Recent debates in Parliament about reforming the House of Commons have highlighted widely different views about what the role of an MP should be.
Some MPs who have been in Parliament for many years focus very much on the work of Parliament itself – debates in the Chamber, asking questions, amending legislation and holding inquiries in select committees. For many MPs like me, elected more recently, work for our constituents is equally important and we want a balance of time in the constituency and in Westminster.
For me, representing constituents means doing both of these. I know that working in Westminster can help my constituents. As a backbench MP, I raised many Worsley issues and debated them with Ministers. In July 2008, I led a debate which enabled me to speak against bringing in the Congestion Charge in Greater Manchester. We have over 7,000 carers in Worsley constituency and over 20,000 carers in Salford. I have twice introduced a Private Members Bill to make changes to help identify and support carers. Whilst the Private Members Bills did not go on to become legislation, they were a good way of bringing to ministers’ attention the issues that local carers had raised with me.
As a Government Minister and as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, I have been able to work much more closely with the passing of legislation and this has helped me to understand how to get things done in Westminster. Now, if constituents ask me if a law can be changed or why something works in a particular way, I have a good understanding of what can or cannot be done to help.
I think the employment background of an MP matters and that work experience should come before entering politics. Before becoming an MP, I gained experience in the private sector through working in the IT Industry for IBM and in the voluntary sector as an advisor for a national charity for carers. I was also a councillor in nearby Trafford for 9 years, including 8 years as an Executive councillor.
All the experience from my previous career has been essential in my work as an MP. Being a councillor helped with experience from regeneration in my own town centre ward, through to being responsible for council services with a budget in excess of £100 million. It helps an MP to have knowledge from local government but it also helps to have experience gained from working with business, industry and charities. Some MPs believe that they should also be able to hold second jobs outside Parliament to keep their experience up to date. I believe strongly that being an MP is a full time job and I have always concentrated entirely on my work as an MP
As this debate goes on, my view is that we should make sure that an MP can both work in Westminster on national policy issues as well as in the constituency on local issues to help individuals. I believe both are equally important and that modern politics needs MPs who are able to move from the local to the national scene every week.