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11 January 2010

MPs to sit in September under Bercow proposal

Autumn party conferences set for abolition

By James Macintyre

The familiar party conference season is set to become a thing of the past under proposals being drawn up in the Commons Speaker’s office, Newstatesman.com has learned.

John Bercow, the reforming Speaker, is determined to press ahead with the introduction of September sittings in the Commons in order to reduce the exceptionally long summer period away from Westminster enjoyed by most MPs.

The move would bring about the end of the week-long party conference for Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats alike. The conference is a gathering of the party faithful, from senior MPs to grass-roots members, with a throng of lobbyists and figures from business. It is this latter group that may object most to the bold but controversial move. 

Instead, MPs will be expected to conduct government business in the House throughout September, after enjoying the whole of August off.

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Newstatesman.com has learned that the Speaker will be pressing for weekend conferences instead, dramatically reducing the length of time available for the parties to get together each year. “Conferences would be a long weekend at most,” said a source.

The Speaker is believed to feel that there is much less excuse for lax working hours for MPs in the wake of the expenses scandal. He is also pressing for Friday sittings — many MPs return to their constituency after Thursday business in the House.

Sources close to the Speaker’s office say Bercow doesn’t attach great importance to preserving the conferences’ usual format. “They are hard to justify in these times,” said a source, who added that the move could well come as early as this year.

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