How to: Influence Parliament
As individuals, and as voluntary and community groups, often have strong opinions on what Government does and how laws and decisions are made.
Many of us are unaware of how we can influence this process, apart from at the ballot box.
The Lesbian & Gay Foundation would encourage all LGB&T people to vote in all local, general, and European elections but there are a number of other ways that citizens and groups can influence the national level work of Parliament and Government.
There may be issues that are best addressed at a local level – that is with your local Council and local councillors. If you are unsure about which level is the best level to try to influence please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to advise you.
MPs and Peers
The first port of call for individuals is their Member of Parliament (MP). You can find out who your MP is and how they have voted on selected issues on the website theyworkforyou.com. They have a duty to respond to your enquiry, and if you travel to Parliament in London you can request to see your MP and they are obliged to meet you (if they are able).
What makes an MP or MPs more likely to respond to you/your group:
- An enquiry from their own constituent
- A letter/email that is personalised to them and their local constituency (‘form’ or template letters may only be effective if an MP receives a significant number of them from different people)
Be aware that the majority of MPs will have both a London office in the Palace of Westminster and a constituency office. They may also have constituency surgeries where you can speak to them in person, which would be a great way to introduce yourself and any cause or issue which you want to bring to their attention.
If an MP has a particular interest on a topic, they may also be prepared to act on your behalf.
Unlike MPs, Members of the House of Lords (know as Peers) do not have constituencies and so it is best to do some research and contact a Peer who has an interest in your particular issue.
Taking the time to build a relationship with your/an MP or a Peer is a good way to access and influence the work of Parliament.
What could you ask an MP or a Peer to do?
- Ask a Parliamentary Question, either in writing (best for requesting detailed evidence from a Government department) or during a debate.
Questions can be used ask the Government to act or for information.
NB – always check the Parliamentary calendar services.parliament.uk/calendar to see if Parliament is in recess. If Parliament is in recess, MPs may be more likely to be in their constituency.
- Hold a Parliamentary Debate.
Adjournment debates take place between MPs either in the Commons at the end of the day’s business or in a room off the main chamber.
The Speaker of the House holds a weekly ballot for backbenchers (those MPs who do not hold any political office except that of MP) for the topics of the adjournment debate. The topic must relate to a Government’s department remit, as once the topic for a debate is selected a minister from the relevant department must attend.
Peers can ask Questions for short debate at the end of the day in the House of Lords. They end with a Government response.
- Propose or sign an Early Day Motion (EDM).
At the start of the day’s business an MP can write a motion in a book which other MPs can sign to say they support it. EDMs rarely lead to anything further.
NB – if your MP is a member of the Government (see www.parliament.uk for the full list, this is usually about 100 MPs, currently from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties) they will not be able to raise debates, ask Parliamentary questions or propose/sign EDMs. This is because all these things are intended to allow everyone else to hold the Government to account.
Other functions of Parliament you can influence
All citizens and organisations are allowed to submit written evidence to Parliamentary committees. This is a good way to directly influence the work of Parliament and potentially change legislation as it’s made. Make sure your points are relevant and draw on you/your group’s particular expertise, knowledge and experience.
Both Houses establish select committees to conduct inquiries and to produce reports on a range of matters, from the conduct of Government to specialist subject areas.
House of Commons Select Committees are largely concerned with examining the spending, policies and administration of government departments. Committees in the House of Lords concentrate on four main areas: Europe, science, economics, and the UK constitution.
Both Houses refer legislation to committees for detailed discussion and approval. These committees are part of the process of making laws and include public bill committees, delegated legislation committees and committees on private bills.
http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11.html shows what Bills are before Parliament in this session. If you go into the Bill’s page you can see if the committee is accepting written evidence. You can also subscribe to email alerts or an RSS feed for a Bill that will update you when changes happen.
Other opportunities to influence:
Government Department consultations
Government departments will often consult on new policies or legislation. If you or your group is particularly interested in health for example, you could visit the Department of Health website and look through the ‘open consultation’ section to see if any of the consultations will give you/your group an opportunity to put your views forward.
All Party Parliamentary Groups
These are informal groups made up of MPs, Peers and may include members of the Government and non-parliamentarians. Groups are classified either as subject groups (relating to a topic e.g. forestry) or country groups (relating to a particular country or region). An MP or a Peer being a member of such a group may be an indication of an interest in that area.
Why does all this matter?
Busy people and organisations may think spending the time talking to Parliament and Government is wasted. The huge number of changes that the Coalition Government has proposed demonstrates that the ‘status quo’ is an illusion. Things are always changing, and if you don’t put your point across, if definitely won’t be heard.
Some sources of information
Use the ‘Topical Issues’ section to see Select Committee reports, library research, Early Day Motions and other news relating to a subject:
Use ‘Parliament News’ to keep up-to-date on all major parliamentary debates and reports on your area of interest:
How to: Influence Parliament as a lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans person and group and why it matters
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