The News recently printed a letter from a reader criticising MPs, including me, for ‘not spending enough time in the chamber’ at the House of Commons.
The News recently printed a letter from a reader criticising MPs, including me, for ‘not spending enough time in the Chamber’ at the House of Commons. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I thought it would be useful to give you an idea in this column of the things we do ‘outside the Chamber.’ The Houses of Parliament are a hive of activity from early in the morning until late at night, and there is always something useful an MP can be doing somewhere within the building – but outside the Chamber.
One of the areas where backbench MPs have a real chance to affect policy and to investigate how things work is through membership of Select Committees.
These have the power to run inquiries on matters of their own choosing, and to demand Ministers and others to attend and answer questions. I am a member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, which has just published a ground-breaking report on how government and society treats transgender people. There are a range of committees covering just about every area of government policy which MPs work on, and whose meetings you can usually watch online, just like the debates in the main Chamber.
Debates are also held in parallel with the main Chamber in Westminster Hall, where I recently led a debate on rail services in the Portsmouth area. These are another good opportunity to pin down Ministers and to make sure they understand the specific problems a backbench MP wants to raise.
There are also a large number of All-Party Parliamentary Groups, which although not official bodies do great work in bringing in outside experts to share their experience on almost any topic you can imagine. Together with the Labour MP, Jess Phillips, I have set up one on “Women and Work” to help understand the challenges women still face in the employment market. We know, for instance, that the gender pay gap has disappeared for women under 40 – but for those over 40, there is still a gap in pay and it is proving stubborn to wipe out.
The Chamber is at the heart of Parliament, but what happens in it is just one strand of a role which covers a huge amount of ground. The offer to my constituents to come up and visit Parliament and see for yourself is always open!