HC Deb 29 March 1999 vol 328 cc727-8
43. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

For how many hours the House sat in the latest parliamentary Session; and what were the figures for five, 10 and 15 years ago. [77413]

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

Last Session, the House sat for 2,117 hours and 36 minutes. In the 1992–93 Session, the figure was 1,985 hours and six minutes, and in the 1987–88 Session, 1,978 hours and 40 minutes. In 1983–84, the first Session of that Parliament, the House sat for 1,909 hours and 29 minutes. In other words, I confirm that the House sat for longer last Session than in the past.

Sir Teddy Taylor

In view of those worrying figures, does it not concern the Leader of the House that the Government are not subject to daily scrutiny for long periods during recesses? In view of Members' increased work load, might there not be a case for reducing the length of recesses and, perhaps, adjourning the House earlier than the normal 10 pm?

Mrs. Beckett

The parliamentary calendar and timing of the parliamentary day are kept under continual review by this Government, as they have been by many Governments. The hon. Gentleman will know that, up to now, although we have made some improvements following the Jopling reforms and in this Parliament, all the complications that arise from making major changes have led to their being incremental and experimental. I suspect that that will continue.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, luckily, the common sense of the House of Commons is such that most Standing Committees are ignoring the suggestion that they should meet at 9 o'clock on Thursday morning. So far, modernisation has not caused too much difficulty. I trust that she will consult very widely with those who operate in Committee—Standing and Select Committees—before she makes any changes. On a personal note, since I am working longer hours than I was when I came here in 1966, and still spending Fridays in my constituency, I hope that she will not modernise our practices any more—otherwise I shall find myself working 24-hour sessions.

Mrs. Beckett

I know that my hon. Friend, like so many Members, is permanently on duty, although I understand her wish to have more freedom about how and where that duty is exercised. I certainly assure her that we keep under review the changes that have been made and, indeed, would think very carefully about further changes. The motivation behind such changes is always to make this House more efficient and effective in the way in which it carries out its work.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

Is the right hon. Lady aware that, owing to the hours that we now work, particularly on Wednesdays and Thursdays, members of the public cannot see the House of Commons as they used to be able to? Has she any idea about how to facilitate members of the public seeing the House at various other times?

Mrs. Beckett

The House has considered these problems. Of course, it can be something of a moot point; some members of the public would rather see the House working than merely its facilities. People can always, of course, see the facilities of the House during recesses. We keep under review the degree of access that the public have to the House, and take it into account.

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