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September Sittings

Volume 586: debated on Thursday 23 October 2014

Before anyone gets too excited, may I just make it clear that I am not suggesting that we have fewer sitting days? September sittings were introduced early in the 2000s but ignore the facts of the party conference season, which was originally at the end of September and into October because of the availability of cheap rooms in seaside resorts. That is no longer an issue for parties. Have there been any discussions about bringing party conferences forward in September so that we can avoid this very expensive two-week period when the House is brought back to life?

The Deputy Leader of the House is responsible for a limited number of things and party conferences is certainly not one of them. Members would agree that the September sittings that we have just had were essential. We debated some essential matters and there might well have had to be a recall of Parliament had we not had those sittings. I was pleased to note that on Friday 5 September there was the largest turnout of Labour MPs ever—subject to my being corrected by the Labour Whips—on a private Member’s Bill. I was pleased to note that the hon. Gentleman’s name followed mine in the list in Hansard of those who voted.

Has the institution of September sittings made any difference at all to the total number of days per year on which the House sits? What does my right hon. Friend calculate the cost to be in terms of the interruption of maintenance works and the inconvenience to all people on the Parliamentary Estate when certain facilities are not available at that time?

The number of days has not changed as a result of September sittings. Were we to abolish them, if that is something for which Members are pressing, we would simply have to make that time available elsewhere. The additional costs are marginal; I understand them to be of the order of £200,000 for that period.

Whatever the arrangements are for possibly changing the times of conferences, is the Deputy Leader of the House aware that it would be totally unacceptable to return to a situation where the House did not meet for nine or 10 consecutive weeks? In the past many of us urged that that should be discontinued and I am pleased that it has been.

I do not think the hon. Gentleman and I often see eye to eye on matters in this House but on that point I am in total agreement with him. The public and indeed Members of Parliament would consider it strange that for a very extended period during the summer we are not sitting and there were not opportunities to raise important matters in this place.

Is not the real problem that the two Houses are now completely out of sync with each other, with the House of Lords sitting until the end of July and not now coming back until mid-October? Will the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House speak to their counterparts about trying to realign the two Houses, thus not only saving money but improving parliamentary scrutiny?

That is a valid point and I am certainly happy to follow it up. Often the Houses are not synchronised in terms of the progress of Bills in any case, but the hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. It is certainly worth seeing whether the timetables could be synchronised if that had a significant impact in reducing the costs of running Parliament.