Have you ever contacted me in my role as the town’s MP?
I very much hope that you have. I receive a large (and ever increasing) amount of correspondence from constituents asking for my views or assistance in a wide variety of matters.
I view correspondence between my constituents and myself as incredibly important and would encourage people from Hartlepool to get in touch and let me know their thoughts and concerns.
I get a lot of correspondence from constituents asking me to vote in certain ways when issues and proposed pieces of legislation come before the House of Commons.
I have had enormous numbers of correspondence from constituents on issues that in some ways are expected – the privatisation of the NHS through the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill through the House of Commons is one obvious example – but other issues are a little more intriguing.
The biggest issues that people have contacted me about in the past couple of years, apart from individual concerns about the bedroom tax or other welfare changes, are the sell-off of forests by the government and the use of pesticides and the effect that they will have on the bee population.
The widespread use of email and social media mean that it has never been easier to get in touch with me as your MP and I welcome that.
Many charities have signed up supporters and encourage them to send campaigning e-mails.
It is a direct method of engaging with Parliament and people’s representatives and can show the strength of feeling on a matter, such as forests and bees.
In the past month, I have had a deluge of emails on a particular topic.
I have honestly never had as many emails or pieces of correspondence on a single issue in all of my time as the town’s MP.
That issue which has prompted so much movement is the Government’s Lobbying Bill, which is meant to regulate the sometimes shady activities of lobbyists and their influence on the policymakers.
The irony of the Bill is that as it is drafted it doesn’t prevent anything of the sort.
It does however prevent and hinder real engagement between a constituent and an MP.
As the Bill is currently written, a constituent may write to me as their MP expressing their concern about a particular issue.
I as their MP will write to the Minister setting out my constituent’s concerns and making representations on their behalf.
I do that every single day in my role as MP. However, an interpretation of the Bill will mean that I and all other MPs would effectively be termed lobbyists and not able under the terms of the Bill to carry out such a basic part of the democratic engagement. This is clearly absurd.
The Bill also increases regulation and bureaucracy for charities and campaign groups as well as stopping their activity. Campaigning in the year prior to the general election for these charities will be curtailed, which seems ridiculous. It is perfectly reasonable, indeed it needs to be encouraged, for charities like Cancer Research to be able to ask what each party would do to tackle cancer and draw up socalled “asks” from those parties to include specific policies in their manifestos. That’s not lobbying - that’s democracy.
A cynic may suggest that such behaviour is an attempt by the Government to prevent effective scrutiny and accountability by the electorate in the run up to a general election.
Whatever the motives, this is a serious affront. Many people in the town have seen that.
I hope the Government recognises this and backs down on the lobbying bill.