The focus of the activity in both Houses is the chamber. If the Houses are not sitting, or even if they are but the chambers are not full, there appears to be an assumption that members are not doing much.
When the House is sitting, a great deal of work is taking place away from the chamber. Both Houses are more specialised than ever before, working through committees. On Wednesdays, for example, I may not spend much time in the chamber. That is largely because my day is tied up with committee meetings: the Constitution Committee in the morning and Sub-Committee E of the EU Committee in the afternoon. In the Commons, there are also now sittings in Westminster Hall. In the Lords, we now make extensive use of Grand Committees for the committee stage of Bills.
If the House is not sitting, there is still work to be done. People do not stop writing to us; there is plenty to prepare for when the House returns. The Palace continues to function. I have been in the Palace today, catching up on paperwork (as well as marking). There has been the usual judicial sitting, the Law Lords delivering an important judgement concerning the deportation from the UK of the radical cleric Abu Qatada. The Atrium in Portcullis House has been busy – a natural meeting point and a place for getting a cup of tea. I had lunch in the Barry Room and was joined by a fellow peer. The room was quite busy, not least as a consequence of the judicial sitting. It is only in the evening that the facilities wind down and people have to leave to get something to eat.