HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc553-4
32. Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

What plans she has to ensure that recesses in the autumn and spring coincide with school half-term holidays. [55913]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

The Government proposed to the Modernisation Committee that we should attempt to arrange business to allow constituency weeks to coincide with school half-term in February and October.

Mr. Gapes

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Did she see the large number of children, including my own, who were in the House for part of last week because the House came back on 19 October and half-term was the week after? I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House would be grateful for better long-term arrangements that might allow us to spend time with our children instead of parading them around the Tea Room and other places in the building.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making it clear in the latter part of his remarks that he did not consider that a good idea, as I was not quite sure at the beginning. We are taking all issues into account and certainly will bear in mind concerns such as those he expressed. However, he will recognise that, although the Government have made a proposal to the Modernisation Committee, as yet, the Committee has neither agreed nor reported the matter to the House.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I sympathise with the right hon. Lady's general point of view, but is not the most important thing about the parliamentary programme that it should give right hon. and hon. Members a proper opportunity to hold the Executive to account and to scrutinise the business placed before the House? Although we would welcome a more structured parliamentary year, we would not agree to anything that inhibited the rights of hon. Members on either of those fronts.

Mrs. Beckett

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that it is the purpose of the House to hold the Government to account and scrutinise parliamentary business properly. It is an error that some of the suggestions that have been made for improving the way in which we handle business in the House are sometimes described in other terms. The underlying motive of those who seek, in some cases to preserve and in other cases to change and modernise our procedures, is to preserve scrutiny. Some might argue that, much as they enjoy spending time with their children, attempting to do so and at the same time to hold the Government to account may not be easy.