Leader: What MPs might do this summer

22 July 2009

WHEN PARLIAMENT reassembles on 12 October, MPs will not be asked to account for their 82-day break, which includes 57 working days.That is not to say that members of their constituency party cannot quiz them on how they spend their summer. One campaign group has urged people to monitor the time MPs spend on holiday by gathering photographic evidence of days spent on the beach or on the golf course. MPs are, of course, an easy target at present, after the widespread abuses of an allowances system that itself countenanced abuse. In return, they have been subjected to extraordinary amounts of abuse from the public: “greedy bunch of retards” said one posting on the Daily Telegraph blog this week.

The Westminster recess does not mean weeks of enforced idleness. The problem is that there appears to be no standard approach, no direction from party leaders. A random check of a dozen constituency websites revealed little: two MPs listed two surgeries in August; one listed one; four sites had unconvincingly vague lists (“first Friday in the month”, etc). None of the sites made any mention of holiday or availability, a piece of information that one might have expected to find about elected representatives — especially when their supposed 12-week break has attracted such criticism. Have they learnt nothing?

Were MPs to be concerned, they might reflect on the growth of a different sort of criticism: not about their going away, but at the prospect of their coming back. After 3000-odd pieces of legislation since this Government came to power, the last thing the public wants is more law-making, and this, traditionally, is what parliamentarians spend their time doing. This week further noises were made about reforming the House of Lords — little more than noises: the proposals continue to be short on detail. What none of the parties is suggesting, however, is that the structure of the whole Parliament, Commons as well as Lords, needs to be reassessed. The present system fails in its primary purpose: to deliver independent scrutiny of draft legislation. Occasional proposals catch the eye and are subject to critical examination, but many more pass through unchallenged, only to add to the administrative burden (and cost) of running the country. Even more worrying, now that the Government has such a large stake in the economy, are the matters that never seem to come to the floor of either House. The summer recess is customarily a time to let the cleaners loose on the Palace of Westminster. MPs need to realise that there is much that they need to clean up, too.

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