Paul Waugh has blogged today about the question of how long MPs spend in the Commons. As one might expect of a blog which is rapidly moving up many people’s ‘must read’ lists, it’s a better piece than many of those written on the topic. He does give a few outings to the point that if an MP is absent from Parliament, that doesn’t mean they are not working:
A combination of generous holidays and reformed hours means that many MPs now have what is effectively a three day week (tho in some cases it is a two-and-a-half day week). This is Westminster’s dirty little secret that no one here wants to talk about…
The main culprit is New Labour’s creation of ”constituency days”. This means that the House sits very rarely on a Friday and instead Members are supposed to be devoting themselves to their constituents.
Some MPs are incredibly hard-working but beyond the Friday surgery (which is often at tea time), and the odd school visit or fete, what do they really do with this day off from Parliament? Many of them spend time doing party work (as opposed to Parliamentary work), holding street stalls, canvassing and so on. Sadly, the only way of checking would be to follow them from morning til night around their constituency, keeping a distance like a plain-clothes copper.
Similarly, what do they do with their very generous holidays? … Again, every MP here will tell you that these are not really “holidays” and they are all working hard in their constituencies – but we have no real idea what they do with this time.
Leaving aside the slightly odd implication that canvassing and street stalls don’t count as proper ways for MPs to spend their time (isn’t an MP spending time meeting the public an essential part of their job?), what really strikes me about this is Paul Waugh’s honesty in admitting he doesn’t know what MPs actually get up to.
Actually, I think there are plenty of ways of finding out what MPs actually get up to without having to do the stalking act talked about in the piece. To give just one: the register of interests gives an immediate starting point for asking some MPs how much time they spend on some of their outside interests. And here’s another one: the Hansard Society has done a lot of research into the behaviour of MPs. None of them is a five-minute research job, true; they would require a reasonable investment of investigative time by a media outlet.
So full marks for the honesty, but what does it say about all the collective output of all those journalists who have opined on this subject over the years if the net result is to say, “sorry, mate – we don’t know what’s going on”?
This state of affairs is a far more damning indictment of journalism and its loose commitment to the truth than it is of Parliament.