Labour tells us we need full time MPs. What a good idea. It is the Labour government and the Labour majority in the Commons that makes all MPs very part time.
My main job is to hold the government to account. It is to cross examine them over their policies, to request they put things right that government has got wrong, to seek improvements to public services, to expose waste and maladministration, to criticise, amend and improve their laws, to approve or vote against their budgets.
I am not allowed to hold the government to account in Parliament on Saturday or Sunday, as we do not meet, or on Fridays when only meet to consider private members business. Parliament is closed completely for 17 weeks of the year. In July we will be told we have to stay away until the second week of October!
That means, in total, we can only do our prime jobs for 140 days of the year. It is a part time Parliament. It is all part of this governement’s wasteful and ineffective public sector. No surviving private sector enterprise would be as overmanned as Parliament, and no successful company would work its key personnel as little.
Labour say an MP has work to do when their Parliament locks us out. Yes, it’s true there are still cases of take up and emails to answer. There are people and organisations to visit. In the long summer recess, however, all the schools are closed. Now the Health Service has been organised around large regional hospitals each MP has either just one or none to visit. Without Parliament in session it is not a full time job.
Some people think an MP should be a kind of ersatz or para Councillor. Councillors elected to the job do not take kindly to an MP trying to second guess their every move. If Labour wants us to be effective para locals, then we need powers to call in decisions, overturn planning or school allocation choices, or have some control over local executives and their budgets. No-one is proposing that, for the good reason that we elect Councillors and pay their bills to carry out just those tasks. Of course good MPs promise to take matters up with the Council when constituents are frustrated, but we have to explain we have no power to put things right or to change things for the better. In local matters we are just another lobbyist.
Providing value for the taxpayer has to be the theme of the next few years, as we battle the bulge in public spending and borrowing. We need fewer MPs, and Parliament needs to meet more often. It does not need to legislate more – indeed, legislating less would be welcome. It needs instead to spend more time going through budgets and programmes line by line, helping public sector executives root out waste and improve quality and efficiency.