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Returning after its 24-day recess, the Commons rises early two days running - without a word of debate about the economy

MPs have just enjoyed their longest Christmas recess for a decade - 24 days away from Westminster in total - yet they have hardly returned with a bang. Far from it.

Business finished early both on Monday and yesterday owing to a lack of MPs willing to contribute to the debates on the government business.

Monday saw the Second Reading of the Business Rates Supplement Bill. Only two Labour backbenchers made speeches in the debate, meaning that it finished at 8.30pm, an hour and a half earlier than it could have done.

Yesterday's proceedings were even more shaming. The Second Reading debate on the Saving Gateway Accounts Bill lasted a few minutes over three hours, with only one Labour backbencher troubling the chamber with a speech. At one point during the debate there was only the bare minimum of three Labour MPs sitting on the green benches: the minister, his PPS and the duty whip. Proceedings came to a close  nearly three and a half hours early at 6.38pm, with the chamber doors shut for the day an hour later after the adjournment debate.

Since MPs were so unconcerned about coming to the House to debate these bills, can I suggest that the nearly five hours of government time that was left unused might profitably have been taken up with a proper debate on the economy?

The country's economic position has worsened over the last month, yet there has been no opportunity for MPs to hold the Chancellor to account for what has been going on during that time. David Cameron will doubtless raise relevant issues at PMQs today and there will presumably be a statement on the loan guarantee scheme - although that may well see a DTI minister coming to the Despatch Box rather than Alistair Darling.

11.30am Update: The Government had hoped to get away with a written statement on the loan guarantee scheme! Thankfully, the Speaker has accepted an urgent question from Alan Duncan so there will be an hour to question Ian Pearson on this at 12.30pm

Tomorrow's business has been cleared for a whole day's debate on the situation in Gaza - but why is there not a similar opportunity to debate the economy?

Jonathan Isaby


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