Ministers reject Labour claims of 'zombie' Parliament

Houses of Parliament

The government has rejected claims it has "run out of ideas" amid speculation the current session of Parliament is due to be cut short by a week.

MPs were due to go on their "Whitsun recess" on 22 May, returning on 4 June in time for the final year of Parliament before the 2015 election.

But media reports suggest Parliament will be curtailed this Thursday.

Labour said it proved it was a "zombie" body but Commons leader Andrew Lansley said 20 bills would be passed.

Mr Lansley told BBC Radio 4's The World at One it was standard practice for Parliament to be curtailed once government business had been concluded.

Important bills

"A lot has happened in this session," he said.

Mr Lansley said Labour had agreed earlier this year that the next session of Parliament should not begin before English council and European Parliament elections were held 22 May.

Start Quote

My poodle/schnauzer cross exhibits greater agenda-setting determination than the Commons”

End Quote Douglas Carswell Tory MP

As Parliament traditionally does not sits during Whit week, he said it was not possible for MPs to return until June.

MPs insist they continue to work in their constituencies when Parliament is not sitting, but critics claim that being away from Westminster makes it harder for them to hold the government to account.

Amid recent squabbles between the Conservatives and Lib Dems over knife crime and education policy, there have been claims that coalition tensions have created a "zombie" Parliament.

Critics, including some Conservative MPs, have claimed there is little to do in Parliament because of a lack of new legislation - in itself a product of coalition differences in the run-up to next year's election.

'Out of ideas'

For Labour, shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said Parliament was merely "ticking over". She said it was "obvious the government had run out of steam and ideas".

"We have been twiddling our thumbs as a legislature for the past year or so and it is becoming embarrassing. I have never known a Parliament as empty of activity as this one.

"It does feel a little bit like it is the un-dead running around at the moment."

But Mr Lansley said "important" legislation on immigration and social care were due to be approved this week and both bills had the support of the Tories and Lib Dems.

If Parliament did break up on Thursday, he said it would provide an "opportunity" for MPs to debate important issues with their constituents in the run-up to next week's elections.

"MPs' work is not confined to being in Parliament and debates in Parliament," he said.

'Snoozing'

Next month's Queen's Speech, the last to be presented before the next election, would be a "substantial programme of legislative reform", he added.

But Conservative MP Douglas Carswell, who wants MPs to do more to set their own agenda, said Parliament was "snoozing" and had been in "unofficial recess" since the start of the year.

"Don't call Parliament a poodle. My poodle/schnauzer cross exhibits greater agenda-setting determination than the Commons," he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

"Parliament needs to amend the rules so that Commons business is set by Parliament."

The Commons has been in recess over the following periods in 2013-4:

  • 21 May - 3 June
  • 18 July - 2 September
  • 13 September - 8 October
  • 12-18 November
  • 19 December - 6 January
  • 13-24 February
  • 10-28 April
  • 1-6 May

If Parliament does "prorogue" on 15 May, MPs will have sat on 163 days during the 2013-4 session, compared with 143 days in 2012-3.

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