The UK public elects Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent their interests and concerns in the House of Commons. MPs are involved in considering and proposing new laws, and can use their position to ask government ministers questions about current issues.
MPs split their time between working in Parliament itself, working in the constituency that elected them, and working for their political party. Some MPs from the ruling party become government ministers with specific responsibilities in certain areas, such as Health or Defence.
Working in Parliament
When Parliament is sitting (meeting), MPs generally spend their time working in the House of Commons. This can include raising issues affecting their constituents, attending debates and voting on new laws. Most MPs are also members of committees, which look at issues in detail, from government policy and new laws, to wider topics like human rights.
Working in their constituency
In their constituency, MPs often hold a 'surgery' in their office, where local people can come along to discuss any matters that concern them. MPs also attend functions, visit schools and businesses and generally try to meet as many people as possible. This gives MPs further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster.
The UK is divided into 646 areas called constituencies. During an election everyone eligible to cast a vote in a constituency (constituents) selects one candidate to be their MP. The candidate who gets the most votes becomes the MP for that area until the next election.
At a general election, all MPs stand for re-election and every constituency across the country chooses between available candidates. General elections generally happen every four to five years.
If an MP dies or retires, an election is held in that constituency alone to find a new MP for that area.
Click on General Election Results 2005 to see the May 2005 elections results for Stoke-on-Trent North.
Most MPs are members of one of the three main political parties in the UK - Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat. Other MPs represent smaller parties or are independent of a political party.
To become an MP representing a main political group, a candidate must be authorised to do so by the parties nominating officer. They must then win the most votes in the constituency.
UK-wide representation and devolved Parliaments and Assemblies
The UK Parliament has MPs from areas across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition, there is a Parliament in Scotland, a National Assembly in Wales and a National Assembly in Northern Ireland.
Separate elections are held for these devolved political bodies (which have been granted powers on a regional level that the UK Parliament was responsible for) - candidates who win seats in these elections do not become MPs in the UK Parliament.
When you should contact your local MP
MPs are more able to help you with issues that Parliament or government are responsible for, such as:
Tax (but not council tax as this is set and paid to your local authority).
Hospitals and the National Health Service (not local social services).
Benefits, pensions, national insurance.
School closures and grants (not day-to-day school problems like governors or the local education authority).
When you should contact someone else first
Some issues are not the direct responsibility of Parliament or government. In these instances, you should first contact either your local council or your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau before considering contacting your MP.
These are issues such as:
Private problems with neighbours, landlords, employers, family; or companies who’ve sold you faulty goods.
Decisions made by the courts.
Issues that are the responsibility of your local council, ie, dustbins or street repairs.