Laura Hall, Business Planning and Pipeline Team, Change Governance, Finance Services Group at DVLA talks about her experience with MP Barry Sheerman.
In July 2016 I was lucky to have been given the opportunity to take part in the Industry and Parliamentary Trust, MP Attachment Scheme. This is an opportunity open to all civil servants and provides an overview of MP’s working life, together with a wider understanding of government and parliamentary business. My visit involved a seminar in the Houses of Parliament and 3 days shadowing Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield.
The first part of the scheme was a day’s seminar in the Palace of Westminster. As you may imagine security is paramount at the heart of British Politics and my first reality check was being greeted by armed police. Thankfully I passed the checks and was safe to enter.
I was welcomed by Catherine Hunter Parliamentary Assistant who walked me through the corridors of power to the meeting rooms where I met the other delegates and our host for the day George Oliver MBE. George has a wealth of experience of parliamentary business and proved to be very entertaining. He provided an overview of Parliament, including the role of the Select Committees and the legislative process for passing Bills through Parliament. He also introduced Baroness Hooper who shared with us the workings of the House of Lords and her role. After lunch we were treated to a tour of the Palace of Westminster; this included a visit through both the Houses of Commons and Lords, the Queens Robing Room and Westminster Hall which is the oldest building on the Parliamentary Estate. Having never been into the Houses of Parliament I was blown away by the beautiful buildings and magnitude of the history, which spans over 900 years.
The next part of the Attachment Scheme took place some weeks later where I was given the opportunity to spend 3 days shadowing Barry Sheerman MP. Little did I know what an experience I was going to entail; it was far from an ordinary week for MP’s.
On my first day I met Barry at Portcullis House, this is the building opposite the Houses of Parliament where most MPs have their offices. The 2 buildings are joined by an underground tunnel and I was to find myself travelling back and fro on many occasions over the next few days. Barry was a true gentleman and I felt at ease chatting to him about my role. There was no time to hang around however the day was about to go off at lightning speed. One of Barry's colleagues Angela Eagle MP was launching her campaign to be leader of the Labour Party. Barry wanted to support her and attend her press launch. This meant his other arrangements had to be tweaked accordingly.
He had arranged to meet 2 representatives from Huddersfield University, which is in his constituency. We met them briefly before Barry announced he wanted us all to go with to him to the press launch. We quickly sped off to the Institution of Engineering and Technology building, further along the embankment, around 15 minutes away.
I am a keen runner and my jogging skills definitely came into their own. As time was of an essence we walked ' briskly' to say the least. The guys from Huddersfield University had no choice but to hold their meeting with Barry ‘on the go’! On arrival we found the place full of press and journalists. They were all eager to get to the front of the action and jostling for a prime location at the event. I found it fascinating to see how things work ‘from the other side of the camera’.
Whilst all this was happening an announcement was made confirming one of the contenders for the leader of the Conservative party had pulled out. This left just one contestant: Theresa May, our new Prime Minister in the waiting. Understandably this news caused a buzz of discussion and excitement. A further announcement followed, informing the country she would be taking office within a day or two – amazingly during my visit!
No sooner than the launch was completed it was time to speed back to his Portcullis House and carry on with the business of the day. There we were joined by Barry’s new intern Daisy who slotted in quickly, without even catching her breath. I was amazed how many tasks Barry juggled; his next was parliamentary questions so our next stop was over to the Houses of Parliament via the tunnel under the busy streets of tourists. Before the session starts each day a procession is held which includes the arrival of the Speaker of the House and the Ceremonial Mace, which you will have seen placed at the despatch box. Another awe inspiring event to witness. Daisy and I then made our way to the public gallery where we observed the House in action, this included Barry questioning the Minister for Department for Work and Pensions Stephen Crabb.
The next morning once at Barry's office the first task was to find the record of the questions he had asked in the House of Commons the day before. The records made at all parliamentary debates are called Hansard reports and the 150 page record was ready and waiting for us to check. As expected the details were correct - I was interested to see the records are exactly as quoted by the MP's. Dennis Skinner a well known MP renowned for his strong views, is an active parliamentary questioner and made reference to report he described as "crap"; I was surprised to see the Hansard extract was exactly as he had said it!
Each day also included a busy range of meetings, committees and events. These included Barry chairing the AGM at a Parliamentary Accounts Committee on Transport Safety and meetings with Age UK and the Autism Education Trust. In between these meetings and sometimes during the meetings Barry would rush over to the House of Commons. It may be for parliamentary questions or to cast a vote. The MP's offices have a system where in every meeting room a TV screen shows the activities of the house. When a vote is due to take place a 'bell' is heard and if they wish the MP’s rush over to the House to cast their vote.
My last day was truly historical. David Cameron Prime Minster made his final speech to the House of Commons before he left the building under police escort to take him back to 10 Downing Street for the last time. This I was able to witness from the window of Barry’s office, a bird’s eye view. As Mr Cameron was departing we rushed over to Cromwell Green which is where the news reports we see on the TV take place. Barry was to give an interview and the area was buzzing with journalists doing their reports on the ‘out with the old’ ‘in with the new’ Prime Minister. This was all part of the amazing experience and a truly historic day for the UK.
So what did I get out of my time spent in the Houses of Parliament? When I applied I wanted to increase my understanding of the role of an MP, government and parliamentary business. This opportunity has certainly met those objectives and more. I was certainly not expecting to be witness to such an extra-ordinary week in politics.
I am very grateful to Barry who was an excellent host and made my experience first class. I would also like to thank the Industry and Parliamentary Trust for providing this opportunity, one I would recommend to all colleagues.