Page last updated at 21:00 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 22:00 UK

Shorten MPs' summer, says Speaker

John Bercow
Mr Bercow was elected as Commons Speaker in June

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has said MPs should give up their 12-week summer holidays and return to Parliament in September.

He told the Hansard Society voters could not understand why MPs currently did not sit from mid-July to October.

Mr Bercow said it "must be mystifying in the eyes of our constituents".

The Speaker, elected in June after Michael Martin resigned over his handling of the MPs' expenses affair, denied making "populist gestures".

Addressing a meeting of the research and education charity in Westminster, Mr Bercow said: "I am very sympathetic to those who say 'why do MPs need to have a 12-week recess?'

"I don't think it is necessary."

He added: "People cannot understand, even if MPs are working hard in their constituencies in September, why, when the vast majority of people are back at their place of work, we are not."

Lords questioned?

After becoming Speaker, former backbencher Mr Bercow said he wanted to demystify Parliament's rituals and make it more accessible to ordinary voters.

He told the Hansard Society the public controversy over expenses claimed by MPs had provided an opportunity for the Commons to look at every aspect of its workings.

There is a sense of crisis about the standing and purpose of the House of Commons
John Bercow

Mr Bercow said backbenchers had been "marginalised" - most had become "de facto ombudsmen" on behalf of their constituents, involved in areas once considered the property of local councillors.

He pledged to preside over more Friday sittings where backbenchers' Bills were discussed.

"There is a sense of crisis about the standing and purpose of the House of Commons," he said.

He also floated the possibility of Cabinet ministers such as Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Transport Secretary Lord Adonis being able to answer MPs' questions on their responsibilities, possibly at sittings in Westminster Hall.

He did not rule out allowing ministers from the Lords answering questions in the Commons, but suggested such an idea would provoke opposition from traditionalists.

Mr Bercow also indicated he would be prepared to preside over a debate on the establishment of an English Parliament, but added it was not the Speaker's role to call for such a discussion.

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