When new Labour came to power, one of their earlier moves was to realign the sitting hours of the House of Commons with the body clock of the normal human being. Over a period of time, many of us had learned to cope with taking momentous decisions about the future of our country at 10pm, while our constituents looked on in bewilderment, sipping cocoa before going to bed. Often, we would sit through the night. I recall, after one all-night sitting, collecting my post from the House of Commons at 5.30 am. (Do you remember when the post used to arrive early?) One irate constituent had written, demanding that I rang him the moment I got his letter. So I did; a bold move for someone with a majority of 808.
But I digress. In 1997, the influx of a large number of new Labour MP’s, many of them women, obliged the House of Commons to re-examine our working practices. The Working Time Directive had not come into effect, but its influence was being felt. And so we modernised ourselves. I have no objection to working fewer hours, but it would be helpful if the Government correspondingly reduced the amount of legislation it wanted me to scrutinise, instead of doubling it.
One of the parallel reforms was to introduce a week’s break in February. This was designed to coincide with half-term, so MP’s could bond with their children. It was designated a “family week”. This played very badly with the tabloids. They unhelpfully drew attention to the fact that MP’s were continuing to draw the same salaries for a shorter working week; and, on top of this, MP’s were proposing to take more holidays. The Government also encountered a practical problem, which the Secretary of State had not drawn to its attention. Half term is not the same week throughout the country.
As a result of these two factors, the “family week” was re-branded as a “constituency week”, and it is that that concluded a few days ago. I patriotically spent the week in the constituency, ignoring the temptation of the ski-ing slopes. And, in the spirit of New Labour’s original policy, we had the grandchildren to stay.
This turned out to be every bit as demanding as a constituency week, and we have just about recovered.
I have taken Wallace and Grommit out of the DVD player and replaced it with Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; I have taken the ducks out of the bath; hoovered the popcorn off the back seat of the car, re-adjusted the seat of my fold-up bike and turned off the underfloor heating in the kitchen.
And finally I have uninstalled Pacific Fighters from my laptop in order to catch up with all your emails.