One of the consequences of the early election is that Britain will find itself without a functioning parliament for six weeks at a time when arguably it has never needed one more. I am sure that many MPs will feel entitled to a holiday after yet another election campaign – or at least those who are not sent into premature retirement. But what about Parliamentary business? The Great Repeal Bill requires debate and scrutiny – and in Parliament, not the TV studio. As thing stand, Parliament will rise in the first week of May. It will then reconvene in the middle of June only to break up for the summer recess little over a month later. It will not return until October, after the party conference season. Can a serious democracy, at a time of such national importance spend the next six months with so little going on in parliament?
After all, the government has pursued a firm policy on school holidays, with parents who take their children on holiday during term time facing stiff fines. When education secretary, Michael Gove proposed to shorten the school summer holidays on the grounds that children often returned in September having forgotten what they had learned in July.
Shouldn’t Parliament be fixed in a similar way? I have a modest proposal which should be tried this year and, if successful, repeated in coming years. The Parliamentary summer recess should be timed to coincide with the school holidays: starting in the last week of July and ending in the first week of September. Parliament should then return to business and sit until Christmas. If parties want to hold conferences they should be expected to do it during the six week recess. They may, on the other hand, seriously question whether this year they need to hold a conference at all. These events long ago ceased to be genuine conferences – they are more rallies. And by the time we reach September we will have had party rallies galore.
If MPs want to swan off out of recess, then they should be subject to the same fines faced by parents who take their children on holiday during term time. A zero tolerance attitude to unauthorised absences has been a central plank of the government’s efforts to raise educational standards. If we are going to have well-debated Brexit which has the full blessing of parliament we need MPs to put in more time in the chamber – at least this year and possibly every year.