House of Commons Commission Report


Annex 6: MP's generic job description (2001)


In 2001, the Senior Salaries Review Body published a "job description" for a Member of Parliament, which is set out below.

Job purpose

Represent, defend and promote national interests and further the needs and interests of constituents wherever possible.

Principal accountabilities

1.Help furnish and maintain Government and Opposition so that the business of parliamentary democracy may proceed.

2.Monitor, stimulate and challenge the Executive in order to influence and where possible change government action in ways which are considered desirable.

3.Initiate, seek to amend and review legislation so as to help maintain a continually relevant and appropriate body of law.

4.Establish and maintain a range of contacts throughout the constituency, and proper knowledge of its characteristics, so as to identify and understand issues affecting it and, wherever possible, further the interests of the constituency generally.

5.Provide appropriate assistance to individual constituents, through using knowledge of local and national government agencies and institutions, to progress and where possible help resolve their problems.

6.Contribute to the formulation of party policy to ensure that it reflects views and national needs which are seen to be relevant and important.

7.Promote public understanding of party policies in the constituency, media and elsewhere to facilitate the achievement of party objectives.

Nature and scope

An MP's work may be seen under three broad headings. The first is his or her participation in activities designed to assist in the passage of legislation and hold the Executive to account. This is traditionally seen as the 'core' role of the parliamentarian. The second area is work in and for the constituency. This is in part representational; in part promoting or defending the interests of the constituency as a whole; and in part it is designed to help individual constituents in difficulty. The third part of the job is work in support of the party to which the Member belongs, and for which he/she was elected.

Parliamentary work

In the Chamber — An MP spends typically four days each week in the House. It is possible, at least in theory, to spend much of this time in the Chamber itself. But there is little doubt that the majority of Members spend significantly less time there than was typical in the past. This is in part because the Chamber is, generally speaking, perceived to be less significant in influencing affairs than it was 20 or 30 years ago; and also because the time available has been squeezed both by constituency matters and by the amount of work which Members spend in committee or in pursuing their political interests through other channels.

Members appear in the Chamber to speak rather than to listen. It is a forum for making a case but for most of the time has only a marginal effect on major decisions. Nevertheless, it can sometimes be the scene of events of dramatic importance which seize the attention of the electorate. Debates and question time are exacting tests for Ministers and are important in the parliamentary process but there are a number of other ways in which MPs can use the Chamber. For example there are adjournment debates at the end of each day and this provides a useful way of ventilating a constituency grievance, and persuading a Minister to act. Ten Minute Rule Bills are a useful device for generating attention for a particular issue although they are of limited value in getting legislation to the statute book. Twenty Private Members Bills are selected by ballot at the beginning of each session, and these also present to the successful Members an opportunity for pursuing a particular interest. There is, however, little chance of legislative success without government support.

In Committee — In addition to work in the Chamber itself an MP can contribute to the political process through Membership of either Select or Standing Committees. Select Committees, of which the most important is the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), are cross party bodies which can be highly effective in examining specific or general government policies in a relatively bi-partisan manner. Effective work on Select Committees requires background study, planning, devising and putting questions and checking the proceedings for publication. A great deal of reading is involved to do the job properly and it is often necessary to consult various interested parties. The chairmen of Select Committees are appointed by the committees themselves.

By contrast, Standing Committees consider legislation in detail prior to its being sent back to the Chamber. It is up to an MP whether a full contribution is made or not. In general terms, opposition MPs see little chance of major substantial changes to Bills in committee, although sometimes spectacular coups are achieved. The presence of government MPs is required usually just to vote and speaking is often discouraged because it delays proceedings. The Speaker has a list of MPs who act as Chairmen, which he/she compiles with the advice of party whips.

The allocation of MPs to committees is carried out by the Committee of Selection, by permission of the House, save for Select Committees established before 1979, where it is done by the whips. In practice, however, the influence of the whips over appointment to all committees, and particularly to the more important Select Committees, is considerable. Generally, although the work is not mandatory, there is an expectation of MPs being prepared to serve on committees, newer Members serving an apprenticeship through Membership of the less popular ones. The committee clerks provide help and advice on procedural matters but it takes some time and effort for an MP to accumulate sufficient working knowledge to serve as the real basis for effective committee performance.

There are, in addition to Select and Standing Committees, a number of party and multi-party committees on particular issues. These are of varying importance and effectiveness.

There is no research support available to MPs specifically for committee work, other than the House of Commons Library, although committees as a whole can and do commission specific research.

Range of Members' practices

In practice, some Members, although perhaps only a relatively small minority, seek to influence events by participating to the fullest extent in the Chamber itself.

Others prefer to work through Select Committees or the party backbench committees. But MPs can 'make their mark' in the political arena by other means. Many have a specific area of interest or expertise which they bring to the House and through this become seen by all parties as respected experts in some specific area. They are often able to reinforce his role through the media. Others — particularly the longer serving and more experienced — play an important role in reinforcing their party's activities, for example during particularly difficult debates Some, usually because of their specific expertise can help in the execution of government policy, formally or informally. Yet others champion specific causes inside and outside the House. All MPs are subject to pressure from lobby groups. Some however work closely with bodies such as charities or trade associations to promote their interests.

By using one or more of the means available, it is generally held that the majority of MPs make an identifiable contribution to the national political process. This role is however largely tailored to their own needs, capabilities and ambitions.

Work in the constituency —There is broad agreement that this aspect of MPs' work has increased immensely over the last 20 years. MPs visit their constituency about weekly and indeed many live there. Constituency work can be divided into two parts, the general and the particular.

General work— In general, MPs must maintain contact with a wide range of local bodies, both official and voluntary, to feel the pulse of issues affecting the constituency overall. This involves such activities as keeping in touch with the local authority and local councillors, giving talks to local societies and schools, visiting factories, and participating in civic events. Through this work Members can identify how national policies or issues impact on their own constituencies so that they can if appropriate contribute to debate on them. In at least some constituencies the MP is also seen as a quasi Civic Leader, alongside leading Councillors and other dignitaries.

Senior Salaries Review Body, Cm 4997-II, (2001).


 
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Prepared 25 June 2007