Most normal people won’t have a clue about what happens in Parliament.
That’s not a criticism of normal people – it’s a criticism of the often very obscure and sometimes chaotic means by which Parliament is organised and communicates with the most important set of people – the voters who return the likes of me.
Let me give you an example. As I write this, we’ll be discussing in Parliament today the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill at Report Stage.
This is an important piece of legislation that will affect things as varied as late payments for companies from other companies, zero hours contracts and the National Minimum Wage.
You may have seen in the past couple of days how the Government suffered its first defeat of a Government Bill in this Parliament over the rights of pubs to be able to buy their beer from wherever they like.
However, this is not the defeat of the entire Bill. It was only an amendment to the Bill.
It was done at Report Stage, but the Government can table amendments in the House of Lords to try to reverse this position.
It’s a long way before this achieves Royal Assent to become law.
Report Stage. Amendment to the Bill. House of Lords. Royal Assent. Many people will have tuned out. Can’t you just change the law? I can hear people say.
This sort of thing, the way in which Parliament operates and how a piece of law actually is made law after being scrutinised in Parliament, is not really taught in schools.
After you’ve left school, there aren’t really any means by which you can truly get up to speed with Parliamentary procedure.
It is vital that Parliament communicates better with voters, and perhaps just as crucially, non-voters and young people, who will soon be potential voters.
Parliament is starting to become aware of that, which is why it has originated in the past couple of years Parliament Week, designed to ensure that people are able to connect, understand and influence Parliamentary democracy.
The week ends today, and last Friday I attended an event at the Wharton Annexe in Dyke House, organised by Sacha Bedding and Teresa Driver from the charity the Wharton Trust.
I was really pleased with this event for a number of reasons.
First, it attracted a large and wide number of people who were really keen to talk about politics and parliament and how they want parliamentary democracy to work for them.
Young and old turned up, and although some tasty cakes were provided, I don’t think it was just the prospect of cake that kept them there engaged in discussion.
I’m acutely aware that there is disconnect between voters and MPs.
I’ll be blunt with you: I don’t think you can call me part of a Westminster elite. I come from and live in Hartlepool and am stopped all the time by people regarding casework – I was stopped whilst getting petrol in Morrison’s the other day by somebody who writes to me all the time on issues and it was nice to put a face to the name.
Secondly, the event at the Annexe was the only event in the North East. I find that shocking in many regards, but pleased that Hartlepool took the initiative.
I do think it is important to engage and ensure that people are aware of what goes on in the House of Commons. Parliament Week helps this but more can still be done.