HC Deb 27 June 2000 vol 352 cc713-4
44. Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

What plans the Government have to present proposals to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on making parliamentary adjournments coincide with school holidays. [126380]

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

The business managers already take school holidays into account when arranging adjournments. Unfortunately, there is at present no common and consistent pattern of school holidays.

Mr. Davies

Will my right hon. Friend consider proposals to bring forward the summer recess, which is very long, so that, in nearly every case, it would embrace the full school summer holiday? Furthermore, the October half-term holiday could then coincide with a recess. That would entail changing the timetable of party conferences, but I am sure that that could be easily accommodated.

Mrs. Beckett

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, as I am sure the whole House does. I have noticed, over the years, an increasing interest in having a different and more certain pattern for the parliamentary calendar, and I understand those pressures. I have to warn my hon. Friend that although he says that it would be comparatively easy to change the timetable of the party conferences, most are arranged a good number of years in advance, so I fear that it might not be as simple as he thinks.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Can the President of the Council confirm that the Modernisation Committee is seeking to obtain greater certainty for the parliamentary year, which would obviously help the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies)? Will the right hon. Lady also comment on the spate of leaks over the past few days not only on this subject but on others before the Committee? Can she confirm that it is her intention, and that of the Committee, to publish a report before the summer recess?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the sensitivity about matters being publicised which are under consideration by the Select Committee, although the Committee is in a slightly unusual position, in that its discussions affect the House as a whole. The hon. Gentleman is certainly correct to say that the Committee, as its earlier published reports show, is seeking and has consistently sought to obtain greater certainty. It is mindful of the fact that some Parliaments, albeit ones with traditions and responsibilities different from ours, have a fixed calendar. I hope that I will not be thought to be contravening the convention that governs the work of Select Committees if I say that it is certainly my strong hope that the Committee will publish a report, which I hope hon. Members will agree with, before the summer recess.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

What would the Minister think of a school that published its intended terms and said, "But if we haven't finished the A-level syllabus by 29 July, we will go on to 3 August"? That is, to some degree, the way in which we operate in this place. Could the Minister and her Committee put a very high priority on future certainty? I am not arguing for particular times; I am arguing for knowing where I will be on what day next year.

Mrs. Beckett

I sympathise with my hon. Friend and I know that greater certainty would especially assist the staff of the House in planning their work. As to what I would think of a school that was unable to give greater certainty, I might wonder whether it was full of rather unruly pupils.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Has the right hon. Lady received any request from the hon. Members for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) or for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), or from any other hon. Member who believes that parliamentary adjournments should coincide with school holidays, that the House should sit for as many weeks a year as schools work?

Mrs. Beckett

Indeed I have received such representations, and I am grateful to learn that the hon. Gentleman would be in favour of that suggestion.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Would my right hon. Friend like to tell me exactly which half of her legislative programme she is thinking of abandoning to make it easier for us to have longer holidays?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that I do not propose to abandon any of the legislative programme.