THE BLOG

What Do MPs Do All Day, Anyway?

26/02/2017 19:19
Julian Elliott Photography via Getty Images

I think most people would be surprised at how hard many MPs really work when they're in Westminster. Most of us are far from home and we try to make our time in parliament as productive as possible. Usually, meetings start around 9am or earlier and last well into the evening. The House sitting hours mean we need to be around for votes until 10pm, 7pm or 5pm depending on the day of the week, but in reality we're often at meetings or events well past these times.

Busy days involve quick sandwiches snatched on the way from one meeting to another, and being an hour late for something or only being able to stay for a quarter of the discussion. Quieter days mean time spent in the library or our offices catching up with emails or preparing for upcoming speeches. Although I rarely write speeches in full these days I usually do a good bit of preparatory reading and come up with some headline bullet points before I deliver them.

It's often the case that we go from a meeting about welfare, to one on consumer rights, straight on to the launch of a report about breastfeeding and then to a drop in information session about the work of a national charity. Moments in between are spent trying to consolidate the information or ensure adequate follow up action is taken. Early day motions have to be presented in person to the table office and papers need to be picked up from the vote office to be read. Briefings can be collected in the library and information printed there too to catch up on during the journey home.

Our constituency offices have to be kept up to date with plans we have and we have to respond to their queries about how to deal with knotty local concerns and respond to the 30 or so invitations we receive each week.

We also have internal party meetings. Groups of MPs meet together formally to discuss how to tackle forthcoming legislation and where the possible pitfalls or opportunities might lie.

Public bill committees scrutinise Government bills and attempt to amend it before it's returned to the main chamber for the remaining stages of the parliamentary process. Delegated legislation committees and European scrutiny meetings take place to scrutinise more minor areas of legislation.

Select committees take evidence on specific issues relating to their departments and create reports that the Government must respond to. All party parliamentary groups exist on almost every possible topic, from the APPG on Iceland to the one on Inclusive Growth, to one focused on Couple relationships. These groups vary in their level of commitment, attendance and efficacy, but the best ones produce and champion significant reports encouraging the Government to take action or highlighting a specific issue.

Ballotted departmental question sessions take place each day, allowing lucky MPs the opportunity to ask questions of a Government minister. Ministers can be called at the discretion of the Speaker to answer urgent questions from MPs.

Main debates take place in the chamber and MPs who intend to speak must forgo any of their other engagements that day and be present for the duration of the debate, until two speakers after they get the chance to contribute. They can then leave but must return for the front bench speeches at the end of the debate. Further debates take place in Westminster hall before and during sitting hours, but they only last up to 90 minutes so can usually be slotted in more easily.

Lastly, media bids can be received, particularly when a major but unexpected issue comes to the fore. This can mean TV or radio stations requesting interviews with only half an hour's notice and having to either be refused or a more suitable time negotiated. Fitting in an interview with a local radio station in the midst of a back to back day can be hard but often needs to be prioritised.

In between, there could be a spare fifteen minutes or couple of hours where an inconsequential chat in the tearoom can spawn the idea for some written parliamentary questions or some collaboration on an application to hold a backbench business debate on a topical issue.

I'm not saying MPs are working every hour there is, but I think it's useful for people to get a flavour of what things are like in the House of Commons, and what we're really up to, especially when it's so unusual to see a packed chamber.

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