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House of Commons Procedure Commiittee Inquiry

You are here: Home / Blog / Politics / House of Commons Procedure Commiittee Inquiry
20
Mar
The Committee invites written submissions which should arrive no later than 4 April 2011.
 
E-mail submissions are preferred and should be in Word format (not PDF) and sent to proccom@parliament.uk. Postal submissions should be sent to the Clerk, Procedure Committee, Journal Office, House of Commons, London  SW1A 0AA. Further information can
be obtained from the Clerk at this address or by telephone on 0207 219 3318.

Committees make public much of the evidence they receive during inquiries. If you do not wish your submission to be published, you must clearly say so. If you wish to include private or confidential information in your submission to the Committee, please contact the Clerk on 0207 219 3318 to discuss this.
 
 
FURTHER INFORMATION:
 
1.   Committee Membership is as follows:
 
Rt Hon Greg Knight MP (Con, Yorkshire East) (Chair)
 Mrs Jenny Chapman (Lab, Darlington)
Mr Roger Gale (Con, North Thanet)
Helen Goodman (Lab, Bishop Auckland)
Mr James Gray (Con, North Wiltshire)
Tom Greatrex (Lab/Co-op, Rutherglen and Hamilton West)
John Hemming (Lib Dem, Birmingham Yardley)    
Mr David Nuttall (Con, Bury North)
Andrew Percy (Con, Brigg and Goole)
Bridget Phillipson (Lab, Houghton and Sunderland South)
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, North East Somerset)
Angela Smith (Lab, Penistone and Stocksbridge)
Sir Peter Soulsby (Lab, Leicester South)
 
2.   More information on the Committee, including publications, can be found on the Committee website at: www.parliament.uk/parliamentary/proccom 
 
 
Media Enquiries: Liz Parratt. Tel 07917 488978, parrattl@parliament.uk
 
Watch committees and parliamentary debates online:  www.parliamentlive.tv  
 
Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474).  Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on www.parliament.uk
 


Submission from:
Derek Wyatt
Formerly MP for Sittingbourne & Sheppey 1997-2010
 
I have regularly written in over the past 14 years to Parliamentary committees looking at the changing nature of the role of MPs et al but I note but for small incremental changes here and there not much changes and these reports though in the main sensible are neatly filed in the waste paper basket until the next one. Notwithstanding, and in the hope that one day Parliament will agree  it has fallen too behind the views of the people it serves, I offer my thoughts on your new Inquiry:
 
·        How the role of an MP has changed in recent years
 
My office handled just over 19,000 cases over 13 years most of these had nothing to do with my work as an MP but were instrumental in providing us with a snapshot of what was going wrong, largely, in my constituency. Rarely, were these issues to do with national policy. I began to think I was actually the local CEO of Social Work. This was because some county and borough councils and councillors (which my experience in Kent) do not have an outward facing philosophy nor an understanding of service. 
 
As a for instance, the Housing Office would close at 3.30pm on a Friday, bad landlords would make their tenants homeless at 4pm on the same day. These desperate families would come to my Friday surgery desperate for help. Sometimes they couldn’t read or write or fully understand quite how they had become homeless (though not all were saints). I was left to pay their accommodation in a B&B and once in a hotel, to stop them sleeping in their car with their children (not much fun in winter) sometimes for three nights until the Housing Office opened on Monday morning.
 
You might ask why they didn’t go to their county or borough councillors instead. Or why there wasn’t an Emergency telephone number (there was but it was an ansafone message service). Or why the councillors didn’t answer our letters when we raised these issues with them or why they took the view that it was nothing to do with the MP and he/she should keep his/her snout out of local issues.
 
My view is that our citizens do not readily understand the subtle differences between a borough councillor and a county councillor or for that matter a borough councillor and an MP. It will become worse, if some MPs now think there only job is to be a Grand Councillor in their constituency rather than an MP in Westminster. This would be a dangerous trend.
 
In America, I was fortunate to witness, at the John Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the four day training and education scheme newly elected Representatives attended before taking up their positions in Washington, DC.
 
Whilst it is true, that newly elected MPs have an induction course it does not include an analysis of the main policy issues which will face them over the next four or five years. I would have thought that a discussion with LSE, UCL, SOAS and the Bank of England would enable courses to be arranged for both newly elected MPs and newly elected Ministers and Shadow Ministers not dissimilar to those at Harvard. These could happen in the first week for Ministers and the second week for Shadow Ministers (if appropriate) and MPs following the General Election.  
 
So long as MPs have local offices and take such a high profile in their constituencies I cannot see an end to the “social-work” creep.  For this to change then county and borough councillors must also have a designated professionally staffed office (why not in a Library or at a CAB office?). Until, this happens MPs will always be the dumping ground for local issues. Indeed, I would contend that with email and text, it is now much easier for constituents to reach an MP and I suspect that this had also led to an increase in work-load. Of course, in some ways an MP welcomes the contact because it gives him/her the chance to collect valuable data ready for his/her next General Election campaign.
 
 
·        What the role of an MP should be and how this is reflected in time spent at Westminster and in the constituency
·         
If you are not in the Government or the Shadow Government your role as an MP in Westminster is largely that of a minion used frankly as voting fodder to ensure your own party’s pledges or policies are successfully negotiated.
 
This leads MPs to seek an alternative career structure inside or outside Westminster or spend more time working on constituency matters. This is not healthy for the democratic process.
 
The whole Parliamentary year needs to be overhauled. It has slavishly copied the Oxbridge and Law Court calendars for too long.
 
There is no need to start Parliamentary business at 1430 Monday-Wednesday and 1030 on Thursday and 0930 on Friday. The days of MPs having a City job in the morning, coming to their Clubs in Pall Mall for lunch and then taking a carriage to the House for 1430 ended sixty years ago.
 
The mid September-early October Conference season would sit more naturally, if indeed it is still a necessity, at Easter. If this was moved, then MPs could come back in September and run through without a break till Christmas. 
 
It would be much more efficient for Government if departmental question times were moved to 0930 from Monday-Thursday. It’s an absurdity that we ask them to break up their day.  I can hear the cries from MPs who live in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or the distant parts of England shrieking at the thought that they would have to come down on a Sunday evening. But that’s their job; that’s what they signed up for – to represent their constituents in Parliament and not the other way around.
 
If, Parliament started at 0930 every day it would only need to go on to 1730 (an eight hour day). It could fit the business of the House into three semesters of 12 weeks. The Parliamentary week should be 32 hours in Westminster and 8 hours in the Constituency (there would be no Friday sittings). This would not only be family friendly and encourage yet more women into Parliament but it would also be family friendly for men too. It is not sensible to be working from 0930 to 2200 three days a week; this is senseless and not helpful to the health either of the MP or the nation.
 
·        What are the defects and the strengths of the current patterns
 
(See above)
 
·        What are the constraints on reform of the sitting patterns 
 
(See above)
 
·        What pattern of sittings over the course of a month or the year would best enable MPs to perform their role
 
(See above)
 
·        What pattern of timings for sittings on days spent in Westminster would be most effective
 
(See above)
 
·        How should the way business is conducted in the Commons be altered to accommodate any new pattern of sitting hours, days or weeks
 
(See above)
 
·        What changes should be made to the process for considering Private Member’s bills in particular (the only business currently considered on Fridays)
 
We should do all we can to enhance the role of an MP; Select Committees should be able to bring forward their own Bills based on their reports; at the moment £millions of public money is spent on Select Committees and yet very few reports lead to any significant Government changes of heart. What a sham it all is then.
 
As for MPs very few Private Members make it through. So again what is their point? Allow all Private Members Bills to be taken in the Chamber just after PMQs on a Wednesday morning so they are not relegated to a more difficult time. We need to make sure MPs are given the chance to properly engage in the democratic process and not be bought off by the scheduling of Whips Office.
 
·        Should greater use be made of Westminster Hall    
 
What is its purpose? Few MPs attend debates; again has anything been changed by a debate there? Well, of course, the MP calling the debate makes headlines locally but frankly we are talking to ourselves. Rename it the Second Chamber, re-design it, make it a more integral part of the scheduling, allow it to run from 1030-1730 four days a week; make it compulsory for all Bills to go through pre-legislative scrutiny there, allow much more space for the public and for MPs – so upgrade so it looks like a second chamber. Allow all Bills to start in either Chamber.
 
·        How can select and public bill committee meetings be accommodated within any new arrangement
 
Re-design the rooms in which these are held in esp. Public Bill committees which are hostile to the public (and so few can attend).
 
·        What other factors should be considered in proposing changes to sitting hours (e.g. impact on staff of the House and Members staff, services to Members, cost, work of Government departments, public access to debates, the media)
 
All debates, bill committees and select committee meetings should be available live on-line. 
 

 
Committees make public much of the evidence they receive during inquiries. If you do not wish your submission to be published, you must clearly say so. If you wish to include private or confidential information in your submission to the Committee, please contact the Clerk on 0207 219 3318 to discuss this.
 
 
FURTHER INFORMATION:
 
1.   Committee Membership is as follows:
 
Rt Hon Greg Knight MP (Con, Yorkshire East) (Chair)
 




Mrs Jenny Chapman (Lab, Darlington)
Mr Roger Gale (Con, North Thanet)
Helen Goodman (Lab, Bishop Auckland)
Mr James Gray (Con, North Wiltshire)
Tom Greatrex (Lab/Co-op, Rutherglen and Hamilton West)
John Hemming (Lib Dem, Birmingham Yardley)    
Mr David Nuttall (Con, Bury North)

Andrew Percy (Con, Brigg and Goole)
Bridget Phillipson (Lab, Houghton and Sunderland South)
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, North East Somerset)
Angela Smith (Lab, Penistone and Stocksbridge)
Sir Peter Soulsby (Lab, Leicester South)
 
 
 
 
 
 
2.   More information on the Committee, including publications, can be found on the Committee website at: www.parliament.uk/parliamentary/proccom 
 
 
Media Enquiries: Liz Parratt. Tel 07917 488978, parrattl@parliament.uk
 
Watch committees and parliamentary debates online:  www.parliamentlive.tv  
 
Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474).  Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on www.parliament.uk
 


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