Our man in the House

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WELCOME to the Houses of Parliament, where the corridors are adorned with magnificent paintings, sculptures and statues - yet nobody has time to admire them.

Bronzes of Thatcher, Gladstone and Churchill stare down as you walk through the Central Lobby, the half-way point between the Lords and Commons chambers.

As you get deeper inside this political dragon’s den the atmosphere becomes more and more charged. Politicians and their aides rush through the corridors and can be overheard organising their diaries and discussing the day’s events.

The the smell of old oak hangs in the air. Every now and again you catch a glimpse of somebody famous and try not to get caught staring.

The Commons chamber itself is much smaller than it appears on TV, but the familiar sounds of cheering and jeering resonate around the ornate wood and stone that surround the chamber floor.

Soon after hearing a debate I talk to Mark Pawsey MP over a cup of tea on the palace’s terrace about what makes the place tick and his role as MP.

He explained that members spend a lot of time working to effectively name-drop their constituency and its problems in the House. But this has to be done at the right time and in the right tone if it’s going to resonate with other MPs and stand a chance of coming to the Government’s attention.

If enough constituents lobby their MPs over a particular issue, and enough MPs are willing to lobby the house, then there’s a good chance the Government may be able to do something to help by way of a new law or policy.

Airing constituents’ concerns effectively is a bit like making a sales pitch, but isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Mr Pawsey explained: “It’s a bit of a balancing act - MPs who mention their constituency too much, or just for the sake of it, get a reputation for not having anything constructive to say. If you speak out too little then your constituency and its problems will fall off the radar and they’ll be little chance that anything gets done.”

He added: “The range of issues that are brought to my attention through constituents is very diverse and can range from healthcare to bus services.

“In many cases things can be resolved through local councillors, but when the issue involves Government policy I can highlight it by calling for a debate in the House of Commons.

“The levying of business rates on vacant commercial property and policy towards adoptive parents are examples of such cases where I’ve done that.”

As I’m shown around the house I’m told all about its quirks and unwritten in-house rules. If you’re a new MP there are lots of ways to draw negative attention to yourself if you’re unfortunate enough not to be aware of ‘the done thing’ and get caught out.

In the members’ tea room MPs are frowned upon if they sit at the wrong table – for example a Labour MP sitting in Conservative territory would be committing a serious faux par.

I got caught out when I was refused entry to part of the House of Lords purely because I hadn’t got my suit jacket with me.

There are also ways to gain some positive attention in the House for your and your constituents in quite simple ways - in one of the members’ bars MPs to jostle to get the House’s guest ale from their constituency on tap – purely for bragging rights.

Back to the business of politics, and the effects Government spending cuts are having, I asked Mr Pawsey what he made of the situation in Rugby, referencing the county council’s decision to cut its youth service budget from £4.6m to £1m.

“The Government’s key priority during its first year has been to strengthen the economy by dealing with the unprecedented deficit we inherited,” he said.

“The youth service is one service that is being affected and regrettably this has meant reductions which are having an effect on residents across Rugby.

“It means that we have to think differently about how services are provided.

“There will continue to be services for young people, many delivered by the voluntary and community sector which does great work here in Rugby when the nature of the provision may be different.”

Asked what his priorities will be over the next year, Mr Pawsey said he will be paying particular attention to prosperity in his constituency.

“On a personal level I will continue to make myself accessible to the people of Rugby and do my best to help with issues and problems that they bring to me. I am very keen to attract new business to the area and get involved with businesses to encourage them to grow and develop.”

He added: “In a few months time the Rugby World Cup will be taking place in New Zealand and it will give us a great opportunity to showcase our town as the home of a great international game.”

There’s been a lot to learn, he admits.

“Twelve months ago I started a new job and as with any new job it took me a while to learn the ropes. I am now familiar with the many different approaches a Member of Parliament can use to deal with a particular issue and I’m looking forward to putting them to good use.”

“Over the year I’ve had the opportunity to visit organisations and meet people here in Rugby doing really good things in the community and lend my support,” he said.

“I hope I’ve been able to recognise the very important role they do, as well as being an advocate in Westminster for Rugby as a great place to work, live and bring up a family.”

n Mark Pawsey holds weekly surgeries in Rugby at Age Concern in Clifton Road on Fridays between 5pm and 7pm. Write to 2 Castle Mews, Rugby CV21 2XL, phone (01788) 579499 or email Mark.Pawsey.MP@parliament.uk