MPs have ‘never worked harder’ despite ‘zombie parliament’ claims – Chancellor

Conservative MPs have never worked harder, the Chancellor has said amid claims that Rishi Sunak is presiding over a “zombie parliament”.

The average length of a Commons sitting day has fallen to just seven hours and nine minutes since the current session started in November, according to analysis by the Financial Times.

The figure is a record low for a parliamentary session since 1997, with the average over that period being just under eight hours.

But Jeremy Hunt insisted on Friday that constituency work was the most important part of an MP’s job, and parliamentarians were working harder than ever in their seats.

He told reporters: “I think that there are lots of things people want from their MPs but more laws being passed is probably not top of the list.

“I think the most important thing is how hard MPs are working in their constituencies, and I would say, certainly when it comes to Conservative MPs, I’ve never seen a Parliament where Conservative MPs have worked harder than this Parliament to do the right thing for their constituents.”

MPs’ jobs involve more than speaking and voting in the Commons chamber, and include participating in other parliamentary business such as select committees and helping constituents.

But the Financial Times’s findings have led to accusations that the current session is a “zombie parliament”, with little legislative work being done and the Commons often rising early.

On March 5, the day before the Budget, the Commons sat for less than four-and-a-half hours.

Speaking at his party’s spring conference in York, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey told the PA news agency: “I think the Government certainly isn’t doing enough work.”

He accused Mr Sunak’s Tories of being “so divided they can’t get legislation through despite their majority”.

“They’re not tackling the issues. If you look at the number of Bills we’ve had on the health service under the conservatives since 2015 it’s tiny despite the fact that there’s a huge crisis in the NHS and our care system.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt insisted that constituency work was the most important part of an MP’s job, and parliamentarians were working harder than ever (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

“That’s why I think lifelong Conservatives are so fed up of this Conservative Government and want to see them out and are turning to the Liberal Democrats in droves.”

A Labour MP told the PA news agency: “There’s hardly any Government business on the floor of the House these days, with Parliamentary days that would ordinarily finish late in the evening finishing before 4pm and the time in the Chamber devoted to things like pedicabs which aren’t an issue in most of the country.

“This has been going on for months now with no shortage of things worthy of discussion, but with a legislative agenda that’s pretty much run out and a Government that is not even pretending to have the answers any more, it’s clear they’ve run out of road.”

But a Tory source closely involved with Parliamentary business said they did not accept accusations of a “zombie parliament”.

“That phrase is frankly an insult to all of those members who take their obligations to scrutiny seriously, whether in the chamber, in Westminster Hall, or in committees.

“If business is finishing early, that suggests either support for what the Government is putting forward or that the Opposition is not being effective in making the case where it disagrees.

“This is not an issue.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government was delivering “a packed legislative agenda” with 26 Bills introduced in the current session and remained “committed to facilitating debates on critical issues”.

Even before the current session, Labour had criticised the Government for a lack of parliamentary business.

In June last year, after the Commons had sat on one day for less than three hours, then-shadow leader of the house Thangam Debbonaire asked: “How are Tory ministers spending their time?

“Because they are clearly not delivering in their departments. Are they racing home to watch daytime TV instead?”

At the time, a Number 10 spokesperson denied that this was the case, saying there were “a number of important pieces of legislation going through the House”.