Parliamentary Recesses: A Thing of the Past?

Hooray!

Let us celebrate, for today the parliamentary recess is finally over and the government can reconvene.

Thanks to the summer break that MPs receive every year as standard, talks on the major issues presenting our country at the moment: Brexit, the Grenfell Towers fire and the global terrorist threat have stagnated, to the point where they need to be begun all over again. The question is, will any of our elected government officials have the ability or time to make any significant headway in these discussions, in the ten days they have between the end of the Summer recess and the beginning of the Conference recess?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Each year, government ministers are granted up to 16 weeks recess from their daily functions in Westminster. These parliamentary recesses have remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years and are supposed to provide representatives with the chance to discuss important issues with their constituents, figure out solutions to their problems and prepare speeches for when the house returns. As much as it’s important for the 21st Century MP to be able to talk freely with their constituents, we have reached a point now where ministers are being given too much time away from the House.

Centuries ago, when ministers would take days travelling between their constituency and London, these recesses were understandable. But today, when transport links are better than ever and communications provide a direct line between the constituents and their minister, there is simply no need for these MPs to be given the same amount of time away from parliament. Governments only have five years to achieve their goals. When you take into account the arduous but necessary handover process in between governments, as well as the inevitable backtracking that parties must perform to catch up with their incumbents’ mistakes, the five years that MPs have is short enough without the months of recesses they’re also given.

So what is the solution to this problem?

Unfortunately, parliamentary recesses are so well ingrained into our political system now, that it feels like it would take a truly gargantuan effort to have them curtailed, let alone abolished altogether. Ministers defend the weeks of recess they get, arguing that far more is demanded of them now than ever before – but the truth is, they remain unaccountable for the time they spend in these sessions. During these weeks that they spend away from their parliamentary duties, they are free to spend their time however they please; we simply have to trust that they are doing the jobs that we pay them for.

Being a Member of Parliament is by no means an easy job. Your responsibilities are vast and your time is limited. Surely it would make more sense for parliamentary recesses to be limited to the absolutely crucial holiday periods, rather than continue allowing extended breaks from parliament? It’s important to remember that historically, parliamentary members are not required to attend the House at all. The only obligation imposed upon them is to not be present during the recess.

It’s time to roll back these archaic laws and demand more transparency from the MPs that we elect.