MPs defy public outrage and take 3-month summer break

MEMBERS of the House of Commons are set to take a three-month summer holiday in the midst of what is expected to be the worst recession for half a century, defying public outrage over expense claims and smear scandals.

The 12-week recess, which is a week longer than last year's break, comes as MPs admit there is not enough work to do at Westminster after Prime Minister Gordon Brown cleared the decks to tackle the economic crisis.

But some MPs are fearful that taking an 82-day holiday just weeks after their fortnight Easter break will be greeted with fury by constituents worried about keeping their jobs.

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The average British worker gets five weeks of holiday, around half the summer recess alone for MPs.

Parliament also does not sit for three weeks around Christmas and New Year, for one week in February and breaks for more than two weeks at Easter. There is also an early summer holiday from 22 May until the end of the month before MPs leave London from 22 July until 11 October.

Labour backbench MP David Winnick called for the Commons to vote again on the length of its break.

He said: "The summer recess is far too long. We are not doing our main job being in the Commons, asking questions, debating and holding the government to account for virtually three months and that's unfortunate.

"The government should provide another opportunity for the House to consider this and give a lead in the sense of proposing that it should be for six weeks which would take in holiday and constituency work."

Conservative leader David Cameron is understood to have asked for a delay to the start of the summer recess, but this has been rejected. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the decision was out of touch with the public mood.

"In the context of the worst recession this country has faced in decades and plummeting faith in politicians, people will be stunned that parliament is not sitting for 82 days."

This year's summer holiday will be a week longer than last year's and is the longest break for Westminster since the summer of 2001.

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Shadow Commons leader Alan Duncan said: "Gordon Brown's government is clearly running out of steam. Rather than ministers packing their bags early and heading off to the beach, MPs should be staying here to scrutinise this failing team."

SNP Glasgow East MP John Mason said: "Labour's shelves are bare, and as ordinary people worry about keeping their jobs in the teeth of recession, Gordon Brown's work-shy ministers are doing backroom deals to increase their time away from parliament."

The lack of legislation has also partly been blamed for the government's inability to close down damaging stories about Westminster expenses and the "smeargate" e-mails sent from a former Downing Street aide.

Just 14 bills were put forward in the Queen's Speech last year, fuelling speculation that the Prime Minister was leaving his options open to call a general election.

Frank Field, the former social security minister and a Labour MP said: "Week after week MPs have been turning up but with almost no serious work to do. There is the odd bill to be sure. But there is no legislative programme to speak of. Even the debates that are put on to fill in time are ones that deny MPs a vote. The whole exercise is vacuous."

A spokesman for Leader of the House Harriet Harman said the holiday dates had been published "months ago".

He insisted MPs were still doing "vital" constituency work when the House was not sitting.