Peter Hoskin

MPs need to clarify their timetable

MPs need to clarify their timetable
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The ever-perceptive Andrew Sparrow has sifted through the 'Parliamentary Trends: Statistics about Parliament' report so that you don't have to.  I'd recommend you read his post for the whole series of "12 things you probably didn't know about Parliament".  But, given that we're a couple of weeks into parliamentary recess, it's this entry which jumped out at me:

"The Commons sits for more days per year than almost any other legislature in Europe. In 2004 MPs sat for 160 days at Westminster. In France the National Assembly sat for 135 days, in Germany the Bundestag sat for 64 days, in Austria the national council sat for 33 days, in Belgium the House of Representatives sat for 45 days, in the Czech Republic the Chamber of Deputies sat for 68 days and in the House of Representatives sat for 97 days. (Jack Straw was whingeing on his blog last week about the fact that these figures almost never get reported in the press.)"

Whenever recess kicks in, one of the complaints you hear is that MPs don't work hard enough and that they spend too much time on holiday.  To some extent, I sympathise with that line of thinking: after all, the current 82-day break is extreme - particularly given the economic and political situation - and it gives bad constituency MPs the opportunity to get on with doing, well, nothing.

But I don't think that quite captures the whole picture.  As the statistics above show, our MPs spend a relatively large amount of time in the chamber (perhaps even too much).  And recess, for many of them, just means an opportunity to catch up on constituency work - a point well made by Clwyd West MP David Jones here.  But, still, time away from Parliament is too often characterised as "holiday".

So what's the answer?  I've always thought that smaller, more frequent Parliamentary "terms" are a good idea; with a clear demarcation between "constituency time" and "actual holiday time" in between.  I'm sure no-one would begrudge MPs the occasional relaxing break in Corfu, but it needs to be plainer when they are, and when they aren't, busy representing us.  CoffeeHousers, your thoughts please...