June 2019 Newsletter from John Howell MP for Henley

In April I wrote about on some aspects of the working of Parliament. This was in response to questions about what MPs do. This month I will continue with this.

There are two debating chambers in the House of Commons – the Chamber, which is seen as the main debating chamber on TV, and Westminster Hall. Much of the Government business takes place in the Chamber where statements, questions, and debates take place. Where there are differences on opinions among MPs there may be a vote at the end of a debate. In Westminster Hall MPs can call for debates on any issues of concern or interest. It is a chamber for effective cross party working and robust debate. There are no votes on debates in Westminster Hall but a Minister will be present and will respond on behalf of the Government at the end of the debate.

From time to time images do the rounds on social media suggesting that the Chamber of the House of Commons is packed full when issues that directly affect MPs are debated but empty when other issues are debated. You may not be surprised to learn that this is a complete mis-representation. Debates in the Chamber can continue for several hours and there will inevitably be times when MPs have to go to other meetings. In any debate the Chamber is usually most full at the beginning for the opening speeches and then again towards the end when the Minister sums up. If a vote is anticipated the Chamber may fill as MPs have to be in the lobbies before the doors are locked for voting. So, in a debate if photos are taken at the beginning or at the end there will be a full chamber, in the intervening hours it may well look quite empty. This does not have any bearing on the subject matter, but simply reflects the competing demands on MPs time which I mentioned in my article in April.

When voting MPs register their vote for or against the question by physically going into a lobby to one side or the other of the debating chamber. When a vote is called a bell will ring across the Parliamentary estate and MPs who are in other meetings then have 8 minutes to get to the division lobbies. The process takes about 15 minutes. It is quite a dated process but the time in the lobbies is actually quite valuable time as it provides an excellent opportunity for MPs to speak to colleagues or lobby Ministers on issues. 

I often have constituents ask me to attend a specific debate on an issue that is particularly important to them. If I can do so I will, but as I hope you will appreciate from these articles, it is not always possible. However even if I cannot attend a debate I can still support issues by writing to Ministers or taking other action as appropriate to the particular topic. 

If you have an issue of concern relating to Parliament please do get in touch. You can email me at howelljm@parliament.uk or write to me at the House of Commons (House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA) or my constituency office (PO Box 84, Watlington, OX49 5XD).