HC Deb 17 June 1997 vol 296 cc110-1
29. Mr. Winnick

To ask the President of the Council if she will make a statement on her plans for the summer Adjournments. [2314]

32. Mr. Gapes

To ask the President of the Council what plans she has to reduce the length of the summer Adjournment and to ensure that periodic Adjournments introduced coincide with school holidays. [2317]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

I am in favour of our periodic Adjournments, including the summer Adjournment, coinciding with school holidays whenever possible. I regret that I am not yet in a position to give an indication of the Government's intention with respect to this year's summer Adjournment, but I am mindful of hon. Members' views and of the representations that have been made. In general terms, the arrangement for the summer and other Adjournments is one aspect of our working practices that the new Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons may wish to consider.

Mr. Winnick

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's answer. Is it appropriate for the House not to sit for three continuous months? While, for Labour Members at least, it is not one long holiday, it seems a long period for Parliament to be in abeyance. Does she accept that many people find it strange that while we continue to sit until late at night, despite what happened in the last Parliament, we shut up shop for three months? Is it really necessary?

Mrs. Taylor

I can give my hon. Friend no assurance that the summer recess will be the three months that he suggests. The House will agree that recesses are not holidays for Members of Parliament. I think that further progress could be made on the structure of the parliamentary year, but the modernisation Committee may wish to consider that.

Mr. Gapes

I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks about trying as far as possible to ensure that recess dates correspond with school holidays. School holidays are different in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales. To be fair to all hon. Members, it would be better to reduce the length of the summer recess to provide hon. Members who have children with the opportunity to see our families. This should be a family-friendly Parliament.

Mrs. Taylor

I am sympathetic to my hon. Friend's point and fully aware of the difficulties of getting recess dates that coincide with holidays in all the different parts of the country. It is impossible to guarantee that hon. Members will always be in recess during school holidays, but I think that more could be done to ensure that the two coincide.

Mr. Tyler

Does the President accept that the summer recess will provide the first and best opportunity for us to rationalise the seating in the Chamber? At present there are absurd anomalies, not just relating to the large number on the Government Benches. Is this not the first and best opportunity for us to bring in the carpenters and electricians?

Should not anomalies such as we witnessed this afternoon, when Conservative spokesmen found it necessary to put Prayers cards on their Front Bench to try to establish some right to speak on behalf of Scotland, also be addressed as a matter of urgency?

Mrs. Taylor

I will not comment on who put down Prayers cards first in any particular row in the Chamber. As for the work that could be done in the summer recess, I do not think that it would be possible for the House to arrive at any conclusions about alterations, even if alterations were thought possible. We are a long way from any consensus that the shape of the Chamber should be changed.

Mr. MacKay

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, owing to the Government's delay in introducing the Budget and the consequent Finance Bill—apparently because of fears of litigation over the windfall tax—the current parliamentary term will extend further into the school holidays than would have been necessary if the Government had only been competent?

Mrs. Taylor

Labour Members will take no lectures from Opposition Members about competence or, indeed, business management.

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