Tom Richmond: House’s 19-day hiatus just plays into critics’ hands

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THIS, I am sorry to report, is the end of another week which has, once again, failed to show Britain’s MPs – and Parliament – in the best possible light.

Because of a shortage of legislation to pass, the Commons is now shut for 19 days until the next Queen’s Speech is delivered on June 4.

It is particularly embarrassing because the enforced break comes just a month after Parliament’s two-week Easter adjournment.

The national newspaper headlines have not been kind. “No laws left to pass, so MPs break early”, said one. “The House of the Living Dead’, wrote columnist Andrew Pierce. And so it went on.

It would be totally wrong to suggest that MPs are now on holiday. Quite the opposite. There are European and local elections to fight next week, constituency casework to sort and the day-to-day business of government does not stop.

Yet this will not appease those who believe that Britain has a part-time legislature that only sits for half a year.

Again, this criticism is slightly misplaced. These people are invariably the self-same individuals who bemoan the fact that Britain has too many laws as a result of Tony Blair over-burdening Britain’s schools, hospitals, emergency services and businesses with legislation.

However, this should not preclude backbenchers from using their expertise to scrutinise existing legislation – and whether it can be changed for the better. I’ve lost count of the number of times when I’ve read critical reports about new laws not delivering the intended results, or costing far more than anticipated.

Two other points. First, this vacuum proves, to me at least, that Westminster should be devoting more time for regional matters. Why can’t there be special sessions when, for example, Yorkshire MPs can raise issues that are specific to the future prosperity of this county? Such an approach, on a region-by -region basis, might actually allow for 
the type of cross-party constructive dialogue that is absent from PMQs – 
most MPs do try to have a working relationship with their constituency neighbours.

Second, David Cameron could take the initiative on the EU and ask the Commons to start scrutinising the relationship between Westminster and Brussels, and those powers that need to be repatriated as part of a new treaty.

In doing so, it would give MPs a chance to demonstrate the supremacy of Parliament – and that there is a correlation between its work and the lives of voters across the country.

DESPITE challenging Boris Johnson two weeks ago “to put up or shut up” over any desire on his part to return to the House of Commons, it has not stopped speculation about possible safe seats for him to contest.

Hang on a minute. Johnson already has a full-time job as Mayor of London. He writes a weekly column for a national newspaper. Now he’s writing a major new book on Sir Winston Churchill to mark the 50th anniversary of the war leader’s death.

If elected, how on earth will Johnson – despite his formidable intellect – be able to properly represent his constituents? Or has he, too, decided that Parliament is a part-time job?

PAT Latty, the Tory election candidate in Guiseley and Rawdon, is clearly fearful of Ukip’s electoral rise. She says it would be “a body blow” if she wasn’t elected to Leeds City Council for a second term.

Yet, unlike Labour, she’s happy to discuss Europe. This is what she said: “Leeds is a city council, it deals with all aspects of public life and has nothing at all to do with Europe; any would-be councillor with a european (sic) agenda has no place in Leeds and cannot further that agenda through the city council.”

I’m afraid this assertion cannot go unchallenged. While local government has become too political and less consensusal for my liking, the European Union and its funding streams are 
critical to many urban regeneration schemes.

As a cosmopolitan city, Leeds is home to a significant number of immigrants from eastern Europe – and further afield – and this does impact upon key services like school places. And, for the candidate’s benefit, she has been a member of a council that is pushing for Leeds to become the 2023 European Capital of Culture.

LIKE you, I hoped Labour’s four-page election billet-doux would reveal some clarity on the party’s policies towards the EU.

Not a bit of it. Apart from listing its six candidates, there was no mention of Europe. Instead, it was a tirade against the Tories with David Cameron, by my calculations, receiving 13 name-checks.

Curiously, Labour leader Ed Miliband was only mentioned six times, presumably a nod to those who contend that he has nothing useful to say.

It was little better when the party’s local election candidate left a card asking for a response to this question: “Has the Tory-led Government made your life harder? Tell us your story.”

Unfortunately, there was not a space to record observations about the economic record of the last Labour administration.

LABOUR says it will cost £100m to fulfil Ed Miliband’s promise of a GP appointment within 48 hours for all. One question. What will be cut to fund this? Patients have a right to know, even more so after the Royal College of General Practitioners said the cost will be nearer to £3bn.

DAVID Cameron says a woman should succeed Tory grandee Lord Patten as chairman of the BBC Trust.

Many will agree, but I did still think that the Conservative Party was a meritocracy which favoured appointments being made on merit.

Or is the PM trying to mask the absence of working mothers from his Cabinet after Maria Miller’s downfall over her expenses fiddle on her second home?