Both Houses of Parliament have tended to be chamber-oriented, a feature of Westminster-type parliaments. It is only relatively recently that each has become more specialised through the use of permanent investigative committees. Committee work increasingly occupies the time of members. Members of the public, and indeed journalists, don’t always appear to recognise the fact that, if neither chamber is sitting (or debates not well attended), this does not mean that MPs and peers are not at work. It is not helped by the fact that the website Theyworkforyou.com does not incorporate committee attendance in its data, a point of increasing annoyance on the part of MPs.
Much of my parliamentary work has tended to be in committee rather than in the chamber. The year before last I was on three committees, each meeting on succeeding days: the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and the Constitution Committee. Last year, I was on two: the Joint Committee on the Draft Voter Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. The time-consuming aspect of the work is not just attendance at meetings, but also the preparatory work. The papers for meetings can be substantial. I recently tweeted a picture (see above) of the papers for a meeting of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
Apart from being a member of committees, I have also spent time on the other side of horse-shoe table, that is as a witness to various committees (most recently the Public Administration Select Committee and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the Commons, the Joint Committee on the Draft Deregulation Bill, and – after I ceased to be a member – the Constitution Committee in the Lords). At one point, to assist the committee in writing its report on the size of government, I was actually appointed as a Specialist Adviser to the Public Administration Committee.
My point here is to stress the significance of committee work of Parliament. What goes in the chambers is important, necessarily so, but that is only part of a much wider – and an increasingly wide – picture. In the Commons, MPs also have onerous and time-consuming constituency work with which to contend. Westminster is a hive of activity. What goes on in the chamber of each House is but part of it.