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14 August 2014

Parliament shouldn’t need recalling; it should meet throughout the summer anyway

We need reforms to parliament's summer recess in order to address the inevitable annual calls for it to be recalled over the break.

By Kevin Meagher

Hearing a procession of MPs, newspapers and broadcasters urging a recall of parliament is one of the annual summer rituals of British politics. Parched for proper domestic news, the political media likes to accompany its heightened interest in foreign wars and humanitarian crises with entreaties that MPs should be summoned back to Westminster to ruminate over them.

As George Eaton noted the other day, there is no shortage of MPs from all sides publicly calling on the Prime Minister to recall parliament in order to discuss the worsening crisis in the Middle East. Conservative MPs Conor Burns, Nick De Bois and David Burrowes, (as well as Lord Dannatt, former chief of the defence staff) are the latest to do so. David Cameron is, so far, unmoved.

Yet last year, parliament was recalled on two occasions: once to discuss the crisis in Syria and then to pay tribute following the death of Margaret Thatcher. Either of these examples seems to warrant MPs gathering now to discuss the grave situation in Iraq and Gaza.

Indeed, the House of Commons has been recalled from recess on no fewer than 41 occasions since 1949. The list is a roll-call of suitably august national and international events from our contemporary history, ranging from currency crises, the Korean war, Suez, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 9/11 attacks and even the death of the Queen Mother.

There are two obvious reforms that could be considered. The first is to radically shorten the summer recess so there is more chance of parliament sitting when a major issue presents itself. This is unlikely as it suits governments and oppositions alike to keep MPs out of Westminster during the summer months while bills are drafted, batteries are recharged and backbiting is, temporarily, abated.

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The second option is to earmark specific days that could be put aside throughout the summer break to discuss emergency business. The infrastructure and personnel needed to make this work are minimal. Given all the parties operate a rota throughout the summer, it is not a big leap to have a supply of ministers and their shadows and willing backbenchers ready to deliberate on whatever major issue presents itself.

This would re-establish the House of Commons as the crucible of our national conversation and it would address the problem of MPs looking as though they put their chillaxing time ahead of world affairs.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut