wife of David Ashby, the Tory MP who shared a bed with another man to save money while in France, said many Westminster marriages were going wrong due to the long hours MPs had to work.

'All the wives are complaining. This is the biggest destroyer of family life. If Mr Major wants to carry on his campaign based on family values, he should do something to change the hours,' she said.

A cross-party committee of MPs, chaired by Michael Jopling, a former Cabinet minister, recommended changes in MPs' hours in a report last year. It said the tradition of late night sittings should end.

It recommended that sittings should end at 10pm, instead of being allowed to carry on until the early hours, with an early cut-off at 7.30pm on Thursdays to allow MPs to leave for their constituencies at weekends. While it rejected bringing forward normal business such as Prime Minister's Questions to morning sittings of the Commons, the committee recommended that some business could be taken before lunchtime on Wednesdays.

Progress on the plans between the Government and Opposition front benches was delayed by the rows over the Maastricht treaty.

But Labour leaders last night confirmed talks between the two sides had collapsed over a recommendation by the committee that all government Bills should be guillotined, or strictly timetabled. The Government backed the idea of guillotining all legislation, but opposition leaders flatly refused to accept the idea.

'The one weapon that the Opposition has is delaying tactics. We would be throwing that away if we agreed to timetabling of bills,' said one leading Labour source.

Stan Orme, former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, said he saw 'no prospect' of the Jopling plan being enacted.

Other spouses who complained last night included Norma Dickens, wife of Geoffrey Dickens, the Tory MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth. 'I think the hours are terrible. It is OK as couples get older. But for young married couples with children, it is very difficult for them, especially if they have a constituency far from London.