Annex 6: MP's generic job description
In 2001, the Senior Salaries Review Body published
a "job description" for a Member of Parliament, which
is set out below.
Represent, defend and promote national interests
and further the needs and interests of constituents wherever possible.
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
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.
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
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
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).