New opening hours at Westminster

January 10, 2003 ,

The first week back after Christmas and its all change at the House of Commons – if you can get there.

It's incredible what a little bit of inclement weather can do to this our transport infrastructure. Catching the 9.25am from Cardiff on Tuesday, I didn't expect the train to be terminated at Reading. Signal failure at Slough meant that no trains were going to Paddington.

Reading station was chaos. Bridgend MP Win Griffiths and I were advised to take the train to Guildford! It was quite clear that the tiny train was too small for the hundreds waiting so we asked if the Heathrow Express was still running.

‘Yes' we were told, so we bought tickets on the shuttle bus to the airport but we had been misinformed. There was no Heathrow Express running into Paddington.

Next we tried the tube; a longer, but surely reliable, option surely. It would get us to the Commons in time. Naturally, the tube train broke down, and we had to catch another one.

As well as changing trains we were changing hours this week; and some MPs are apparently changing rooms.

Under the new hours Committees now begin at 8.55am, and votes take place at 7pm instead of 10pm.

The media were out in force trying to find out what MPs would do with their evenings (besides writing their local newspaper columns as I am now).

Ogmore MP Huw Irranca-Davies upset other Welsh MPs by telling BBC Wales that he would be doing DIY in his London flat, where he has lived without curtains for a year. His colleagues came under instant pressure from spouses back home to do likewise.

Some MPs have told me they are looking forward to cooking a meal in their London flats, rather than eating canteen food in the Commons. They had better be careful.

Paul Flynn points out in his book Commons Knowledge that when one MP had the same idea, billows of black smoke emerged from the oven, which hadn't been used for ten years.
Other MPs like Jim Knight from Dorset South are planning a visit to the theatre. Jim is the first ever Labour MP to win a Dorset seat in a General Election. (His majority is a tiny 153).

Former theatre manager Jim Knight, MP for Dorset South, is planning regular visits to the theatre. He is a great friend of the film director Sam Mendes, whose partner is actress Kate Winslet. Perhaps he'll invite other MPs along too!

My fear is that it may be more difficult for backbenchers to lobby Ministers in the evening but easier for corporate interests to lobby the newly-footloose MPs.

The purpose of all this is supposed to be to make parliament work better for the people. If parliament can't get the transport system working properly, then the public will not give a fig about the hours MPs meet.

Like England supporters at the Millennium Stadium, there won't be any trains to take us home after we've been defeated.