“Why weren’t you in the House of Commons for the debate on forces veterans’ mental health support?
It was an email from a constituent and to be honest it hurt a bit because the welfare of our ex-servicemen is important to me.
Except I was in the Commons. Just not in the main chamber.
Understandably, people think of the House of Commons and they think of Prime Minister’s Questions. Maybe they think of a packed chamber listening to a major debate.
But so much more is going on, and in my first year at Westminster I have been surprised at just how many demands there are on my time.
For example, I am currently on a Bill Committee. That is where we look in detail at the wording of a bill and go through it, clause by clause. We meet upstairs in the main committee corridor. This particular piece of legislation is the Investigatory Powers Bill – which gives police and the security agencies the authority to intercept our emails and telephone communications.
The bill is an inch thick and we’ve been at it for three weeks - all day on a Tuesday and all day on a Thursday - we’re not even half way through it yet.
On Wednesday I am on another committee. A one-off to consider a statutory instrument. That is where an Act of Parliament gives a minister the power to introduce the detail of a law, but it must then be agreed by Parliament. It is something to do with Crown Courts but I haven’t had the chance to look at the detail yet.
MPs are placed on these committees largely on a rota, it seems.
There are also select committees that look in detail at subject areas by government department. I am on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which meets for 2-3 hours twice a week. We are currently looking at access to decent broadband, which is helpful to me in fighting for places like Upton Dene, Saughall, Mollington and Capenhurst to get proper connections.
And there’s a side chamber, the Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall, where MPs call short debates on a subject they choose, and which a government minister replies to.
I also chair the all-party group for aerospace (because of Airbus) and for Mexico (yes, there’s a constituency reason for that too!) and there are all-party groups for every subject you can think of.
So the next time you see an empty Commons chamber on TV, remember that work is going on right across Westminster. Not all of it grabs the headlines, but in a parliamentary democracy, all of it is important.