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29 Oct 2002 : Column 744continued
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): It is a privilege to be a Member of Parliament and to be able to speak in the House. The debate is important, because we ought to set out where we stand on these issues. Many hon. Members want to put their case and it is important that we all have the chance to do so.
As we have the privilege to be Members of Parliament and to represent the voters who put us here, we should not be in this place out of self-interest. The problem with this debate, however, is that it is about self-interest, whatever we decide.
We ought not to abuse the privilege that people have given us, but that will occur if we continue to reduce our hours. No doubt, I shall hear later that the proposals do not mean a reduction in our hours, but merely a change. I disagree. The reduction in hours will come. If we start earlier in the morning, instead of in the afternoon, something will have to be squeezed somewhere. That will be either a Select Committee or a House Committee. Some of us are members of both; we make up the numbers because other Members do not want to serve on Committees.
What will the problems be? I am usually in the House before 9 am. Other Members have pointed out that they are in before 8. That is important because of our staff. The debate seems to have been all about us. Well, it should not be only about us; it should be about the people who work in this place and the people who work with usthe forgotten people. We find it easy to forget them, yet we make many demands on their time.
When we come in at 9 o'clock, there is mail to go through. We have to check the questions for that day, read the Order Paper and the newspapers. We have to consider what is relevant to the constituents we represent and what the people who work with us do for the rest of the day. There is work to be done first thing in the morning.
Then we might go on to a meeting of the Catering Committee, which begins at 9.30, or to a Select Committee that starts at 10. Those meetings are held in the mornings. It is important not to squeeze time, so that we continue to have the choice to take part in such meetings without giving up something else.
We were rightly told that Westminster Hall was a privilege when it was instituted. It is right that we can decide to speak in Westminster Hall in the morning without missing something in this Chamber, but if the reforms go ahead, we shall face challenges. Where will our time be spent?
Mr. Bryant: There were several occasions when I took part in debates in my hon. Friend's name in Westminster Hall, on issues such as Gibraltar, when I had to choose between attending a Select Committee sitting or Westminster Hall. Do not all of us spend a great deal of our time choosing between different elements of our parliamentary responsibilities? Of course the day will not get shorter or longer as a result of these changes, but the important thing is to try to make it possible for the public to understand what we do in this place, and continuing until 10 o'clock at night makes little sense to them.
Mr. Hoyle: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, because some might argue that it was not his choice to go to Westminster Hall but that he was instructed to go there, and that is what we all remember about those debates; so I do not think that he should get away with that quite so easily.
We do make choices as to how we allocate our time, and this debate is about those choices. We have made major changes in the House, and they have made it easier for Members. I think that 10 o'clock is the right time to end on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. There are genuine reasons for finishing earlier on a Thursday. I represent a constituency in the north-west. Whatever form of transport one chooses to takethe Virgin west coast main line, the motorways or whateverthe north-west is not the easiest place to get to in the British Isles. In fact it seems to be one of the hardest journeys to make at the moment. But it is important that we are seen to be working hard in the House on behalf of our constituents. That is so relevant and so important to them and we should not lose sight of it.
Many Members will wish to push their case and I respect every Member's views because they are all based on valid reasons, but I remind them that we represent those who work in the police and the health service, and others, who are on call 24 hours a day and work unusual hours. Have they the right to change their hours? No. They are on a contract; they are expected to work to it. They are expected to work to the hours that they are given on the rota. Surely we should respect the hours that we have put into the House, not change them to make things easier for ourselves.
We should be considering the people that work with us and the people that work in the House. I have not noticed anyone putting the case on behalf of the people who work with us and I certainly have not heard many people make a strong case about the staff that work in the House, who are very important as well. What do they wish to see coming out of this modernisation? Surely case studies of the people that work in this place should have been brought to us first instead of being presented after we have taken the decision.
Mr. Hoyle: I am not sure how well the hon. Gentleman treats his own staff, who work with him. I think of people as working with me, not for me; I believe that it is a team that works together, so I always find it interesting when people say Xwho work for us". We should say, Xthe team that work with me". I meet them at 9 in the morning. They go off. They do not work until 10 o'clock at night; far from it.
The danger is that pressure will be brought to bear on the staff that work with us. If Members are in Committee at 9 in the morning, when will they meet their staff? Will it be at 7, 8 or 9 o'clock at night? That is the weakness of the case that has been made by the hon. Gentleman; I should have thought better of him. Those are the people that we should start looking to. The problem is that we are always looking to what we want.
Mr. Hoyle: Surely it is better to take the views of the staff first, rather than what we decide in the House tonight. At least we should be taking a more enlightened decision if we began to understand what the staff views are, because they are important. I should have expected the trade unions to submit a paper to the Leader of the House. The GMB represents some workers in the House. I do not know whether it has sent a paper to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House stating those workers' views, but I should have thought that it would have been beneficial to know what the people who make the House tick think. The great danger is that it is always about us, and the self-centredness of MPs becomes very apparent.
Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): My hon. Friend does not appear to be aware that the original memorandum from the Leader of the House has been out for consultation since December last year, and the Board of Management of the House of Commons has commented on it. The idea that that proposal has been railroaded through is untrue.
Mr. Hoyle: I did not say that; let me explain more slowly. I am serious about this, because the staff are important. There are many letters in the report, expressing many views, but they are from Members of Parliament. What I do not see is the opportunity for staff in the House to send a letter and for that to be reproduced, like our correspondence. It is a shame that we do not have the views of the staff that work here and of the unions that represent them. Those views have not become apparent to us; they certainly have not been given to us. It would have been beneficial if they had been.
David Hamilton (Midlothian): Surely my hon. Friend is not arguing that members of staff should be working long hours. Surely the argument should be that we should be paying them decent wages and giving them a decent contract to work for us. It is argued that we should be pushing staff towards longer hours along with us. That is wrong, surely.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): My hon. Friend is very generous in giving way. I wonder whether, among the views that he has read in the report, he read a submission by the Equal Opportunities Commission, which comments that business and industry leaders have in the past pointed out the irony of the situation whereby Ministers and other MPs speak to them about the advantages of work-life balance while current parliamentary practices make it impossible for Ministers to practise that themselves.