Although they often get a bad rep, Members of Parliament have a powerful role that can be used to change attitudes, alter the law and even challenge the government.
Our elected representatives are key players in protecting and protecting and promoting human rights. In June 2017, for example, MP Stella Creasy’s proposed amendment to the Queen’s Speech in June forced the UK Government to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in Great Britain.
Equally, a good international example of the power of parliaments is the recent repeal of ‘rape clauses’ in Jordan and Lebanon, which allowed rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims. As noted by the Jordanian Member of Parliament, Wafa Bani Mustafa, “changing the legislation is a vital part of changing society”.
The jobs of a parliament are to make law, hold the government to account, but most importantly represent the people. Parliamentary activity covers the entire spectrum of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights and so has an immediate impact on all areas of our lives – so make sure your voice is heard!
Know your representatives – and speak to them
Image Credit: UK Parliament / Flickr
In the UK your representative is your Member of Parliament (MP). In Wales it’s your Assembly Member (AM), in Scotland it’s your Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and in Northern Ireland it’s your Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). If you’re not sure who’s who, you can always check online.
You can request that your representative ask oral or written questions to Ministers about your human rights concerns, ask that they vote on a particular issue and even request that they commission research for you.
Got evidence? Share it with them
Image Credit: National Welsh Assembly / Flickr
Parliamentary Committees are seen as the ‘workhorses’ of the institution. They undertake inquiries into specific issues, as well as scrutinising legislation and the government’s budget. There are specific committees that look at human rights in the UK Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly.
Keep up to date with current inquiries and submit evidence if you have something to say. You can follow the committees’ work on Twitter. The UK Parliament is on @HumanRightsCtte, Wales can be found @SeneddELGC, Scotland at @SP_EHRiC, and Northern Ireland on @NIAssembly.
— Lords AI Committee (@LordsAICom) August 8, 2017
You don’t have to be part of a group or organisation to provide evidence, and many committees run more informal outreach events to gather evidence. The House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee anyone?
Start a petition and create change
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Although there are loads of petition websites out there, only parliamentary petitions require elected members to debate an issue in parliament when they reach a certain number of signatures. And they can be incredibly effective: the petition to ‘accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK’ was signed by more than 450,000 people.
When it was debated in the House of Commons in September 2015, the then Prime Minister David Cameron announced that 20,000 more Syrians would be resettled under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme and a further £100m would be spent in humanitarian aid. Petitions systems are available for the UK, Wales and Scotland (and maybe soon in NI).
Get out there and vote, yes, really
Yep, if you’re unhappy with how your elected representative is voting, behaving or campaigning on human rights, you have the opportunity to vote them out every five years. And, of course, the right to free and fair elections is protected by the Human Rights Convention.
Perhaps even try it yourself…
Image Credit: Arnaud Jaegers / Unsplash
If you think that you could be an effective representative of the people, why not try it for yourself? Effective and legitimate parliaments should be representative of the people, but the average politician in the UK is over 50, male, white and from a middle-class background.