Procedure Committee publishes report on sitting hours

20 June 2012

The House of Commons elected in 2010 should have the opportunity to decide its preference about the hours that it sits, the Procedure Committee concludes in its report Sitting hours and the Parliamentary calendar, published today

Putting forward its own preference for no change to sitting hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and slightly earlier sitting hours on Thursday, the Committee emphasises that there are differing views which will need to be resolved by the House.

In its report, it proposes a means of ensuring that the House may come to a decision on its preferred sitting hours in respect of each separate day of the week, whilst avoiding a potential long series of divisions on propositions which attract only marginal support.

Committee Chair Rt Hon Greg Knight MP, commenting on publication of the report, said,

"In undertaking this work on behalf of the House we have been conscious of the fact that each Member of Parliament has a different way of working, and that in looking at the sitting hours of the House there are no mainstream options which are necessarily 'right or wrong', 'out-dated or modern', or 'effective or less so'. The whole issue of sitting hours is largely a matter of individual preference.
The current sitting hours were inherited by this House from its predecessor and it is right that the House elected in 2010 now have the opportunity to decide its preference about the hours that it sits.
Individual Members should take their decision on the matter based on what they feel is the best working practice for them to better serve Parliament and their own constituents.
In this Report we have brought forward a way of enabling the House to do that. We have stated our own preferences, based on the evidence we took in the course of our inquiry. Our main task, though, was to set out the considerations which Members should take into account when coming to a decision on sitting hours, and to facilitate a decision by the whole House. That is what we have done, and we look forward to the House having an early opportunity to reach a settled view on its sitting hours before the Summer Recess."

The Committee recommends that the House should take each day of the week in turn, considering first, in the case of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, a motion that the status quo be retained. If that motion were to be defeated, the House would then consider alternative proposals brought forward by Members. Supporters of earlier sitting hours on Tuesdays, for example, will therefore have the chance to bring their proposals forward and, if the House so wishes, have them voted upon.

In respect of Thursdays, the Committee recommends that the House have the opportunity to decide whether to sit at 9.30am, with a moment of interruption at 5pm, meaning that the business would start and finish one hour earlier than at present.

Concerning the Parliamentary calendar, the Committee does not propose any reduction in the number of sitting hours in a year and broadly endorses the existing pattern of sittings over the course of the year, but does recommend that the House should have the opportunity to vote on whether to continue to sit in September from 2013 onwards.

The Committee has responded to the many representations it received urging it to reform the procedures for private Members' bills by inviting the House to decide whether, subject to further consideration of the procedural and practical consequences, it wishes to move consideration of private Members' bills away from Fridays to an earlier weekday evening.

The Committee has already announced a more detailed inquiry into private Members' bill procedures which it will undertake in the light of the House's decision on Fridays. Finally, the Committee proposes an additional means of securing greater Ministerial accountability via a mechanism for MPs to question a Minister on some selected written Ministerial statements made in the previous week, between 11 am and 11.30 am on a Wednesday in Westminster Hall.

Greg Knight added

"We have borne in mind throughout this inquiry the need for sitting hours and the Parliamentary calendar to support Members’ work both in their constituency and at Westminster. In our report we have presented the evidence we have received about the effect of sitting patterns on Members at all levels of seniority and experience.

It is now for the House to make its decision, and we hope Members will find our report helpful in enabling it to do so."

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