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MP misses crucial Bills for his family.

Byline: By Jonathan Walker Political Editor

A Labour MP will miss three crunch House of Commons votes because he has decided to spend half-term with his children.

Mike Foster (Lab Worcester) has been away from Westminster as Tony Blair faces one of his most difficult weeks, with votes on ID cards, smoking and anti-terror legislation.

It follows a row over the dates of the Parliamentary recess.

MPs will have a half-term break next week - even though many schools, including in Worcestershire and Birmingham, take holidays this week.

Conservatives and disgruntled Labour MPs have accused Geoff Hoon, the Leader of the House, of fixing the dates to suit his family.

Schools in Mr Hoon's Ash-field constituency, in Nottinghamshire, take a break next week.

It means most Midland MPs with families are having to stay in London over half-term, even though recent reforms are supposed to have made the House of Commons more "family friendly".

But Mr Foster has decided to stay away anyway. He has two daughters, Kathleen and Lucy, and one son, Mark.

It meant that on Monday's ID card debate, in which Labour's majority was halved from 65 to 31 in a crucial vote, he was officially listed as abstaining.

The House of Commons has no mechanism for distinguishing between MPs who do not vote out of principle, and those who are simply absent.

He also missed last night's smoking debate, and will be away tonight when the Government defends proposals to create a new offence of inciting terrorism.

But Mr Foster, traditionally a Labour loyalist, insisted he was not abstaining.

He said: "It's not a protest. I would have backed the Government if I had been there.

"I am on half-term with my children. It is the half-term here in Worcestershire, so that is what I am doing."

Concern about the dates of the recess, which are decided by the Government, were raised by Theresa May, the Conservative Shadow Leader of the House.

She complained: "The business for the week beginning February 13 is very heavy, with the Identity Cards Bill and the Terrorism Bill.

"However, that week is half-term week for many schools and for many Members' families. The move to a half-term parliamentary recess was designed not only to give Members an opportunity to be in their constituencies, but as a modernising, family-friendly move."

jon_walker@mrn.co.uk
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 15, 2006
Words:393
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