Press warns against evening MP sessions

Prime Minister Tony Blair is being urged to resist calls to abandon morning parliamentary sessions because journalists have warned it will mean the Government will be less reported.

Evening newspaper political reporters sounded the warning to Commons leader Peter Hain as some MPs stepped up pressure for the Prime Minister to reinstate evening sessions.

Labour put an end to MPs sitting late at night and, in some cases, all night, and introduced familyfriendly hours to attract more women into politics.

MPs now sit in the morning – in time for evening-paper deadlines.

But the Prime Minister is facing a backlash from some MPs who preferred the old hours.

Takings at Commons restuarants and bars have also been hit.

Now MPs are being sounded out about reinstating evening sessions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and possibly abandoning Friday sessions altogether.

But Hain has also decided to consult the media before any changes are made. The Commons modernisation committee, which Hain chairs, has already taken oral evidence from Elinor Goodman, political editor, Channel 4 News, Peter Riddell of The Times, George Pascoe-Watson, deputy political editor of The Sun, and Guardian political editor Michael White.

Evening paper political editors this week submitted evidence and pointed out morning sessions were popular with readers and editors.

John Hipwood, political editor of the Wolverhampton Express & Star and Shropshire Star, said: “I can understand why many MPs are unhappy about the hours, but the earlier starts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays have definitely benefited evening papers.

“With Prime Minister’s Questions at midday and major parliamentary statements like the Budget at 12.30pm, we can now get same-day stories into later editions — something which was difficult, if not impossible, under the old sitting hours.”

Phil Woolas, deputy leader of the Commons, warned MPs: “Unfortunately, any suggestion for change is inevitably reported in some parts of the media as a retrograde step – that members are trying to have more time off.”

Woolas, however, should not be surprised newspapers should question MPs’ motives. He admitted at the same time that the Commons once held Saturday sessions until MPs voted in the 18th century “to go hunting” instead.

By David Rose

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