Parliamentarians, especially MPs, receive a mass of letters. Each year, I put down a question asking how many items of mail were received in the Palace of Westminster in the previous year. Last month, I was given the figures for 2007. A total of 4,199,853 items of post were received. The percentage split between the Commons and Lords was 80/20, meaning the Lords received approximately 839,970 items of mail.
MPs receive a large volume of constituency correspondence; the number has increased substantially decade by decade. Peers don’t have constituents, so the type of mail we get is often the lobbying type that MPs also get. Much is from interest groups or organisations keeping us informed of their work; other material is geared to Bills going through – advocating amendments or urging support or opposition. Many organisations write directly, whereas others encourage members to write individually to members. Though letters come in personally written and signed by individuals, there are often tell-tale signs that the letters were inspired or orchestrated by a particular organisation. One case in point was when the House was considering Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying Bill. One morning, I received no less than 99 individually written letters expressing opposition to the Bill. The giveaway that they had not been written spontaneously by the individuals was the fact that all 99 letters arrived in the same envelope!
The issues that have generated the largest number of letters in recent years in my in-tray have tended to be on hunting, assisted dying, sexual orientation, and (rather unexpectedly) banning the docking of dogs’ tails. Increasingly, the lobbying is via e-mail, adding considerably to the volume of mail we receive.
Do letters and briefings from organisation influence my thinking and indeed my voting? On some issues, they certainly have done. In some cases, the arguments have been well made and, along with the debate in the chamber, have influenced my voting. Occasionally, the material has had the opposite effect to that intended: the arguments in support of a case have been so badly argued that it has led me to look much less favourably on the cause being advocated and in one recent case actually to vote against.
Well argued letters are always worth writing. They get read and they can make a difference.