The House of Commons will today debate a number of proposals for reform of its procedures; they are being brought forward after extensive consultations by the Leader of the House, Robin Cook, who chairs the House's Modernisation Committee. No objective outsider looking at the way the Commons goes about its business would quarrel with the idea that reform is needed, yet the main change which Mr Cook will recommend is likely to be extremely controversial.

For ages the House has begun its business in the early afternoon and continued until late at night and, often, into the early hours of the next day.

Many MPs think this is an unsocial way of arranging things and would like to have evenings free for their families or other engagements. But the arrangement has suited those MPs, most of them Conservatives, who have other businesses to attend to in the City and their law chambers and therefore like their mornngs free. Mr Cook's proposal that in future the hours of business from Tuesday to Thursday should be 11.30am to 7pm is understandably being resisted by these MPs – and also by those from distant constituencies, many of them Labour, who suddenly face lonely evenings in their bed–sits. But women MPs are generally in favour of it.

The vote on Mr Cook's proposed changes may be quite close. There is thought to be a 3 to 2 majority in favour among Labour MPs but a 3 to 1 majority against among Conservatives.



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