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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 08:07 GMT 09:07 UK
'MPs should cut summer holiday'
House of Commons
The Commons sits in silence for 11 weeks a year
MPs cannot do their jobs properly because of an "unacceptable" three months' summer recess, a veteran Labour backbencher has complained.

David Winnick urged new Commons leader Jack Straw to reinstate sittings in September from next year "so we avoid having this farcical long break".

He said while MPs can use their time to carry out constituency work, they were not allowed to do their "main job".

Mr Straw said he was "open to argument" about the matter.

Recalled

Last year the House of Commons rose for its recess on 21 July and did not return until 10 October, after the party conference season , giving MPs an 80-day break.

On that occasion, the recess began a week earlier than expected and did not include the short sitting in September introduced in recent years.

Obviously, we carry out our duties in our constituencies but we are not allowed during that time to carry out the main job for which we were elected
David Winnick

Mr Straw said it was "no great secret" that he was in favour of September sittings.

The Commons was recalled on three occasions during the summer break between 1997 and 2003.

He said MPs had to bear in mind there was a choice between having September sessions and short vacations for half-terms, or having no September sittings and no vacations for half-terms.

"There are 11 weeks between the end of July and early October - it would be unacceptable if the House ended up sitting for less time than it did under the previous arrangements," said Mr Straw.

'Family holidays'

While this was a matter for MPs, nothing could be done about moving Commons sittings this year because maintenance and vacation arrangements had already been made, he added.

Mr Winnick said it "would be wholly unacceptable to go back to the position prior to 1997 when the House and Parliament closed down for nearly three months".

It would help to facilitate September sittings if the Liberal Democrats changed the time of their conference, or even abolished it altogether
Jack Straw

"From next year onwards, I hope that we are going to sit during September so that we avoid having this farcical long break, which is totally unacceptable."

Mr Straw said he understood the strength of the point, but added that some people would argue that "August is for family holidays and September is for constituency work".

He said he was actively considering making arrangements to enable MPs to put questions to ministers during that month.

David Heath, for the Liberal Democrats, said it was "unacceptable that the executive cannot be held to account by the House for a third of the year".

Mr Straw retorted that "it would help to facilitate September sittings if the Liberal Democrats changed the time of their conference, or even abolished it altogether".

He said he could hear Lib Dem president Simon Hughes saying "they do not have a say anyway, so why not abolish it".


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