September Sittings

Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 7th September 2004.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 2:30 pm, 7th September 2004

To ask the Leader of the House what plans he has to assess the September sittings of the House.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we really must consider whether it is a good idea for us to sit in September? Here we are—during good weather, when we could be doing work in our constituencies—in the middle of a building site because the building work has not been finished. The work that we will be doing in the next couple of weeks is just a sop to the press and not really part of the parliamentary process. We could be doing far more useful work in our constituencies during this fine September weather, compared with the rain of August. Is it not time that we looked at this issue again and went back to the old pattern of sitting weeks?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I understand my hon. Friend's point. Many representations have been made to me, as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, by right hon. and hon. Members objecting to September sittings, for which the House voted almost two years ago. It is a matter that the Modernisation Committee is looking into and I am aware of the difficulties that the House authorities face in not being able to take advantage of this time. On the other hand, Parliament has been recalled during September at the request of Members in three of the last five years. The fact that we are back at this time is probably the reason why there was no demand for a recall during this summer.

Equally, the House will have to face the certain prospect of reports from "that quarter" saying that we are attempting to return to a 12 or 13-week break. We all know that Members do much work during that period—when they are not on holiday they do constituency work—but there has to be a balanced argument and I am listening to both sides of it. I can assure the House that there will be a vote early in the new year on the general question of sitting hours and the question of September sittings will come into that.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

Does the Leader of the House accept that many of us believe that the September return is a good idea? It is absolutely essential for the Government to be held to account, but if the recess is too long that becomes impractical. Notwithstanding the building chaos around us, it is right that we are here for these two weeks.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The right hon. Gentleman makes a persuasive point against the arguments that my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore quite properly made. We have to balance that argument, and that is precisely what we will be doing in the Modernisation Committee inquiry, which is due to be concluded within a few months. The House will then have an opportunity to vote and the different arguments will be balanced.