John Penrose MP

Parliament is an odd mixture of ancient and modern. There are the quaint old ceremonies and traditions, with their roots in the civil war and Oliver

Parliament is an odd mixture of ancient and modern. There are the quaint old ceremonies and traditions, with their roots in the civil war and Oliver Cromwell. But they sit cheek by jowl with cutting-edge technology and modern thinking in almost any field you care to mention.The debate about Parliament's hours is a good example. The modernisers, led in many cases by the new intake of Labour women from the 1997 election, declared Westminster was too much of an old boys club. The debates didn't start until 2.30 in the afternoon, and went on until at least 10pm every night. It was closer to a crusty 19th century gentlemen's club than a modern office environment for professional people with families. So the hours were changed. Debates started at 10.30am and went on until 7pm. It was closer to a normal working environment and so, everyone hoped, it would be easier to attract normal people to become MPs in future too.Well, maybe. The new hours weren't perfect because, as anyone who works elsewhere will tell you, most jobs need you to spend an occasional evening with either staff, customers or stakeholders. Personal contact is important in any walk of life, and politics is no different. So they compromised. The old hours are back on Mondays and Tuesdays, so there's time to meet and discuss things informally in the evenings. But the new hours apply on Wednesdays and Thursdays so Parliament isn't stuck in a Dickensian rut. But there's a bonus too. Along with the new hours came paternity leave. It's only two weeks but, as any new dad knows, there's an enormous amount to do when a baby arrives. I'm not sure what Oliver Cromwell or those crusty 19th gentlemen would have made of it but, since my second daughter arrived this week, it's a godsend.


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