Father's Facebook school holiday price 'rant' prompts MPs' debate

Paul Cookson in front of a computer screen Paul Cookson's Facebook complaint about holiday prices went viral

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MPs are to debate the issue of travel companies raising their prices during school holidays following a disgruntled father's "rant" on Facebook.

More than 160,000 people have signed a petition, mostly since Paul Cookson posted that he was "sick to death" of being "ripped off" by companies.

This prompted the Commons Backbench Committee to bring the Westminster Hall debate for 24 February.

Lib Dem MP John Hemming, who proposed the debate, said it was a "big issue".

Mr Cookson's initial post, entitled "school holiday rant", asked why parents should be "penalised" for not taking their children away during term time.

The 41-year-old, from Chillington, Devon, set up a Facebook group called Holiday Price Increase, where people have shared examples of price changes.

E-petition

The post went viral and the reaction helped push up the number of signatories to an existing campaign on the government's e-petitions website to almost 161,000, as of 15:45 GMT on Wednesday.

Campaigns that reach 100,000 signatures can be considered by the Backbench Business Committee for parliamentary time, as long as an MP suggests them.

Mother-of-two Donna Thresher from Essex set up the petition in March 2013 after being "outraged" at the £600 difference in the cost of taking her family away for a weekend during the school holidays.

Earlier this month, a Shropshire couple who took their children on a week-long holiday during term time were ordered to pay £1,000 in costs and fines by magistrates.

New rules which came into force in England in September mean head teachers can grant absence outside school holidays only in "exceptional circumstances".

Mr Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, said the move had not been debated enough in Parliament, adding: "It's a big issue for parents and my concern is that they haven't been heard."

He added: "The problem is half-terms all tend to be the same, leading to a very big demand for holidays all at the same time. And reducing the flexibility of people to take their children out of school adds to that."

Asked whether the law needed to change, he replied: "I don't have hard and fast views. But people have come to me with stories, including a case where a child wasn't able to go to an aunt's funeral."

Defending the new rules, the Department for Education (DfE) said children who missed school lost out on "valuable learning time".

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