BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE – SITTING HOURS – 26 January 2005

Dr Julian Lewis: A question arises about the quality of activity during the sitting hours. I have just had to make a hard choice. I was in the Chamber for the Statement [on detaining terrorist suspects without trial] and so I have had to choose between having lunch and listening to the Leader of the House. I believe that I made the right choice, but I put my head in the Tea Room and saw that scores of his colleagues and mine had decided to have lunch rather than listen to him. Would not it be nice if we could both eat and listen to the opening speeches in major debates?

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[Angela Eagle: Will the hon. Gentleman [Oliver Heald] agree that apart from the surprise of hearing that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Eric Forth) has embraced new technology, this debate is not helped by trying to determine whether there are clashes, whichever shape of hours we get? I remember finding – when, some time ago, the House sat late every night – that I had to be in four places at once, dealing with official business.

Dr Lewis: That's why you've got a twin. [Laughter]

Angela Eagle: Unfortunately she was not a Member at the time, so she could not have helped me out.]

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Dr Lewis: As for people being jaded and tired when important votes are taking place, I put a serious point to the hon. Gentleman [Paul Tyler]. With the previous hours, and those that we still have on Mondays, the main speeches of the debate – the opening speeches, in which the main cases for and against the motion are stated – happened at a time when people were relatively fresh, and they did not clash with the hours when people would normally be having lunch. Also, people had dinner at a stage of the debate when there were only a small number of people in the Chamber – those who were waiting to speak. With the new hours, people have to choose constantly between starvation and non-participation at lunchtime, which does not improve their judgment. In addition, does the hon. Gentleman have any hard data on whether the electorate even know what hours we keep and what hours we stop? I do not think they have the faintest idea.