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What does a Member of Parliament actually do?

For an MP, no two days are ever the same.

When parliament is sitting, I spend the first part of the week in Westminster, on parliamentary business. (During recess, I spend most of my time in the constituency, apart from occasional trips to London for important meetings). On Mondays and Tuesdays Parliament sits till 10pm, and votes can carry on until gone 10.30pm, so it's a long working day. On Wednesday the last vote is usually at 7pm, and on Thursday it's at 6pm, after which I catch the train back to Bristol.

I spend Friday and the weekends visiting people and places in my constituency and the surrounding area. I also hold regular surgeries, in a variety of locations across the constituency. Much of my time is taken up with casework, helping local people with any issues or problems they may have – ably assisted by Lois, Orla, Ben and Max in my constituency office.

When I'm in Westminster, I'm still working on behalf of constituents, taking part in vital votes that help shape the laws of this country. Some of my time is, of course, spent in the Commons chamber, speaking in debates and asking parliamentary questions. I receive a huge number of letters and emails each week from constituents raising policy issues, which all receive a response. Often I will write to Ministers on behalf of constituents, or will research an issue for them, with help from my Westminster researchers, Orla, Ben and Chloe . I also have meetings with campaign groups to learn more about their work.

Until April 2007 I was a member of the Treasury Select Committee. Its role is to quiz ministers, civil servants, important figures like the Governor of the Bank of England, and a range of experts on current economic and financial matters.

I have since served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Douglas Alexander, (when he was the the Secretary of State for International Development), a Junior Government Whip and as a Junior Shadow Minister with responsibility for disability issues.  In October 2010, I was appointed a Shadow Chief Economic Secretary to the Treasury. In October 2011, I was appointed as a Shadow Foreign Minister.   The issues that I am responsible for holding the Government to account on are: 

  • Far East and South East Asia, including the Burma campaign;
  • Latin America;
  • Caribbean;
  • India, Nepal, Bangladesh & Maldives;
  • Sri Lanka; 
  • Human Rights;
  • Consular Policy;
  • Migration;
  • Emerging Powers Co-ordination;
  • Olympics;
  • Public Diplomacy, including the BBC World Service and British Council;
  • Drugs and International Crime
  • The Falklands

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    So what sort of issues do you help people with?

  • People contact my constituency office every day with a range of problems – some personal, where people are seeking my advice and support, and some with a wider impact on the local community. The individual casework involves things like housing; help with benefits and tax credits; Child Support Agency queries; problems with the local council or other agencies; and – as Bristol East is a very diverse constituency – a significant number of asylum and immigration cases. Sometimes I get approached by groups of residents or local organisations for support, for example, in opposing planning applications or lobbying for better public transport. 

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    What have you actually voted for in Parliament?

    The vast majority of issues that I vote on in the House of Commons will escape the interest of the media and the public; in my first twelve months as an MP I took part in almost 200 votes. It's the bigger issues that most people get to hear about on TV or read about in the newspapers. In 2006 I voted for a complete ban on smoking in public places. I did so because I felt it was essential to protect the health of working people and because I didn't think the compromise originally put forward by the Government, which would have allowed smoking in pubs and clubs that don't serve food, was workable or desirable. I'm delighted that the full ban was introduced in 2007. Another important vote was on reform of the House of Lords, when MPs were given a variety of options. I supported a wholly-elected Upper House and, as a fallback position, the 80% and 50% elected options.

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    Where can I find out more information about how Parliament works?

    Go to the excellent 'About Parliament' pages at www.parliament.uk.

    For more information on the House of Lords you can now visit Lords of the Blog, a new collaborative blog which is seeking to engage members of the public with the work of the Upper House and its members.

    A 360 virtual tour of Parliament and the Clock Tower of Big Ben is now available. This can be found on the link below.

    http://www.parliament.uk/virtualtours

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