How much time do MPs spend working in parliament? Less than you think

Teachers are often criticised for having lots of time off, but the same could be said about well-paid MPs

How much time do MPs spend working in parliament? Less than you think (Photo: James Trembath/NationalWorld)

A riddle for you.

I spend a lot of my time at work standing up and speaking to a group of rowdy people, most of whom aren’t listening. While many people criticise my job, most would admit that they wouldn’t particularly want to do it themselves. While I do have work to take home, the hours I spend at my place of work are relatively short, and my workplace closes entirely for a week or more at a time at various points in the year.

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What is my profession?

If you’re thinking ‘teacher,’ this next clue should disabuse you of that notion: I currently get paid more than £80,000 per year, and this is set to increase above inflation next year, the year after that, and the year after that.

Well done, that’s right. I am, of course, an MP.

Yesterday parliament went into recess, meaning from 22 July until 6 September, neither the House of Commons nor the House of Lords will be in session.

Since 17 December 2020, parliament has been in recess for at least 29 days in which otherwise it would have been in session.

There’s been a Christmas break (12 days off), a February recess (4 days off), Easter (9 days), Whitsun (4 days) and now, as MPs break for the summer, they will enjoy 24 days off from parliament when it otherwise would have been in session.

So overall, between December 2020 and September 2021, when MPs return, they will have had 53 days off. Sounds reasonable enough, right?Oh, just in case you weren’t aware already, parliament doesn’t actually sit on the majority of Fridays (it will do so only eight times in 2021). Nor Monday mornings.

The house meets at 2:30pm on Mondays, 11:30am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9:30am on Thursday and, if it meets at all, the special Friday sessions begin at 9:30am.

Now it’s true enough that parliament sits until 10:30pm on a Monday night - though you are more than welcome to check the live-feed and take attendance at 10:15pm any given Monday; it shouldn’t take you long.

Tuesday and Wednesday sessions finish at 7:30pm, on Thursday it’s 5:30pm and, on those rare Fridays at work it seems only right to get off early, beat the traffic and all that, so sessions wrap up by 3:30pm.

Now, of course, MPs have casework. They undoubtedly take large amounts of parliamentary work home and they (or their office) have to be responsive to constituents throughout the year, whether parliament is in session or not.

On the other hand, if their entries in the register of interest are to be believed, some are spending large chunks of the standard working week on other, often very well remunerated jobs - either that, or they’ve discovered Bernard’s Watch.

So today, as MPs enjoy their first day off of the summer holidays, and we receive confirmation that teachers will not receive a pay increase next year, I can’t help note the ways in which we talk about teachers compared to MPs. Sometimes, indeed, the way teachers are talked about by MPs.

I know many teachers, and I’m always happy to defend them against accusations that they have it easy.

I’m also happy to believe that the average MP spends a good amount of every week concentrating on the job which they are elected, employed and paid handsomely to do. Many, I have no doubt, go way above and beyond a 9-5, Monday to Friday work schedule.

But some undoubtedly don’t.

There are bad teachers, too. The difference is that the teachers don’t typically get paid more than three times the national average wage, they don’t have the option of moonlighting as a consultant on hundreds or even thousands of pounds per hour(!) and don’t very often get freebies such as tickets to the BAFTAs, BRITs and Euros finals.

Then again, teachers have got much more important things to do; they have the next generation to educate. MPs, on the other hand, have only got the country to run.