HC Deb 14 June 1993 vol 226 cc632-4
34. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Lord President of the Council whether he is now in a position to report on his discussions on the hours of work of the House; and if he will make a statement.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

Discussions are continuing through the usual channels. Meanwhile, every effort is being made to arrange the business of the House in a way which reflects the recommendations of the Jopling report.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Leader of the House aware that in 1970 there were more hours worked in this place than are worked at the present time, and that it seems that, if the recommendations go ahead, there will be more opportunities for people to go on trips, which have gone up by 10 per cent. in the intervening 23 years? There are 15 per cent. more moonlighting jobs in the 23 years. Will he, therefore, bear in mind that, if the Government go to the European Assembly and argue the toss against a 48-hour week for people outside this place, it is bordering on hypocrisy to say that hon. Members can do a 30-hour week, yet those outside the House have to do more than 48?

Mr. Newton

I will merely observe, as generously as I can manage, to the hon. Gentleman that I should be very surprised, knowing him, if he did not work at least as many hours as the difference between 30 and 48—without validating his figures—in service to his constituents in other ways. I am absolutely certain that most other hon. Members put in at least as many hours, and, indeed. many more. It is because of the desire to meet the many other requests, demands and needs of our constituents in other ways than by attending the House that there is the demand for some further reform of the hours.

As for the rest of the hon. Gentleman's question, I cannot validate the statistics that he has given, but from my recollection of the first two Parliaments of which I was a Member, from 1974 to 1979, the House did sit rather longer hours than it does now. That is perhaps some measure of the progress that has been made, and I know that this will be welcome to my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) as some indication of the progress that has been made already by informal means.

Mr. Jopling

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is doubtful whether any hon. Members work less than 48 hours a week? Does he recall that, in the report of the Select Committee, we pointed out that the House sits more hours and days than almost any other assembly in the western world? Does he agree that the unanimous report on an all-party basis has been lying on the table for long enough? Is it not time that the shadow Cabinet got its act together and came to a conclusion, and allowed the House reach its agreement on the basis of the report of the Select Committee, which has broad acceptance and welcome throughout the House?

Mr. Newton

I certainly endorse what my right hon. Friend says about the basis on which his Committee's important report was made. My opposite number, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is unable to be here today, but the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), who deputises for her, will have heard what has been said and will, I hope, transmit the message.

Mr. Maxton

Does the Lord President of the Council agree that the best way to reduce the working hours in this place is to devolve a large part of the business elsewhere by the establishment of a Scottish parliament, a Welsh parliament and, if required, regional parliaments throughout the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Newton

No, I do not agree with that. I agree that new opportunities can perhaps be created for debate on Scottish issues in the ways outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. We shall seek to make progress on those matters in the same way as on the report of the Jopling committee.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

We shall take the statement first.