If you want to irritate a Member of Parliament – and I can sense the reader sitting up to respond to this challenge– refer to the period between July 21st and October 10th as his summer holidays. Yes, it is true the House is not sitting between those dates; but, no, it would be wrong to assume that we are all sunning ourselves on the beach during that period.
Part of our job is indeed to hold the executive to account, and we are unable to discharge that particular function when the forum in which we do it is closed for business. But we do other things as well, principally in our constituencies. The ability of the Inland Revenue to process claims from our constituents for tax credits does not improve because the House is not sitting; nor does the performance of the CSA. Constituents are good enough to tell us about their problems when the House is not sitting and expect and are entitled to a response. And then there are important consultation documents and meetings on issue such as the future of the Fire Service and of Andover Hospital. So, if we not working at full steam, we are gently coasting along.
And, if you want to irritate a Minister, tell him that the overseas trip he or she has just been on is a jaunt. When my great Party was last in Government, Ministers had to make their overseas visits during the recess, when we were “on holiday”. This was because the Government’s majority in the Commons was so narrow that our absence was not permitted during the sessions. So in August and September, I would comb the Far East with the country’s top civil engineers, looking for contracts to build roads, harbours, railways and airports in unlikely spots that were often, by definition, hard to reach. Sometimes we would win, in the teeth of opposition from the French and Italians who has usually visited the country the previous week; but my delight was tempered when the host Government who had awarded the contract then asked the Minister (me) for a soft loan in order to pay for it.
One trip sticks in my mind. We had flown to a country whose name I will not reveal; for one member of the delegation, nothing had gone right. His luggage had been despatched to a different destination; the jabs had affected him badly and the local diet disagreed with him. After a gruelling day, we were marched into a jungle for a cultural visit. We were confronted by a large icon and told that, if we made a wish, that wish would be granted. Out of respect to our host, we obeyed. I asked the distressed civil engineer what had been his wish. “I wish, Sir George, that I don’t win a single contract and never have to come back to this godforsaken country” was the pained reply.
To return to the theme, this year three generations of Youngs have just had a good week’s holiday on the North Norfolk coast, reinvigorating its economy with much discretionary spending, and I have returned to North West Hampshire refreshed and re-invigorated, ready to take on the Revenue and the CSA.