A fixed calendar?
The introduction of a calendar of sitting dates a year or so ahead, instead of the notice period being a matter of only a few weeks, made a profound difference to the organisation of Commons business, and to the way in which its members could plan their lives. More radical change is sometimes suggested: that there should be fixed sitting and recess times every year; and that there should be a day a week on which the Chamber did not sit, in order to create a day for committee activity (although further concentrating committee activity would have serious implications for the availability of committee rooms and other resources). Early change seems unlikely; but much more likely is that the House will continue to tinker with its sitting times for each day of the week.
Restoration and renewal: the effect of moving out
As we saw in Chapter 1, one of the biggest challenges for Parliament over the next decade will be securing the Palace of Westminster for future generations, and dealing with the deteriorating services of the building. Two of the three options under consideration, successive ‘decants’ of each House, and a complete decant of the whole Palace for five or six years, could have a profound effect on Westminster. Churchill’s dictum that ‘we shape our buildings, and afterwards they shape us’ may be very much to the point. If there is a full decant, and the Houses sit in very different surroundings for five or six years, what will be the effect? If the Houses were to get used to sitting in Chambers of a different shape and size, what changes in atmosphere and ways of doing business might follow?
Moreover, there will be a powerful case for taking every advantage of the disruption and massive expenditure, and not merely replacing like with like. The possibility of glassing over all the courtyards, and of using space more innovatively, perhaps also re-thinking access and visitor routes to transform the visitor experience and to make major savings on security expenditure, will be a huge challenge to both Houses and the ways they and their members work. The pressure will be on Parliament not to let slip a once-in-several-generations opportunity.