James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
James at The Springfields Academy
James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
So the Summer Recess is with us, and to many it will be a welcome break in rather torrid times we have had in Parliament recently. The end of the Parliamentary Session is the annual cue for tabloid headlines about “MPs’ Long Holidays,” which ignore the fact than they are no longer than, for example, teachers; and that at all events they are a time for Constituency work, not just lazing in the sun. (What sun? ed.)
Bar a short break in August (nothing booked yet – maybe a quick trip up to Dunblane to see my Mother), I shall be carrying on with my normal surgeries (17 cases last Saturday in Calne and Malmesbury), visits, meetings, social events and the like until the House is back in September. And the torrent of paper – emails, letters, briefings and the like barely abates.
I serve on the House of Commons Procedure Committee which has recently completed a study into our sitting patterns and hours which concluded, broadly speaking, that eccentric as they may appear to some people, we need all the hours that we currently use. We may contemplate moving Private Member’s Business (which is always ill-attended on a Friday) to a weekday evening. That would give Private Member’s Bills greater importance, and a higher chance of being passed as well as formally clearing Fridays for constituency work. Despite the benefits it would bring, we are nonetheless nervous about the tabloid headline “And now they want a four-day week”. Few things could more irritate MPs, who work something of the order of 80/90 hours a week. It’s like telling clergymen that they only work 1 day a week. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Despite my Committee’s recommendation that our sitting patterns should be unchanged, I was annoyed that a small majority of the whole House voted to change our Tuesday sitting hours from the current 2.30 - 10 pm to 11.30 - 7.30 pm with effect from 15th October. ‘We want more family friendly hours’ they bleat, ignoring the fact that many MPs’ families are hundreds of miles away from Westminster. We need Tuesday mornings for committees of all kinds, and for constituents’ tours which will now be more difficult than ever to arrange. It’s a retrograde step, and I hope that after a year or two my colleagues – especially the ‘new entry’ – may see reason and reverse the move.
The fact of the matter is that we are collectively trying to run the country and/or hold the government to account. It’s not a job that can be done in anything like ‘normal’ working hours. Those who stand for election should realise that increasingly heavy demands will be made on their lives and working patterns. Such are the burdens of office. They should relish it, not complain about it.
In the meantime, I hope that you can all look forward to a very happy Summer holiday, and perhaps a relatively rain-free Olympics.
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