Continuing with the ‘Influencing government’ series (Part one is here), in this post I continue to report back on the advice given for generating change. I attended with a campaigning hat on: for the most part I would rarely even consider any kind of lobbying activity without the help of a professional who really knows the ropes, but for a campaign I’m working with that boasts very little budget for luxuries like lobbying, I had to do a ‘crash course’ to get us started. This ‘outreach’ talk by a Parliamentary representative came at just the right time.
And as their objective is to help people understand the Government maze, I’ve blogged it here!
Getting something debated in Parliament
To get a more thorough response on a particular topic, MPs can ask for debate. To quote “They Work for You”, “The main chamber of the House of Commons is where debates are held on a variety of topics, oral questions are answered, and new legislation is debated.”
Types of debate include:
1. Adjournment debate
Sometimes useful for obtaining a specific commitment or position on an issue, ‘adjournment debates’ are usually held at the end of the day, and the relevant minister must be there to respond. In consequence, it may well have to go on until the small hours of the morning. There will be a maximum of five adjournment debates tabled in a day.
These can’t be substantive, but will be voted on, and have to be tabled by an MP.
2. House of Lords debate
If they ask for a debate, the House of Lords will get it. Maybe not now, but….
3. Back Bench Business debates
These are debates that cover topics of interest to ‘back benchers’, and MPs make a case for their subject to be debated. Usually 8-9 MPs form these debates. If the committee agrees, the matter will be taken to the House of commons. These debates can be substantive – the badger cull was a good example.
These debates ARE influential: they can help crystallise people’s views and often attract media coverage. I found this online information useful for clarifying why this might be an option: http://www.parliament.uk/bbcom.
4. Opposition Day debates
Usually the government doesn’t lose opposition day debates, but the debates can instigate change – the Gurkhas campaign, for example, used an Opposition Day debate.
How do you know who to ask for help?
The Theyworkforyou.com allows people to search by member, by debates etc. It’s a much easier way of accessing Hansard information thatr the ‘official’ site..
5. Select committee debates
There’s a good video on ‘How Select Committees work’ here:
Select Committees in the House of Commons look at the work of specific departments – new departments automatically result in a Select Committee debate.
Select Committee debates are cross party and it’s unusual for them to disagree. All attendees are back benchers and the ’Chair’ is agreed on by all parties. They carry out work by public enquiry, and can look at new laws.
On paper, they have two powers: people have to attend if called; and the Government must respond thoroughly. In this way, they can force the Government to review policies or legislation.
They are growing in power because of public involvement and media attention. A Select Committee was influential in Gove backing down from eBac, for example. Often very constructive, they have the power to call ministers to answer on progress made.
To have a say on, or influence what’s discussed in, these debates, contact the staff on committees directly, and ask about forthcoming or planned inquiries. It is possible to suggest areas to look into. (Staff can appear to be cagey and non-committal, but this is because they can’t firmly commit: sometimes things are put back.) These staff can also offer additional advice on providing written evidence – guidelines are available, but short.
Individuals can contact Select Committee members – it’s important to be clear that you’re contacting them in their select committee capacity as they refuse to engage with you if you are outside of their constituency. Evidence turnaround time is usually very short, so time is of the essence.
Guidelines for evidence are given on the site, but they are short. Summarised:
- keep it brief;
- limit yourself to 2-3 sides a4 at most;
- Provide both data and anecdotes;
- try and include recommendations;
- check if you need help.
Select committees debates are apparently usually very effective – people who sit on them often have a passion for the subject.
I’d love to hear what experience others have had in getting debates tabled, particularly where there has been no budget for paid lobbying.