Letter: The lives our MPs have to lead

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read with interest your leading article 'A professional Parliament' (21 May). As the wife of the MP Keith Vaz, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the pace of his life is truly unnatural. On many days we are woken up at the crack of dawn by the cheerful sound of the telephone or pager. It might be a journalist asking him to comment on some issue or an early riser who assumes that everyone else is or should be one.

At 11pm that evening he is still not home. While waiting for a vote, I might catch him at his office, having completed a marathon of events earlier on, still finishing something he could not do during the day. When he returns he is often exhausted.

He sometimes falls asleep in mid-sentence while talking to me and I often hope that he will be left in peace at least for the rest of what is left of the evening.

We recently returned at 9am from a hectic four days in Bangladesh. After a 15-hour flight, he drove to his constituency, returned, attended a dinner and then waited for the vote at 10pm. The next morning he was out of the house by 7am. And so it goes on. No let up. No rest.

I am certain that MPs feel that it is a great privilege to serve in Parliament and that therefore nothing is too much trouble. As wives, husbands or partners, we are proud of their achievements. They champion various worthwhile causes while their own needs, health and family are put on the back burner.

John Smith's sad death has highlighted the need for serious debate on MPs' hours of work. If other countries such as the US can conduct their business by rising at an earthly hour, why can't we? Why should Parliament sit late to enable some members to hold down other jobs or in order to provide a social life for those who do not have families in London.

We must create conditions to ensure that our MPs are given an opportunity to have balanced lives. It would be good for their health and good for the nation.

I hope that when Tony Newton meets Nick Brown they finally lay to rest the inhuman hours that Parliament sits. It is a necessary first step and will come not a day too soon.

Yours sincerely,

MARIA FERNANDES

London, NW2

21 May

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