Our system of Parliamentary democracy is highly regarded all over the world. Whilst I would agree that it is not always perfect – the UK has succeeded in creating a substantive and viable system over a period spanning more than eight centuries.
The role of any Member of Parliament carries great responsibility - after all, the decisions that are made in Parliament affect each and every one of us and at every stage of our lives. From setting the age at which you started school to deciding pension’s policy and setting taxes – Parliament makes laws, checks and scrutinises the work of Government.
Every day thousands of people from across the UK and beyond engage with Parliament. From learning about our history by visiting Westminster, to meeting their MP or giving evidence to a committee – there are a great number of ways that you can have your say.
In order to guarantee fairness, there are now General Elections once every five years. This gives everyone an equal say in who should represent their community – and on a national scale, decides who has the strongest mandate to form a Government.
Voting is the most basic way that you can get involved in our democratic system. However, in order to do so you will need to register to vote. By registering to vote you can guarantee that there will be a ballot paper ready and waiting for you on polling day and will ensure that the system is fair for all.
You can register to vote here: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
Get in touch with your MP, a Minister or Member of the House of Lords
If you have an issue of concern, on a national or local level you can contact your local MP to raise your concerns. Your MP will help you whether or not you voted for them. Depending on your concerns your MP may advise that you take your concerns to a Government Minister.
Alternatively, if your issue is about a debate or subject that is before Parliament, you may look to contact a member of the House of Lords – known commonly as a peer. However, a member of the House of Lords is not able to provide assistance in matters that do not directly concern Parliament so it may be best to inquire with your MP first.
MPs can also help by:
- raising an issue of concern in a debate by speaking in a debate, signing and Early Day Motion, presenting a petition or voting on a particular issue.
- representing their constituents in the local community
- intervening on a particular issue of concern, or refer you to an appropriate advice service
- holding public bodies to account
- Provide legal advice or intervene in matters before the courts
- Provide financial advice or assistance
Read more about the work of MPs here: http://bit.ly/2fbYg3b
Organise or sign a petition
If you have an issue of local or national concern, you can organise a public petition that can be presented to Parliament by your local MP or by a peer (Lord). Petitions that are presented by MPs follow a specific format.
Alternatively you can publish a petition on the House of Commons website where it will be evaluated by House of Commons staff (whom are independent of MPs) to assess whether the petition can be discussed in Parliament. In order for a petition to be debated in Parliament it must receive 100,000 signatures. If your petition collates 10,000 signatures the Government are obliged to give a response.
View the petitions before Parliament here: www.petition.parliament.uk/petitions
Give evidence to a select committee or public bill committee
The job of a select committee look in detail at what a Government does. They regularly hold enquiries and prepare reports on the most important issues of the day. Similarly the Public Bill Committee examine and fine-tune laws that are being considered by Parliament.
Both committees often invite comment from members of the public and organisations. They also take written contributions to ensure that the work of Government and laws of the day are effective and practical.
Most recently, affected local residents in Meriden constituency gave evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on High Speed Two.
Learn more about the role of select committees here: www.parliament.uk/about/how/committees/
You can watch proceedings from the House of Commons and House of Lords online for free. If you are a licence payer, you can also watch BBC Parliament on channel
There are a number of ways UK residents and overseas visitors can visit the Houses of Parliament including taking tours and watching debates and committees.
Plan your visit here: www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/