There are widely different patterns covering the parliamentary and governmental avenues which MPs can pursue to further the interests of their party, their voters, their ideologies or just themselves. Some MPs are experienced front benchers, others hold only minor supportive roles such as those of Private Parliamentary Secretaries to Government Ministers. Then numbers have only ever been back-benchers - which was my experience for 18 years. Others have outside interests which can shape their parliamentary activities. I will concentrate below on the avenues I knew the best - those for a back-bench MP. But there will be a big difference in the back door avenues available to different back-benchers. Teresa May as an ex Prime Minister will still be able to make use of her past contacts much better than a new back-bench MP who has only emerged at the last General Election. Below I cover various standard avenues which a normal back-bench MP can pursue. But as I retired from being an MP 15 years ago, some of what I say may now be dated and others might have emerged.
(1) Subject to the luck of the draw a back-bench MP can submit a question for oral answer at differing Question Times and then follow up the Minister's initial verbal answer to them with a related verbal question of their own. Then there is something of a free shot each week at Business Questions, when MPs without giving prior notice can seek a debate on a topic of their concern. The Government may reject such proposals, but this avenue allows issues to be raised that can be part of the MPs wider political campaigning. Many questions can also be asked for written answers only. But the answers will be restricted to no more than what has been asked (at the most) and can't be used to trawl on an issue. But such answers can be pursued by follow-up questions.
(2) There are two main traditinal avenues where back-bench MPs can seek their own debates. Towards the end of each day's business in the Commons there is an Adjournment Debate normally totalling 30 Minutes in all. Back Benchers can put in for such debates, submitting their topic. Thursday's topic is selected by the Speaker, the others are drawn by lot. Front-bench spokespersons will respond, with short contributions coming from others if the MP who has obtained the debate agrees. But there is no vote on the issue. There is also an avenue for similar debates over longer periods which are held in Westminster Hall. The back-bencher who has obtained the debate normally concludes it also, after the Minister has replied. More MPs can participate in such debates than in the time available for Adjournment Debates.
(3) MPs can also present petitions to the Commons and make a few remarks about them.
(4) Back bench MPs can also seek to introduce a 10 Minute Rule Bill. If they draw lucky and obtain one, they then get 10 Minutes to put their case. Someone can then speak against their proposal and force a division on it. But if the mover carries the measure they can then announce who its sponsoring MPs are and then get the Bill itself printed. Governments can normally block further progress on such matters by their influence over the parliamentary time-table, but I once pursued a Civil Rights Disabled Persons Bill which was only stopped at its Third Reading and helped force the Conservative Government into carrying its own weak alternative version of the proposal. It helped in that I had a Conservative backer of my Bill - the current Father of the House.
(5) Back bench MPs can seek the Speaker's permission to hold a question and answers session on a matter of their choice and other MPs can seek to join in This is known as an Urgent Question.
(6) There are also annual lotteries for back-bench Bills covered on seven or so Friday's. These Bills are formally unwhipped. But Governments (and others) will seek to talk these out if they don't like them. But once they have been subject to a lengthy discussion the mover of such a Bill can then call for a vote to end the debate and if successful move on to seek a further vote to carry its Second Reading. But to succeed in ending the debate the mover needs 100 people in their lobby. On an early version of my Civil Service Disabled Persons Bill I followed this avenue, but was blocked as I only won by 78-0 although I had John Smith our then leader voting with me.
(7) When a Bill passes its Second Reading it moves to its Committee Stage. On major issues the whole House of Commons will participate in this stage. This then gives MPs the opportunity to introduce amendments. But most Bills move to a separate Committee Stage built pro-rata on the strength of the relevant Parties in the Commons. Whether a specific back-bencher will make it onto this stage will essentially be in the hands of their front bench, especially the Whips.
(8) Along with relevant front-benchers, back-bench MPs can also get appointed to Select Committees. Most of these bodies shadow the areas covered by Government Departments. What it is that these Committees then investigate and recommend is of importance and can get fed back into the Commons. Their members can seek to influence the enquiries these bodies will pursue and question those called to face their investigations. When their Select Committee produce a report on an investigation, members have the authority to have their own alternative minority report or suggested amendments published. There are also Select Committes who cover areas beyond those of shadowing specific Government Departments. For a period I served on a Members Interests Select Committee which could investigate matters such as whether an MP had violated parliamentary procedures.
(9) Early Day Motions are an avenue whose use is mainly resticted to back-bench MPs only. I have explained how these can be used - click here.
(10) Labour runs numbers of internal committees of its own, most of which shadow the territory covered by differing Government Departments. In my time, back-benchers were expected to join three of these.
(11) The Parliamentary Labour Party meets weekly or so when parliament is sitting, with the opportunity for back-benchers to contribute to debates and to pursue relevant proposals of their own. Although in my experiences it was normally dominated by the leadership.
|(12) MPs can also join a range of All Party Groups who can discuss parliamentary and other avenues for pursuing their concerns. Click here.|
(13) MPs can also form their own groups. I helped organise a cross-party group for all Derbyshire MPs and another for just Derbyshire Labour MPs. Then I chaired a group mainly attended by non-MPs, who were dedicated to pursuing avenues for peace and reconciliation across the island of Ireland.
(14) MPs can also pursue matters outside of governmental and parliamentary avenues. For instance, problems brought to an MP's attention by constituents might need to be pursued via local councils, other non-parliamentary areas of officialdom, private firms and even overseas contacts. On the later, links might be sort through our Foreign Office and then via direct contact with our relevant overseas officials in the Foreign Country concerned. Also a foreign nation's Embassy in this country can be directly contacted, as well as the oversea's Government concerned.
(15) In pursuing concerns which go beyond those which are restricted to our internal bounderies, back-bench MPs have a number of avenues open to them. I served on British-Irish Parliamentry Body for MPs from the UK and the Irish Republic, who met in each others nations and also undertook Committee work on a variety of issues. Then there are bodies such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which MPs can then draw from in pursuing relevant matters in parliament and with relevant Government Ministers. Of course, it depends on how seriously the MPs concerned pursue these and all the above avenues.
(16) As a back-bench MP I found the services of the House of Common's Library to be invaluable. They produce a telling variety of publications covering what are key measures being dealt with by parlianment, these can be discovered here - https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/services/ But then an MP has the extra advantage of being able to obtain information from the Library's specialists. Whenever I was faced with a fresh problem to deal with, I would phone the appropriate expert at the library to discover what the situation was and how I could seek to pursue the matter. Losing this specialist information was the biggest loss I experienced when I packed in as an MP.