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How do UK Members of Parliament help constituents?

UK Members of Parliament are there to help and represent their constituents. Constituents are all the people who live within the geographical boundary the MP represents.

MPs take seriously the idea of representing all of their constituents, not just those who voted for them. On election night, they will often make a point of saying this in their winning speech.

An MP active in their constituency is usually able to get more votes. This is called the incumbency effect.

The three types of issues Members of Parliament receive

Three types of issues come to MPs from their constituency:-

Personal issues

Constituents bring their personal issues to the MP. This can include problems with landlords, the tax system or with delays in the payment of benefits. 

Most MPs pay out of their expenses for an office in the constituency. The office has full time staff ready to contact the relevant authorities and try to sort these out. 

MPs also normally hold a ‘surgery’ in the constituency on a regular basis so that people can talk to them directly.

If they feel that there has been serious maladministration by a public authority that has affected a constituent, MPs can refer the issue to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. This is generally known as the Ombudsman. They will investigate and report on what has happened.

Policy based issues

Constituents will contact MPs by letter, or now more often by email, about a host of issues they think are important. This can include such the bombing of Syria, food banks or petrol duty.

The staff in the MP’s Westminster office will answer these after the reply is approved by the MP.

If the MP thinks the issue is important then they may write to the relevant Government minister or organisation to pursue the matter further.

MPs may simply disagree with the constituent and have to say so. For example, a parties Brexit policy may be contrary to what the constituent wants. The MP has to decide if and how far they want to deviate from the line that the party leadership has laid down.

Local issues and developments

Issues may arise in the constituency such as a large housing development, hospital closure or flooding. In addition, changes in policy may affect the area such as new fishing quotas in a coastal constituency.

The MP’s job is to bring people together to discuss the issue. They should then put pressure on the relevant agencies to resolve the issue to the benefit of their constituents.

Some problems may be politically difficult. For example, an MP may be in favour of a hostel for prisoners who have served their sentence but residents may not. In Newbury, half of the town wanted a by-pass and the other half did not. The Liberal Democrat MP suffered because he had to take a side on the issue.

When would an MP raise their constituents issue in Parliament?

MPs mostly take up constituents’ personal problems with the relevant authorities but they may raise them in Parliament.

This will normally be only be the most extreme cases. For example, an MP could use questions to a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister to raise the issue of a constituent who has been detained in prison abroad.

More normally MPs in debates or Parliamentary questions may refer to typical cases that they are dealing with. For example, MPs had a lot of complaints when the Child Support Agency was asking fathers for payments way beyond their incomes. This issue was raised in Parliament and in the end the Government closed the Agency down. 

MPs may raise an issue such as the effect of a tax and quote a case without mentioning the individual’s name. 

How would an MP raise their constituents issue in Parliament?

If MPs see a need for a change in policy as a result of the constituency problems they encounter or are convinced by a constituent’s view on a policy issue there are a number of vehicles open to them in Parliament:-

  • They can raise the issue in a general debate. Parliamentary rules also allow them intervene and make a point on an issue that another MP is speaking on.
  •  They can apply for an Adjournment debate. This allows an MP to speak briefly on an issue at the end of the day’s proceedings and a Government minister has to reply
  • They can initiate a Westminster Hall debate. This takes place not in the main Chamber but in a separate room near to Westminster Hall, which is part of the Parliamentary buildings. Other MPs with an interest in the topic take part and a Government minister replies.
  • They can ask a question to the Prime Minister or to other Ministers.  As well as Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesdays, Ministers from each Department take it in turn to answer questions from MPs.  MPs can also put down a written question, or even a series of questions, to the Departmental Minister to pursue an issue.
  • MPs can put down an Early Day Motion. This is not debated in Parliament but allows other MPs to sign the motion to show that they are also concerned.