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Working Life in Parliament

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I wonder who the woman MP was who Andy Burnham saw strolling across Westminster Bridge 10.30pm one night with her baby in a buggy, having just finished work.

For anyone who thinks MPs have an easy time, this is the reality for those with young families who are dedicated to political life and serving their constituents.

While it is well known that Nick Clegg prioritises taking his kids to school, Andy Burnham has describes the angst he feels as an absent father. In an article in The Times on Saturday, the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Health Secretary, who has three children, Jimmy, 11, Rosie, 9, and Annie, 6, tells how his young son used to tune in to the Parliament channel to catch a glimpse of his dad:

"In the early days I used to phone my little boy and tell him to put the Parliament channel on because I was voting in five minutes and I'd promise to wave to him. So I used to walk through the Commons and stop by the double doors and start waving like an idiot at the camera. That became my little routine. I had to find ways of bridging the gaps."

Andy goes on to describe anti-family friendly working hours in Parliament today:

"Parliament has changed a hell of a lot since I was first elected in 2001, but it is still a very anti-family life. I was walking over Westminster Bridge a couple of months ago; it was a Monday night about 10.30. Monday nights are always hard because you've been with your family all weekend and now you're back in London on your own again. I passed a female MP going over the bridge with her baby in a pushchair on her way home. I gave her a sympathetic look and she roller her eyes back.

"There are still lots of late sittings and it makes life very difficult, even for those MPs whose families live within reach of Westminster. It's not a healthy work timetable at all."

If Cabinet meeting times can be changed to fit around family life, which is clearly also close to David Cameron's heart, then why can't Parliament's timetable be rescheduled so MPs can finish work earlier than 10.30pm?

And come along Mr Speaker, what about your rccommendations for more family-friendly working hours following the last Speakers' Conference which sought to encourage more women MPs to join Westminster? The Guardian reports that at the time, the Speaker John Bercow chaired a committee which called for another review of the Commons' late sittings to make MPs' work more family friendly, potentially with the introduction of "normal business hours". While the Commons seldom sits into the early hours any more - following reforms introduced last decade - debates continue until about 10.30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Speaker's Conference stated: "Ideally, sitting time for the main chamber should be brought in line with what is considered to be normal business hours." Failing that, it said, deferred voting should be dramatically extended so that MPs did not have to be within the vicinity of the chamber whenever there was an important vote imminent.

Has any of this happened? Will it happen during this Parliament? With so many political fathers keen for family life, why can't they make this happen?

In many ways Andy Burnham is lucky, his wife invokes a four-line whip which insists he spends some time with his family at weekends. I suspect for some MPs, that is still a luxury.
I wonder if other MPs follow Andy's example and get their kids to tune into the Parliament channel to catch a glimpse of their hard working parliamentarian mum or dad.
Let's give some thought about the baby in this case too which Andy Burnham referred to and question whether babies are impervious to this unsettling lifestyle. I think not, though it might be easier to ignore this thought. Like most people, babies prefer to be tucked up in their beds late at night.

Just one further point, what a sorry sight it is for both mother and baby to be out so late after a days work. How many other working mothers find themselves pounding the streets with their baby in tow so late at night?

Alarmingly, according to this Guardian report, a Mumsnet poll found that nearly 1 in 3 MPs considered quitting because of pressure on family life.
Wouldn't this be a great campaign for Sally Bercow to get her teeth into? She could then see more of her hubby - and what better Celebrity Big Brother house is there than Westminster!