The Summer Recess, Put Simply

By Blog Writer Sam Jacobsen 

Parliament is officially on its summer holidays. In an age of 24-7 news, it seems strange that the highest legislative body in the country can simply grind to a halt for a whole six weeks at a time. Does this mean there’s no-one running the country until September? What happens if there’s a major crisis that needs sorting out? Whose idea was this?

The summer recess goes back hundreds of years, and actually used to be a lot longer. Until 1927, Parliament was only in session from February until August. This reflected the social calendar of the elite political class: when mid-August rolled round, everyone would escape to their country retreats for the beginning of the shooting season, generally not returning to London for a whopping six months. 

Nowadays, the timetable of Parliament is more similar to your average school year. It kicks off every September, takes short breaks at Christmas and Easter, and finishes in mid-July. Of course, we expect modern politicians to take their jobs a bit more seriously than their historical counterparts. Six weeks of skiving off and shooting things would seem rather frivolous, considering that’s far more holiday time than anyone else gets (unless you’re a teacher or a professional footballer). So, if they’re not voting in Westminster, what will our elected representatives be doing over the summer to earn their salaries? 

Many MPs will use this time to focus on serving their constituencies, meeting local residents and weighing in on local issues. If there is a hospital that needs saving or a pothole that needs filling in your area, now might be a good time to contact your MP about it. Just check that they’re in the country before you go to harangue them (some of them may actually take this opportunity for a real holiday). 

Also, while Parliament is officially in recess, the business of government will continue. We will still have a prime minister, a foreign secretary and all the other secretaries of state, although they won’t hold regular cabinet meetings like usual. Ministerial duties over the summer ‘silly season’ are likely to be dominated by Brexit negotiations, with the deadline for leaving now less than eight months away.

Finally, if there is a matter so pressing it cannot be ignored, Parliament can be recalled during the summer break. This happened as recently as 2016, when MPs reconverged at Westminster to pay tribute to their colleague Jo Cox MP, after she was tragically murdered in her constituency. Other events which resulted in a summer recall of Parliament include the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime in 2013, and the riots which shook the nation in August 2011. 

Not everyone thinks the lengthy summer break is a good idea: even among those who benefit from it. Last week Labour peer Lord Adonis tabled a motion to cut the summer break for the House of Lords to a mere fortnight. A noble gesture perhaps, but seeing as only eight of his fellow peers voted in favour of it - as opposed to more than a hundred against - it seems the summer recess is going nowhere fast. 

Sources and Further Reading

Image: San Sharma @flickr 

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