Parliament Uncovered: A Guide to Parliament and the Job of Your MP
The role of Parliament is to scrutinise the government of the day and examine the bills that are put forward. It is split into two houses, the
House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords is comprised of appointed members who are chosen for their achievements and specialities. Previously this title was passed through families but the House of Lords Act 1999 removed all but 92 hereditary peers who were allowed to remain on a temporary basis. The House of Commons is comprised of 650 MP’s who are elected to a constituency for a five year term.
There has been a building where Parliament stands for over 1,000 years. Most of the building dates back to the 19th century but parts, such as Westminster Hall, date back to 1077. In World War II the House of Commons was bombed and the House of Lords had to be used as the temporary place for MP’s to debate until it was rebuilt.
Scrutinising the Government
Scrutinising the government can be done in a variety of ways and there are many opportunities for a Member of Parliament to get involved. The most well known form of scrutiny is through debate. Prime Ministers Questions is perhaps the most famous debate where MPs are famously more rowdy than usual. This is not a good example of how the debates are held as they are usually much more serious and are an excellent opportunity for backbench members to question government ministers. Committees are also used to shadow the work of government departments and bills are sent to committees to be scrutinised thoroughly. Committees will produce reports and can summon ministers and prominent industry figures to give evidence.
Above: Mark Speaking In Parliament
The Passage of a Bill
For a bill to become an Act of Parliament there are several stages that it must go through and therefore many opportunities for the bill to be changed, amended or in some cases abandoned. Most bills originate from the government although a small number begin in Parliament. When the government are considering a Bill they will hold a consultation with various groups and the public. It is often worth looking at different government websites to see what consultations are currently being held.
When a bill enters Parliament it will either be sent to the House of Commons or the House of Lords, it will then be read for the first time, this is just a formality and no debate will take place. It will then be read for the second time and it is the first opportunity that MPs have to discuss the general principles of the bill. A vote will then take place on whether it should proceed to the next stage. If successful the bill then goes to the Committee Stage where it will be scrutinised in detail and amendments made. Then it goes to the Report Stage which is where MPs can discuss the bill in more detail. It is then read for the third time which involves a further debate but amendments cannot be made and it is voted on for the third time. It the bill was in the House of Commons it will then be sent to the House of Lords and vice versa for this process to be repeated. Once this has been done the exact wording of the bill has to be agreed upon and it will go through a stage called Ping Pong between both houses. Once the exact wording has been agreed it will go to its final stage which is to receive Royal Assent, which is when it becomes law.
Mark has been a whip in the House of Commons since 2008 and he currently holds the position of Pairing Whip for the Labour Party. The role of the whip is to ensure that backbench members are happy and that they are dealing with the stress of the job. A Labour whip will also report back to shadow ministers any concerns that members have over certain votes. As the Pairing Whip Mark has additional responsibilities which include ensuring that MPs from the Labour Party who cannot attend a vote, for instance due to committee business, are paired off with a member of the opposing party so that overall numbers are not affected by their absence.
Work in the Constituency
Fridays are usually kept free in Parliament so that MPs are able to go back to their constituency. In their constituency MPs hold regular surgeries for constituents to attend and discuss any problems or concerns that they might have. An MP can assist on a broad range of issues and it is always worth seeking advice. MPs will also meet with local businesses, groups, charities and schools and will undertake campaigns on behalf of individuals and organisations. Anybody living in the constituency is entitled to contact Mark on a matter that is of importance to them and Mark has a constituency office and an office in London which are fully staffed to assist in any way possible.
Above:Opening the Alyn & Deeside section of the Wales Coastal Path