School’s out… Now that Parliament has broken up for its summer holidays, I thought I’d take a look at summer holidays past. The result is the chart above. It shows that the official summer recess has been markedly reduced in length. Three decades ago, the House rose on 26th July and returned on 27th October, leaving 79 complete recess days in between. This year, the corresponding dates are 21st July and 7th September, leaving 48 days. This doesn’t account for those days when Parliament is recalled – as happened in August two years ago, for the sake of discussing Syria – but there aren’t many of those.
…for summer and conference season. I wrote “the official summer recess” because that’s what the blue lines on the chart represent. You’ll notice that there are also pink lines. These are for what’s known as the “conference recess,” but is effectively the second half of the summer one. It was decided, first in 2003 and then again in 2010, that the House should sit for a week or two in September, before rising again for conference season, rather than just recessing all the way through. This was done mainly to ease public displeasure at MPs not sitting for so long, as well as to align Parliament’s holidays with those of schools.
It’s still shorter now. Even if we count the conference recess as part of the summer recess – as it effectively used to be – the numbers are still smaller than before. In the 1980s, the average summer recess was 83 days long. Since 2010, including the conference recesses, it has been 71 days long.
Or is it? The truth is that Parliamentarians make up the time elsewhere. The summer recess may have been shortened, but new half-term breaks have been introduced around February, June and November. This means that there were 135 recess days in the calendar year of 2014. In 1980, the equivalent figure was 126. The chart at the top of this post only tells part of the story.
The real unfairness. It’s becoming a theme of this To The Point series: that charts and numbers only tell part of the story – if that. Another thing that today’s doesn’t show is how MPs occupy their time, both on recess and in Parliament. Some will do so diligently, working on behalf of their constituents and the nation. Others will treat it all as one long, oak-panelled jolly. Representative democracy has always been something of a postcode lottery.