September 2021 Newsletter from John Howell MP for Henley
It is just over 10 years since I started to write a monthly newsletter to parishes. Out of curiosity over the summer I looked back at some of the early issues. For a few months I ran a little mini-series at the end of my newsletters seeking to answer questions that were frequently asked about the work on an MP and the workings of parliament. Such questions are still regularly asked as people take a new of different interest in politics and so I thought it might be worth revisiting some of the questions in the coming months.
An overarching question asked of many MPs by people of all ages, and one frequently asked on school visits, is what does an MP do? There is no job description, and each MP has to work out the best way to pursue the role for themselves. Indeed an MP may change the way in which they work over the years as issues and needs change. The last 18 month have forced some changes in working patterns and some forced changes have proved to be for the better. For example I intend to continue doing my advice surgeries virtually as this has proved to be very popular. With the geographical size of the constituency people often had to travel long distances for a relatively short meeting. The ease of access which virtual meetings has offered has been welcomed. They reduce the need for travel and can save constituents a considerable amount of time. Working this way can also enable me to reduce the waiting time for an appointment.
The main task for an MP is to consider and propose new laws as well as raise issues relating to the constituency or constituents. This is not always easy as contentious and divisive issues are often debated with several differing views. These tend to be the issues that the media is quick to pick on. For my part I think it is important to listen to different views and to weigh up arguments. I am happy to have robust but polite debate, but an MP is not a delegate and in the end, as with the rest of my colleagues, I have to make my own judgement on how I respond on any particular issue. With a Party-political system is will be no surprise that an MP on the whole supports the Party on whose manifesto they stood for election.
For the most part an MPs time is divided between working in Parliament, representing parliament elsewhere (as I do at the Council of Europe), and working in their constituency. When Parliament is sitting MPs are generally expected to be in Westminster from Monday to Thursday and so time in the constituency is limited. Outside of sitting weeks there is more time for constituency meetings and visits. I am looking forward to the forthcoming recess when I will be meeting in person representatives from several of the 85 Parish Councils and Parish Meetings across the constituency. Something that has not been possible for some time now.
When in Westminster every day brings competing demands on an MP’s time. Days can include time spent scrutinising legislation, attending debates, ministerial question sessions, committees, briefings and other meetings, and also responding to correspondence. There is also a hierarchy of demand in that the business of the House must come first and when asked to sit on a Bill Committee to scrutinise the detail of a particular Bill this is expected to take precedence over other things. These competing demands mean that it is not always possible to attend a particular debate or drop-in session that a someone may ask me to attend, although I do try to fit in as much as I can each week.
It is often thought that an MP sits at the top of a hierarchy of Government and has power to direct local councils. This is not the case. Although local councils are required to conform with central government policy within this they are fully autonomous, and MPs do not have any jurisdiction over local council decisions. Thus the primary focus of questions that MPs raise will be relating to Parliament and the work of Government departments such as the NHS, HM Revenue and Customs, and the Department of Work and Pensions. These questions may arise from an MPs own concerns or may be on behalf of constituents. Questions can be formal written or oral questions however I have found that it is often better to discuss issues privately with Ministers. With local issues MPs can write to councils on behalf of a constituent, and this is something that I often do. However there are locally elected representatives to these councils who should really be the first point to contact for council issues. I will write more about this in a later newsletter.
If you have an issue that you would like to raise with me, if possible, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you cannot email you can still write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1 0AA or PO Box 84, Watlington, OX49 5XD. To find out more about my work please do visit my website which is regularly updated on key issues. http://www.johnhowell.org.uk.