What does an MP do?

A Member of Parliament is elected to sit in the House of Commons to represent one of 650 constituencies in the UK. MPs use their position in Parliament to hold Her Majesty's Government to account, to scrutinise and vote on legislation, and take part in debates on various issues. If someone needs assistance with an issue which they think their MP can help with, then they must approach their own constituency MP.

MPs can help constituents by corresponding on their behalf to a government department, local councils and other public sector bodies, aswell as organisations. It must be noted that MPs in their own right do not have jurisdiction over the government, councils, the police or the courts, and are not in a position to offer legal or financial advice.

Does it matter whether or not I voted for my MP?

A person's vote is a private matter and is not queried by an MP. Whether you voted for your MP or not, you can contact them. Even if you do not vote at all, you can still contact your MP. The only details your MP will ask you for is your home address and contact details. Parliamentary Protocol prevents MPs assisting people who live in other constituencies.

How was my MP and the Government elected?

MPs are elected at General Elections. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 introduced 5 year parliaments, which means a General Election should occur every 5 years. An early election can take place, however, if a majority of MPs in the House of Commons vote for one.

MPs are elected through the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting system on a constituency level. FPTP is simple: the candidate with the most votes wins. Each constituency has a number of candidates from different political parties, although candidates can also stand as an independent. Voters can only vote for one candidate on polling day. Typically, the leader of the party which wins over half of the 650 seats in the House of Commons (326) can claim victory and be received by the Queen to form a government. In some circumstances, no single party may win a majority of seats, and the biggest party has the option of trying to form a minority government or going into coalition with another party. Assuming the largest party enters government, then the party with the second largest number of seats forms Her Majesty's Opposition to hold the Government to account.

The Government appoints certain MPs to become ministers in its various departments, while the Opposition appoints MPs as shadow ministers to hold their government counterparts to account. The Government will appoint some members of the House of Lords (Peers) as ministers as well. Most of the remaining MPs are called backbenchers who are free to hold the Government, its ministers and the Opposition to account.

Every MP has to be elected by a constituency. All government ministers and the Prime Minister are MPs for individual constituencies, which means they are elected in exactly the same way as backbench MPs.

How are laws made in Parliament?

Bills are introduced into Parliament to create Acts / laws. Although the House of Commons is often the centre of media attention, Bills can actually initially be introduced in both the Commons and the Lords. A Bill must go through a First Reading, Second Reading, Committee Stage, Report Stage, and a Third Reading in the House it is introduced. It then goes to the other House to go through the same process. Once passed, the original House must then address any amendments made by the second House before it can be given Royal Assent by the Queen.

If there is disagreement between the Houses, the Bill enters 'Ping-Pong' stage until full agreement is met. Due to the fact that the Commons is elected and the Lords is not, there are conventions in place which stipulate that if if agreement cannot be met, then the Lords give way to the Commons.

A Bill should usually go through this process within a parliamentary session of approximately 12 months which begins after the State Opening of Parliament, where the Queen gives a speech to outline what legislation the Government intends to bring forward. A new Bill can introduce new laws as well as amend existing laws / Acts of Parliament.

What should I do if I object to a planning application or development proposal?

If you support or object to a planning application or proposed development, then you should first lodge your comments through Cornwall Council or your local councillor. MPs have no influence over council policy or decisions, and therefore cannot steer a planning application.

Planning applications including supporting documentation and comments can be viewed via the online planning portal here: http://planning.cornwall.gov.uk/online-applications/

You can find out who your local councillor is here: http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/my-area/

How much are MPs paid?

MPs receive an annual salary of just under £75,000, which is set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). This organisation is independent of Parliament and is responsible for overseeing the pay, expenses and budgets for MPs, their staff and their office. MPs do not set budgets or decide how much they are paid.

Why does an MP need to claim expenses?

Expenses can only be claimed for costs incurred while carrying out parliamentary duties, either by the MP themselves or their staff. 

In order for an MP to represent their constituents, they require an office, staff, accommodation in London, travel to and from London and around their constituency for meetings and events.

The majority of an MP's expenses is for the staff payroll which includes National Insurance and pension contributions. The office budget is used to cover the cost of computers, stationary, overheads, rent, utility bills, etc.

An MP from outside of London can claim for their travel to and from the capital, but not for daily commuting. They are permitted to claim up to a specific amount for a flat or hotel in London.

An MP and their staff have to travel around their constituency to conduct many meetings and surgeries, the expense of which can be claimed back. MPs have set budgets for their staff payroll and their office, and if these are exceeded, then the MP must pay out of their own pocket.

All budgets and expenses are processed by IPSA and are published on their website.

How is the Government structured?

Her Majesty's Government is formed by the political party which has a majority in the House of Commons. The government is led by the Prime Minister and his / her Cabinet, which is made up of MPs who head government departments - known as Secretary of States. These various departments are headquartered in London and have specific remits and responsibilities. 

Each department has its own buildings and workforce overseen by the Civil Service. As each department oversees many things, there will be a number of ministers who work in the department with different portfolios. As ministers, they promote the department's work, introduce government Bills to change or create laws, and ensure that they and the department are accountable to Parliament. Every few weeks, the Secretary of State and his / her ministers face Question Time in the House of Commons. This is where backbench MPs and the shadow cabinet hold them to account on various issues.

The shadow cabinet is made up of shadow ministers. These are MPs who are members of Her Majesty's Opposition (the second largest party). They do not work in government departments, but they do hold them to account. The shadow cabinet is led by the Leader of the Opposition, who is also the leader of their party. 

Why weren't all the MPs present in the House of Commons during a debate?

The House of Commons usually sits from Monday to Thursday, and on occassional Fridays. It is difficult for MPs to always be in the House of Commons chamber because of other engagements they have to attend or because they have to do work in their office.

Government business is usually conducted on during Mondays until midnight, and then Tuesdays and Wednesdays until mid-late evening. MPs then return to their constituencies to hold meetings and attend events from Thursday-Sunday. This is why the House of Commons may appear half empty on a Thursday or Friday, because many MPs have had to leave London for constituency business. Business on Thursdays is mostly comprised of backbench debates, and Fridays are allocated for Private Members Bills which have been introduced by individual MPs.

Can MPs buy houses and pay for mortgages with their expenses?

MPs cannot buy a house with their Parliamentary expenses, nor can they claim for a mortgage. Expenses exist to pay for staff, office costs, travel and accommodation.

Why didn't my MP speak in a debate I wanted them to speak in?

Constituents always like to see their MP stand up in the House of Commons and contribute to a debate. It shows that they are concerned about an issue which may affect their constituents. However, debates can be very oversubscribed, and sometimes it isn't possible for every MP to speak. MPs can contact the Speaker expressing their intent to speak, and can also 'bob' in the Chamber to catch the Speaker's eye to be given a chance to talk. This isn't always successful, and even if they tell the Speaker beforehand, there is no guaruntee to speak.

Why didn't a Bill get into law which I wanted to?

Government Bills have priority, and are usually debated Mon-Weds and occassional Thursdays. There are many Private Members Bills (PMBs) introduced over the year, however, because the process of passing a Bill takes considerable time, most PMBs do not make it to Royal Assent. PMBs are, however, great campaign tools which can bring concerns to the attention of the Government and can sculpt future laws or exisiting laws.

Why hasn't my MP got back to me since I contacted them?

MPs receive a huge number of correspondence from their constituents on top of the Parliamentary business they conduct on a daily basis. If your MP has not got back to you after a subscribed number of days, then it's perfectly fine to contact them again to make sure they received your original correspondence. MPs are not privy to a workforce found in government or council departments, and it can take time for the MP or their office to get back to you.

Do I contact my MP about European Parliament business?

The European Parliament in the European Union is made up of MEPs (Members of European Parliament). If you wish to raise an issue regarding European Parliament laws or policy, then you can contact one of your local MEPs.

You can find out which MEPs represent your region here: http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/your-meps.html#shadowbox/1/

Why does the UK have First-Past-The-Post (FPTP)?

FPTP is a decisive, simple and clear voting system: the candidate who gets the most votes wins. This means it is cheap to administer and comes with little bureaucracy. It produces stable government, rather than multiple parties having to negotiate policy and laws which is bureacratic and costly.

The British electorate voted overwhelmingly to retain FPTP in 2011 when given the chance to adopt the Additional Vote (AV) system. The UK's current electoral system is one of the UK's biggest exports, used by half the voters in the world.

Can I make a Freedom of Information request to my MP?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires public bodies to supply information to requesters, but it does not apply to individual Members of Parliament. Individual MPs are, however, data controllers in their own right and are subject to data protection legislation. This means they must hold data securely and be transparent about the data they hold. You can find out more information via our Privacy Policy here.

While both the House of Commons and House of Lords are separately designated within the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as public authorities, this does not extend to individual Members of Parliament or to the information held by their staff or within their offices. The information MPs and their staff hold is not held by the House of Commons; neither does the House of Commons have access to this information; neither is it held by others on behalf of the House of Commons.

Therefore, MPs are not legally obliged to respond to Freedom of Information requests.