Memorandum from Professor Michael Rush,
University of Exeter, and Dr Philip Giddings, University of Reading
THE ROLE OF THE MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND THE INDUCTION
OF NEWLY-ELECTED MPS
1. The data used in this memorandum is drawn
from a long-term study of the socialisation of Members of Parliament
covering the 1992-97 and 1997-2001 Parliaments, with additional
data drawn from the 2001-05 Parliament.
2. Two types of data were gathered: attitudinal,
based on questionnaires to MPs in the two Parliaments and participatory,
based on POLIS/Parline material.
3. In each of the two Parliaments questionnaires
were sent to newly-elected MPs and to a control group of longer-serving
backbench Members. Ranking the two enables us to set out the views
of our respondents in 1994 and 1999 on their role as Members of
Parliament. We asked Members four questions relevant to their
role: first, whether they thought MPs should be full-time or part-time;
second, who they saw themselves as representing; third, what were
the most important parts of their job as an MP; and, fourth, who
influenced them in their work in Parliament.
Full-time v part-time
4. All Labour and Liberal Democrat respondents
thought the job of being an MP should be full-time, in contrast
to 28% of Conservatives in 1994 and 40% in 1999. However, most
Conservatives who thought it should be part-time acknowledged
that the demands of the job rendered it full-time in terms of
the number of hours per week needed to meet those demands. This
reflected the view, widely expressed in comments made in responses
to the questionnaires, that they needed to keep in touch with
"the real world" and that outside occupations were the
most effective way of achieving this.
The Member of Parliament as a representative
5. Members were asked to place in rank order
representing their constituents, the nation as a whole, and their
party. First and foremost, MPs clearly saw themselves as representing
their constituents (64% in 1994 and 68% in 1999), then the nation
(22% in 1994 and 16% in 1999), and, a long way behind, their parties
(8% in 1994 and 10% in 1999). There were, however, significant
differences between members of different parties, with Conservatives
more likely to place the nation second and Labour MPs their party
The most important parts of the job
6. MPs were asked to place in rank order
different aspects of their jobscrutinising the government
and civil service, supporting their party, influencing party policy,
and helping constituents. Again constituents came first overall,
though more strongly among Labour than Conservative MPs. The most
interesting finding was the difference made by whether a party
was in government or opposition. Thus, when in government, in
1994, Conservatives ranked scrutiny fourth, but in opposition,
in 1999, they ranked it first. This emerged more starkly if the
proportion of MPs ranking scrutiny first or second in the two
Parliaments is compared. In 1994, 38% of Conservatives did so;
in 1997 the proportion had jumped to 82%. Conversely, in 1994,
46% of Labour MPs ranked scrutiny first, compared with 35% in
1999. There were also differences in attitude towards supporting
their party: as with the representative role, Labour MPs were
stronger on party in both Parliaments.
7. MPs were asked who strongly influenced
them in their parliamentary activitythe party leadership,
their personal opinions, constituency opinion, and representations
from pressure groups. The latter were by far the least influential.
In contrast to the emphasis on constituents in whom they represent
and in the most important part of the job, when it came to sources
of influence constituency opinion came some way behind their personal
opinions and the party. In short, the party leadership was the
The role of the Member of Parliamentan
8. MPs regard themselves primarily as representing
their constituents. This is reflected in other data we collected
showing that most MPs spend more time on constituency work than
any other part of their job. However, they say that party, not
constituency is the most important influence on their parliamentary
behaviour. That is not very surprising since their parliamentary
activitytabling Questions and motions and participating
in debates and committee worktakes place within the context
of party. "Party" here means not the narrow context
of the party whips, but the wider context of MPs being members
of parties with which more often than not they agree.
9. Our research explores the extent to which
MPs are subjected to a socialisation process once elected to Parliament.
We have, therefore, focussed particularly on newly-elected MPs.
By "socialisation" in this context we mean a process
by which MPs adapt their views and their behaviour to the norms
of the House of Commons and their parties.
A steep learning curve
10. Newly-elected MPs face a steep learning
curve on their arrival at Westminster: the 1997 election took
place on 1 May and Parliament met on 7 May, six days later. Within
days of election, therefore, MPs, new and returning, are expected
to deal with normal parliamentary business and the demands of
constituents. We have gathered data on the practice in eight other
legislatures and none has such a short gap between the election
and the meeting of the legislature: in four of the eight the gap
was between 11 and 20 days, in the remaining four longeras
much as 40 days in Canada. 
11. Increasingly, elaborate induction arrangements
have been put in place by the House authorities and the parties,
although in the latter case those made by the Labour Party are
by far the most extensive and those by the Conservatives the least.
There is no doubt that most newly-elected Members appreciate these
arrangementsand, as a former Secretary of the Parliamentary
Labour Party told us, each new cohort of Members expects more
and better induction arrangements. From the responses to our questionnaires,
the strongest criticism of the post-election arrangements was
the allocation of office accommodation. There was a strong and
widespread view that this should be taken out of the hands of
the whips and undertaken entirely by the House authorities.
Parliamentary activitygetting off the ground
12. Despite the steep learning curve, our
participatory data shows that most newly-elected Members quickly
get involved in most aspects of parliamentary business. Within
50 sitting days:
more than four-fifths of the 1997
intake had made their maiden speeches;
three-fifths had had oral Questions
and nearly nine out of ten written Questions answered; and
almost all had signed one or more
EDMs, and nearly two-fifths had tabled an EDM.
There were party differences, notably the much
greater propensity of Labour MPs to sign and table EDMs. Initially,
there was also a markedly higher proportion of newly-elected Members
participating in Westminster Hall sittings when they were introduced
in 1999, but this had largely disappeared by the 2003-04 session.
13. Newly-elected MPs also quickly became
involved in committee activity, especially on legislative committees.
In 1997-98, 82% of newly-elected Conservatives served on the former
standing committees on bills, compared with 52% of their longer-serving
colleagues. Similar figures emerge for Labour85% compared
with 41%, and for the Liberal Democrats77% and 42%. Experience
on investigative committees, mainly the departmental select committees,
came more slowly, but by the end of the 1999-2000 session 88%
of newly-elected Conservatives, 74% of Labour, and 54% of Liberal
Democrats had served on such committees.
14. Interviews we conducted with newly-elected
Members in 1992 and 1997 and the data from our questionnaires
both showed that they already have a broad understanding of the
role of the Member of Parliament when they first arrive at Westminster.
However, they have much less understanding of what that role actually
involves in detail. For example, less than 5% of our respondents
in 1997 said they were "very familiar" with parliamentary
procedure, although as many as 50% said they were "somewhat
familiar"; by the time of the third questionnaire in 1999,
these proportions were 18% and 73%.
15. It was also clear that, before their
election, would-be MPs (including those virtually certain of election)
had given little thought to and made few, if any preparations
for their role as Members, since earlier they were nursing their
constituencies and later fighting the election.
16. Our research suggests that, on arrival
at Westminster, new Members learn about their role and how to
do it primarily in two ways. First, there are the fairly intense
"formal" induction processes, provided by the House
authorities and their parties. Second, there is an informal, and
longer process which is essentially "learning on the job".
There is no doubt that most MPs appreciate and benefit from the
formal induction arrangements, which have become increasingly
extensive over the past 20 or so years. Given the short "window
of opportunity" between the election itself and the first
meeting of the House, what formal induction arrangements can achieve
is limited. Once that window of opportunity has closed, new MPs
inevitably have to do most of their learning by actually doing
17. Induction procedures, whether provided
by the House authorities or the parliamentary parties, need to
be flexible, providing alternative formats, modes and sources
to suit the needs of individual Members.
18. These induction procedures need to be
accessible collectively (eg through courses and seminars) and
individually (eg through named contacts, dedicated, user-friendly
websites, and mentors).
19. Each new Member should be assigned by
the House authorities a mentor drawn from longer-serving backbenchers
and not from the respective whips' offices.
20. Consideration should be given by the
House authorities to establishing a "welfare officer"
to listen to the needs of individual Members and act as a source
of confidential advice.
The gap between election day and the first meeting
of the new Parliament
21. The House authorities, the government
and the political parties should review again, in the light of
practice in other legislative assemblies, the length of time between
election day and the commencement of substantive business in the
form of the debate on the Queen's Speech and Question Time [?]
Members could, for example, formally take office as Members of
Parliament by taking the oath or affirmation within a week of
the election, so that, but a longer period could normally be allowed
to elapse before the debate of the Queen's Speech. This would
benefit not only newly-elected Members, but also newly-appointed
ministers, especially when there is a change of government. In
the light of the practice in other countries, we would recommend
a gap of up to 20 days.
The allocation of office accommodation
22. This should be removed from the hands
of the whips and undertaken entirely by the House authorities,
although it should not preclude initial party involvement in the
allocation of blocks of accommodation in different parts of the
parliamentary precinct. As far as possible, offices should made
available fully equipped with telephone and IT facilities and
ready for use.
Michael Rush, University of Exeter
Philip Giddings, University of Reading
THE GAP BETWEEN THE ELECTION AND THE FIRST
MEETING OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS (EXCL INTERVENTION OF CHRISTMAS
OR EASTER), 1832-2005
|Mean no of days
|Change of govt
|No change of govt
Source: F.W.S. Craig, British Electoral Facts
1832-1987, Parliamentary Research Services, Aldershot, 1989 and
David Butler and Gareth Butler, British Political Facts Since
1979, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2006.
* Excluding Orkney & Shetland (until 1929) &
university seats (abolished from 1950) which polled a week or
more after other constituencies had finished polling.
THE GAP BETWEEN THE ELECTION AND THE FIRST MEETING OF
THE LEGISLATURE IN EIGHT COUNTRIES
|10 or fewer days
|More than 40 days
This research was supported by an award from the Nuffield Foundation
Small Grant Scheme during the 1992-97 Parliament and an ESRC grant
(R000222470) during the 1997-2001 Parliament. Back
See Appendix, Table 1. Back
See Appendix, Table 2. Back