Committee wrestles with changing Commons hours

Should MPs work a four day Parliamentary week? The Commons Procedure Committee is considering the idea of abolishing the Friday sittings at which private members bills are considered, so that Fridays can officially become the day when MPs are expected to put themselves about in their constituencies.

You can hear their latest evidence session here

Give that the number of MPs who turn up for those Friday debates is seldom very vast, this hardly amounts to revolution. Plenty of MPs already limit their Westminster week to four days - and in the last Parliament, when big votes were rare after Tuesday, you could see some MPs sidling out at 12.32 on a Wednesday, the moment PMQs was done.

But there are plenty of new arrivals in the Commons who're unhappy with the present arrangements and would like to tweak the balance between their Westminster and constituency work. But ProcCom (excuse the jargon) is busy discovering that it's impossible to come up with a pattern of sitting hours that pleases everybody.

MPs love the chance to make law in a Private Members Bill, and shifting them to a weekday evening would mean they don't have to choose between sacrificing a constituency Friday and supporting some measure dear to their heart. (Remember, under current rules Private Members Bills need 100 MPs to turn out to ensure they get a second reading, by supporting a closure motion - I'll spare you the full procedural arcana). On the other hand, some argue that the Friday test is a rough and ready way of proving (or disproving) that bills have real support. If the test was not willingness to give up a constituency Friday, but willingness to interrupt dinner, a lot more PMBs might survive. And the Government might not be very keen on that.

Then there are proposals to start (and finish) Commons business earlier on Tuesday and Wednesday, when batting opens at 2.30 and 1130 respectively. Supporters of an earlier start and finish argue that it would make life easier for MPs with families. Others retort that they knew what they were getting into and the Commons sitting pattern should not be dictated by their children's bedtimes. Still others worry that earlier starting times in the main chamber would make life difficult for Select Committees, many of which try to get their hearings in, before the Commons opens its doors. And what about ministers? Late voting times allow ministers to tour the country and register their vote in key divisions.

ProcCom's ploughing on with its inquiry into Commons sitting hours. But this may be one of those occasions on which you can't please any of the people, any of the time.