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Wednesday 18th April 2012 | 10:33
A hot rumour is swirling among MPs: the Commons may be off on a break again, earlier than expected, for the prorogation of Parliament.
There is remarkably little business left for this session. The Legal Aid Bill was swiftly despatched back to the Lords last night and - for all the rows over the Budget’s pasty, granny and charity taxes – the Finance Bill won’t prove a problem. MPs voted on Monday to allow the the Bill to carry over into the next session to remove any deadline pressures. The Scotland Bill too is to be carried over.
A swift glance at today’s Order Paper certainly shows very few select committee hearings and a dearth of even Written Ministerial Statements. Barley a few days in from their Easter recess, Parliament and Government seem to be going into an unseasonal hibernation.
I understand that Sir George Young will make things clearer tomorrow when he delivers the Commons Business statement.
The Government is still wary of the Lords, of course, and has to factor in just how much ping or pong of the ping-pong the Upper House wants over the Legal Aid bill. Yet if peers do indeed back down as expected by, say, next Wednesday, there’s no technical reason why the Commons can’t rise for a recess soon after.
If the House does indeed rise next Thursday* [UPDATE some Commons sources now say the House could rise on Monday 30th April], that will give MPs plenty more time to hit the campaign trail in their local council and mayoral elections and referendum campaigns. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
But any more break-time will inevitably prompt allegations that MPs are giving themselves yet more ‘holidays’. Even on current plans, from March 27 to the summer recess on July 17, the House will have sat for just 21 days out of 75. If they get an extra week, that will be just 14 days ‘working’ out of 75.
Their Lordships have already been given an extra week off this week. (See my post on that here), so MPs may feel they are just catching up.
Government sources insist that on the usual defence that MPs are still ‘working’ hard when the House is not sitting. Some will argue that if there is no legislation to deal with, MPs have little choice. And this has indeed been a record long Parliamentary session.
But as the nation grapples with austerity, will the public sympathise with more ‘time off’ to cope with it? Will a longer prorogation play into the hands of those who say MPs are all rogues and scoundrels anyway?
Or is this just the PM's clever way of preventing more backbench discontent from brewing over recent Government blunders?
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