A story appeared in The Independent on Sunday today (Sunday), which you can read here
I could have ignored it and hoped it would soon be forgotten or no one would notice, but I think it is important to address the fundamental issues it raises.
Firstly, it is entirely correct. I have made the fewest speeches in the House of Commons since being elected in May. The journalist from the Independent was very fair and balanced in his reporting and I am grateful to him for that.
In order to speak in the House of Commons you must first write to the Speaker and ask for permission to speak in a debate. You then have to attend that debate and wait to be called by the Speaker.
There is a hierarchy and rightly so. Senior and long serving MPs on both sides of the House will be called to speak before new members. The Speaker will alternate between Conservative, Labour, SNP and the other minor parties.
After sitting in the Chamber, sometimes for many hours, (the Syria debate lasted for ten and a half hours) you may get called. The Syria debate had 157 speakers who requested an opportunity to speak and 54 were not called.
It was the same in the Assisted Dying Private Member’s Bill where I sat in the Chamber for the entirety of the debate (all day) and didn’t get called.
I could sit in the House of Commons Chamber for most of the day waiting to get called or I could dedicate my time to representing my constituents. I choose to do the latter.
The Southampton Itchen Constituency has many challenges and people approach me with many and varied issues. Since I was elected in May, I have responded to literally thousands of constituents. I feel I have a responsibility and a duty to respond to them, and do all I can to help them with their problems or queries. I also make sure I speak to Ministers on behalf of my constituents and I know that this has directly affected government policy.
As an MP I receive over 200 emails per day (a little less at the weekend). I insist on seeing every single one and responding to nearly all of them myself. Some MPs run their affairs differently and that is for them, but I choose to be as hands on as possible rather than delegating constituency work to others.
I am not complaining but each contact or communication I receive takes time to respond to or deal with and I mostly send a personal response to everyone.
In addition to constituency work I have encouraged people to visit the Palace of Westminster. It is after all your building and most people have never visited before. Since May we have had 250 visitors from schools to individuals and clubs and groups. We have many more pencilled in to visit and some are taking advantage of a tour of Big Ben and even Prime Minister’s Questions.
As well as my Parliamentary duties, which include sitting on Bill Committees and Statutory Instrument Committees, I have concentrated on delivering my pledges made at the General Election and many constituents will already know that.
The reason I am bringing the story in today’s newspaper to your attention is because I think it is important that you, the people I represent, get the chance to decide for yourselves.
If you would prefer me to spend my time in the House of Commons Chamber rather than focussing on my constituents locally, I am more than happy to oblige. It is, after all, a very enjoyable place to be.
The reality is simple. I can’t do everything. I could have a higher profile in the Houses of Parliament and in the media, or I could continue to work hard for those who have elected me.
As always, I am very happy to discuss this, and hear your view about this.