employmentMPs have such short parliamentary hours that it looks to the public as if they are hardly doing any work, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge has said.

Calling for the “sluggish” parliament to sit for longer – it currently sits for about 150 days a year but this year this could be down to 140 – Hodge said that the public perception of MPs who seemed to be in recess on a regular basis was that they were lazy and not “value for money”.

“We are living through the worst economic crisis in modern times, MPs have a lot to do and yet we are spending much of our time in recess,” she told the Guardian. “Members of the public would be forgiven for thinking that it is MPs who are lazy and that it is parliament that is failing to provide good value for money.”

Appearing to ignore the long hours that many MPs put in or the fact that they have constituents who expect to be served and don’t want their MPs in London all the time, she went on: “The committee I chair spends a lot of time scrutinising public spending and whether it is worthwhile and yet the very heart of government – parliament – seems to be the most sluggish part of our system. We are not spending enough time in Westminster, and this creates a democratic vacuum. The executive can go on and you cannot hold them to account. It feels as if we are hardly working.”

However, one MP pointed out that the public accounts committee doesn’t need the House to be sitting for it to convene and it should be allowed to whenever it likes.

The Labour MP reckoned that the coalition government appeared to be struggling to find legislation to put before the House of Commons because it disagreed on many issues. The government had tried to reduce the number of MPs in the House but this proposal was rejected.

A spokesperson for the leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley was quoted as saying: “The leader of the house published last October the new parliamentary calendar of the proposed dates of sittings and recesses up to December 2013. Ultimately these are for the house to agree, but we have no plans to alter the current calendar.

“Select committees decide when they carry out their programme of work, including whether to meet in recess. The house sits for as long as in previous years and longer than most other legislatures. September sittings have been restored. Parliamentary sittings are not aligned with school terms, which vary across the UK.”

And the Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker said: “I think that it is a misunderstanding that the amount of work an MP does is reflected by the number of days that parliament sits. It isn’t. Some MPs work bloody hard all year round and others don’t.”