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Have we really got "the laziest MPs for 30 years"?

Picture 3 This morning's Sun believes the answer to the question is yes, illustrating its piece with the image reproduced here on the right:

"MPs have spent their least time in the House of Commons for three decades - despite the worst recession in living memory. They even enjoyed a PAY RISE - taking their salaries to nearly £65,000.

"Analysis of the working day at Westminster showed the House sat for just 139 days in 2008-09. Members' average working day lasted seven hours and 35 minutes - meaning they sat for 1,053 hours and 51 minutes overall. That was the lowest total in a non-election year since 1979."

Although I have no way of measuring, I'm pretty sure that MPs are now far more active than they have ever been in their constituencies - certainly their postbags have got bigger by the year - so it's a tad unfair to judge them alone on how many days they spend in the House of Commons.

Plus there is the argument that the fewer days they spend sitting in the Commons, the fewer opportunities they have to make new laws and regulations to complicate and interfere in our lives.

However, a very important concern about the reduction in the number of sitting days is that it has reduced the opportunity for MPs to call the executive to account for its actions.

Indeed, this Labour Government has happily bypassed the Commons whenever it can, making announcements outside it and "timetabling" all legislation so that much of it never gets properly scrutinised - until it reaches the House of Lords, at least.

12.30pm update:

Sir George Young Shadow Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, has made the following observation:

"In 1997, we were promised a more effective House of Commons. But the Government has taken too much power away from Parliament and it's now clear that MPs aren't able to hold the Government properly to account.

"The Wright Committee has come forward with serious reforms that will help to rebuild the Commons. But the Government has dithered for so long that there are serious doubts whether they have left enough time to get key reforms up and running before the next election.

"We need to make much better use of Parliament's time. A Conservative government will implement reforms to give backbenchers more powers to hold the executive to account and give the House more control over the timetable."

Jonathan Isaby


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