House of Commons recess: How much time off do MPs get?

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Media caption,

MPs cheer Easter break for the House of Commons

There was a collective sigh of relief around Westminster when MPs were told that their Easter recess would be going ahead.

But others have criticised politicians for taking a break while Brexit remains up in the air - especially after a direct warning from the EU not to waste time during the latest extension.

So, how much time do politicians spend at work? And do they get too much or too little time off?

Here are the facts so you can make up your own mind.

When do MPs sit in the Commons?

Parliamentary sessions begin in either May or June.

They are marked by the State Opening of Parliament - when the Queen comes to Westminster and gives a speech, outlining the government's plans for the year.

A session normally lasts for 12 months, but sometimes the government decides to extend it.

This happened with the 2017 session, which was extended to two years because of the looming Brexit battles.

There are a number of "recesses" during a session too, similar to the timetable of school and bank holidays.

But they are not set in stone, and it is up to the Leader of the House - currently Andrea Leadsom - to lay down the dates in the Commons.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The Queen and Prince Charles at the last State Opening of Parliament

On an average week, MPs tend to sit for four days:

  • Monday: From 14:30 up until 22:30
  • Tuesday: From 11:30 up until 19:30
  • Wednesday: From 11:30 up until 19:30
  • Thursday: From 09:30 up until 17:30

MPs don't have to be there for these hours.

When less important business is going on in the Commons, MPs are able to do other things, such as travel abroad on fact-finding trips or even carry out other jobs - like Labour MP Karen Lee who works as a nurse, or Conservative MP Dan Poulter who does shifts as a doctor - or they can do nothing.

But if important votes are expected, MPs will be put on a "three-line whip" by their party leadership, meaning they have to be in the vicinity.

This has been the norm during the recent Brexit storm, with MPs reporting blanket three-line whips when there would usually be more flexibility.

The late start time on Monday allows MPs who represent constituencies further away from Westminster to travel. The member with the longest commute is Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael, who has a 713 mile journey to work.

MPs also sit on 13 Fridays in each session between 09:30 and 15:00 to discuss Private Members' Bills - bills proposed by backbench MPs, rather than ministers.

The government can propose additional Friday sittings if extra time is needed.

This happened on 29 March - the day the UK was meant to leave the EU - so the prime minister could put her Brexit withdrawal deal to MPs.

But when they are not in Westminster, Fridays are often used for surgeries - where MPs can meet their constituents - and other local work, which can fall into the weekend.

How many days do MPs sit in the Commons?

As this session has been going on for more than a year, it is hard to compare sessions directly - but let us instead compare the years.

If you take the first 10 months of the 2016-17 session, MPs sat for 125 days in the Commons.

For the first 10 months of the 2017 session, MPs sat for 122 days.

But in the last 10 months - from when the Queen's speech would have started the 2018 session until now - they have sat for 138 days.

These additional 16 days of work include two weeks of recess being cancelled - a week in February and the first week of the usual two-week Easter recess - as well as the additional Brexit Day sitting.

What about holiday, paternity leave and sick pay?

The simple answer to this is that MPs are not entitled to any of it.

When someone gets elected to Parliament, in legal terms they become an "office holder" - which is different to being an employee or self-employed.

It means that once they have pledged their oath of allegiance to the Queen, they get their salary, regardless of whether or not they show up in Westminster.

The seven Sinn Fein MPs do not get a salary, as they will not pledge their allegiance to the Crown.

But being an office holder is a double-edged sword for those who do.

While MPs get the money even if they don't attend Parliament, they are not entitled to maternity leave, sick pay or holidays like an average employee.

For example, MPs who have had a baby often choose to take a few weeks off, but might still continue with their constituency work, even if they don't come to the Commons.

Media caption,

One pregnant MP delayed her C-section to vote in the Commons

Recently, proxy voting was introduced for those MPs on maternity or paternity leave, so another MP can vote on their behalf.

However, this cannot be used for MPs who are sick or choose to go on holiday.

Also, if an MP dies - as in the case of the murdered Jo Cox - another member from a neighbouring constituency might take on their urgent cases so people still have a voice, but they do not receive extra pay.