This week sees the beginning of the long summer recess for both the Lords and Commons, but with the Lords working an extra day. This ought not be remarkable as long as events are proceeding in a normal way. But they are not.
The Commons finish on Tuesday. For a small group of backbenchers who serve on the Culture Media and Sport select committee they finish with a flourish when their proceedings will no doubt be carried live by more than just BBC Parliament. As everyone knows they have summoned James and Rupert Murdoch who still look like they will turn up, although the attendance of Rebekah Brooks looks doubtful following her arrest. It promises to be an interesting session and, given the ability of this scandal to throw up major incidents on a daily basis, there is the potential that it will generate more issues of major public interest.
If the select committee lives up to it’s billing it is bound to appear odd to the public that the Lords is sitting the following day and could discuss any new revelations, but the elected Commons is not. The Prime Minister will be back from his shortened trade mission to Africa and therefore available for Prime Ministers Questions. Instead he will look like he is ducking the scrutiny whilst any urgent question will be left to the Lords, and no doubt to Baroness Rawlings to answer.
We will also have the same potential scenario in October. The Lords has had it’s recess shortened so we come back for the week of Tory conference. This means that any announcements the Tories make to the faithful will have to be announced to Parliament in the Lords if the ministerial code of announcing things to Parliament first is to be followed. Surely a recipe for chaos?
And why are we having to put in the extra days? In short because the Government are running out of time to get their business through the Lords. They are trying to push through several major pieces of legislation – welfare, police, education, localism, and then health. Major changes need significant scrutiny and peers on all sides are taking that job seriously. This takes time and that is now in short supply despite the Government’s unprecedented move of not having a Queens Speech this year to create a two year session. There are serious timetabling problems of the government’s own making.
Maybe everything will calm down. Maybe the sovereign debt crisis will blow over without more economic crises that need debate. Maybe the collapse of confidence in the relationships between politicians, the media and the police will all end happily ever after. Maybe the government will suddenly discover how to create consensus on it’s legislation so it goes through Parliament quickly. If so, it’ll all be fine and there will just be the extra cost of the Lords sitting for a few more days.
Or maybe the Commons will look out of touch as it is not around to debate the massive issues of the day when the Lords are. And maybe then Government business managers will see the benefit of synchronising when the Lords and Commons are in recess.