Guides to Commons Library Services

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These guides can be downloaded from the intranet or you can pick up a hard copy from the Members’ Library or Derby Gate Library.

The first four are linked from this page: http://intranet.parliament.uk/people-offices/offices-departments/commons-departments/commons-information-services/commons-library/publications/.

1.  Online Resources from the Library
https://intranet.parliament.uk/research-online/online-resources/a-z1/

This includes key resources such as Library Research Papers, Standard Notes and Debate Packs; it also includes parliamentary documentation and more specialised subscription resources, such as law databases, Who’s Who, journals, and news and media sources.

2.  Services for Members Staff
http://intranet.parliament.uk/Documents/people-offices/office-departments/commons-departments/commons-information-services/commons-library/Publications/services-for-members-staff.pdf.

This leaflet gives an overview of the Library services available to Members’ staff

3.  Information Skills Training
http://intranet.parliament.uk/Documents/people-offices/office-departments/commons-departments/commons-information-services/commons-library/Publications/information-skills-training.pdf.

Information on the training that the Library provides in the use of online resources.

4.  Using the Library from the Constituency
http://intranet.parliament.uk/Documents/people-offices/office-departments/commons-departments/commons-information-services/commons-library/Publications/using-the-library-from-the-constituency.pdf.

The House of Commons Library may not be physically near you, but almost all of the services available to Westminster-based staff are also available to constituency staff.

5.  Library Loans Service
https://intranet.parliament.uk/research-online/research/commons-library-loans1/

The Library Loans Service provides loans of books and other published material (journals and official publications), DVDs and CDs of parliamentary and current affairs programmes, and an inter-library loans service for material not held in the Library.

6. Subject Specialists Directory

https://intranet.parliament.uk/Documents/people-offices/office-departments/commons-departments/commons-information-services/commons-library/Publications/Subject-Specialist-Directory-full.pdf

Before submitting a request for information and research from the Library’s team of subject
specialists, please do look at the material already published on the Library website: commonslibrary.parliament.uk

Campaigning: Petitions

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Presenting a petition to 10 Downing Street in person

Petitioning 10 Downing Street can be a simple and effective way of publicising a cause.

Presenting a petition to 10 Downing Street can provide an excellent photo opportunity and highlight a campaign in a way that could be attractive to your local press. It’s also a relatively simple thing to organise.  Please note, however, that the Prime Minister never meets petitioners – even if they are cute children or war veterans.

  • In the first instance, all petition requests go to have to go to the Downing Street Liaison Office.  You can ring them on 0203 276 2934 between 0700 and 1500 hrs but it is better to email the full details to PaDPMailbox-DSLO@met.police.uk at least two weeks in advance of the date you wish to hand over your petition.
  • Petitions can be delivered available 365 days a year, Monday to Sunday 0900 – 1800 hrs, exceptn on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings up until 1430 hrs.  The Metropolitan Police will make every effort to facilitate arrangements and delivery of the petition; however matters of State must take precedence. As a result alterations to booked arrangements might be made with short notice, in such cases, petitions may be delayed, accepted at the gate, or you may be offered an alternative appointment.
  • Time slots for delivering petitions are allocated by the Police, so you will need to ask them which times are available.  The Police have a lot of people to accommodate, so if your desired time slot is not available, please be flexible.  The earlier you apply, the more chance you have of getting the time you want.
  • The Police will email you a form to complete and return to them.  Petition Forms MUST reach their office allowing seven (7) full and clear working days before its delivery date to enable the Metropolitan Police to make the necessary arrangements with Downing Street, and enable security checks to be completed.
  • No more than six petitioners will be permitted entry to Downing Street.  MPs, Peers, accredited cameramen and press do not count as petitioners.  However, you must notify the Metropolitan Police if such persons will be accompanying your petition party.  Please note that MP’s staff/interns must be included in the six petitioners.
  • The Metropolitan Police recognise the importance of these events to petitioners and will endeavour to facilitate photography or film recording of the occasion where possible.
  • All petitioners must bring photographic ID such as a passport or driving licence with them on the day.
  • No placards, banners, loudhailers or fancy dress or any props will be permitted.  National costume will not be excluded.
  • Downing Street will only accept a maximum petition of one 2500 sheet box of A4 paper through the door of No 10.  The remainder should be sent to 9 Howick Place, SW1P 1AA.
  • On the relevant day and time, attend the front gates of Downing Street and introduce yourself to the Police Officer on duty at the pedestrian gate.  The officer will direct you and your party through security search prior to delivery of the petition.  Please note: all petitioners will be subject to a search as a condition of entry into Downing Street.
  • If Downing Street can’t accept the petition, they’ll write to you to explain why.  You can then edit and resubmit your petition.  Once it’s approved, you’ll be emailed and informed – usually within five working days.
  • Remember, your constituents have probably come a long way to petition the Prime Minister.  If you can, give them a short tour of the Palace and buy them a drink in the Terrace Cafeteria.  Make them feel they have had a day out!

e-Petitions

Any British Citizen or UK resident can start a petition, and you will need five other people to support the application.  Simply go to https://petition.parliament.uk/ and follow the instructions on that page.  There is an 80 character limit for the title of your petition and you need to be very clear what you are asking the Government to do.  Once you have submitted the title, the next page will ask you to provide further detail on what you want the Government or Parliament to do, and why you want them to do it.  You can find further information on how petitions work here: https://petition.parliament.uk/help#standards

Once your petition is live, you will be able to publicise it and anyone will be able to come to the website and sign it.  They will be asked to give their name and address and an email address that can be verified.  The system is designed to identify duplicate names and addresses, and will not allow someone to sign a petition more than once.  Anyone signing a petition will be sent an email asking them to click a link to confirm that they have signed the petition.  Once they have done this, their name will be added to the petition.

Your petition will show the total number of signatures received.  It will also display the names of signatories, unless they have opted not to be shown.

If a petition receives more than 10,000 signatures, then it will receive a response from the Government.  If it receives more than 100,000 signatures, then it will be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

Downing Street will email the petition organiser and everyone who has signed the petition via the website giving details of the Government’s response.

Ask your MP to present a public petition to Parliament

A public petition is a petition to the House of Commons presented by an MP.  They must ask clearly for the House of Commons to take some action.  A petition cannot request a grant or charge, but it can ask for a change in policy.

There is detailed guidance on how to do this on the parliament website: https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/sign-a-petition/paper-petitions/

One thing that page doesn’t tell you, is that the declaratory paragraph can only be one single sentence.  Many petitions get round this by using semicolons to separate out the different parts.  For example “This petition notes that xxx; further that yyy; and further that zzz“.

Once a Public Petition has been accepted, it will be printed in Hansard, as will the Government’s response once it has been issued.

Email etiquette

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Isn’t it annoying when people send you e-mails that don’t contain any punctuation?  Or when you are sent an e-mail which has 300 recipients, and you scroll down through all the names to find a one-line message at the bottom?  Honestly, some people should use a bit of Netiquette!

What is Netiquette? 

Internet Etiquette, or ‘Netiquette’ is the unofficial ‘code of conduct’ for Internet users; a guide to avoiding inadvertently offending those with whom you communicate by e-mail and other electronic means such as chat rooms, instant messengers and message boards.

Blind Copying

Blind copying, or ‘BCC’ is a useful way of hiding the names of the recipients of an e-mail.  There are three main reasons for using the ‘BCC field’:

  1. to keep e-mail addresses private (so that the recipients aren’t able to copy the e-mail addresses of everyone else on the list)
  2. to prevent long lists of names appearing when printing or forwarding messages – some recipients get so irritated by long recipient lists, that they just delete the message without reading it.
  3. To prevent accidental clicking ‘Reply to All’ occurring.

If you can’t see the BCC field when you open up a new message in Outlook, simply click VIEW > BCC field and it will appear.  It will then show up on all new messages, unless you choose to hide it again.

Shouting

When people type messages which are all in capital letters, e.g. with the Caps Lock on, it is referred to as ‘shouting’ and is considered very rude indeed.

Use Appropriate Language

Just as in face-to-face communication, adjust your language according to your audience.  Avoid swearing or using abusive language, don’t write anything which could be construed as sexist, racist, homophobic or comments which could incite arguments (flaming)

Punctuation

Rules of punctuation still exist in e-mails.  When it comes to punctuation, you should treat an e-mail in the same manner as a formal written letter.  Lack of punctuation not only makes a message very difficult to read, but also makes the writer look very unprofessional and, on occasion, a bit of an idiot.

Emoticons

An emoticon is a graphical representation of an emotion.  The most common of these is a ‘smiley’  –   :o)   When looked at sideways, it looks like a smiley face.  These should not be used in formal communication, but are sometimes useful in very informal chat situations where a message you mean as a joke may be misunderstood, or otherwise be deemed rather impolite.  There are many different emoticons and many  lists of them can be found on the Internet, simply by searching on the word “emoticons”.

Post in Haste, Repent at Leisure

If you receive an e-mail which annoys or upsets you, don’t respond to it immediately.  Print it out and keep it for a while.  With e-mail, it’s too easy to whip off a tart response in seconds, hit the ‘send’ button and…..”damn, I got it wrong, I didn’t mean that”.  Too late.  It’s gone, and it’s almost certain you can’t get it back.  Always think before you reply.

Flaming

Flaming is where people make personal (written) attacks, especially in chat rooms, rather than sticking to the topic of conversation.  Flaming should be avoided at all costs, because it spoils the conversation for other members of the group.  Sometimes, flaming occurs because of a misunderstanding, for example when someone has been SHOUTING in their messages.

Beware of ‘Reply All’

Beware of defaulting to use the ‘reply all’ button all the time. Only use ‘reply all’ if your reply is important to all the recipients. Also, using it too often can lead to automatically replying all with an email not intended for all recipients – very embarrassing and a sticky situation to have to escape from.

Avoid Embarrassing Emails

It’s easy to accidentally hit ‘send’ when a message was not yet ready to go. This can be quite embarrassing, especially if you’d intended to change the text later before sending the mail. Since it’s difficult to disable the ‘send’ button, you should make sure the message does no harm even if you hit that button accidentally.

Either:

  • leave the address field empty, or
  • address the message to yourself while you are still composing it.

Only enter the final recipient when you are absolutely ready to send the mail.

Safety Online

Spam

Spam is, quite simply, unsolicited junk mail.  The name ‘spam’ comes from a Monty Python sketch where, on the menu in a cafe, everything comes with spam.

Some people are lucky enough not to get any spam at all, others may get hundreds of unwanted messages a day. Users of the Parliamentary Network benefit from a spam filter, which does catch most of the rubbish before it gets to your inbox.

Spam does not necessarily have to come from unknown sources, a lot of spam comes from friends in the form of jokes and ‘sillies’, which they send to all of their friends, who in turn send it to all of their friends. Before you know it, your e-mail is full of the stuff and you’ve got no work done. If a friend starts sending you unwanted e-mails, ask them to stop.

However, you must never click on an ‘unsubscribe’ link (or any other links) in messages from unknown sources, as you are just confirming to the spammer that you exist, and you’ll probably end up on even more junk mailing lists.

If you receive spam of a racist or obscene nature, especially if it involves children, you can report it (anonymously, if you prefer) to the Internet Watch Foundation (www.iwf.org.uk) who will investigate and take appropriate action.

Personal Information

There is a famous cartoon from the New York Times, showing two dogs at a computer, and one says “On the Internet, no-one knows you’re a dog”.  We can’t reproduce the picture here, for copyright reasons, but you can find it easily enough by searching on the Internet.  Although it’s funny, it’s also a very serious warning.

People you may chat with by e-mail or in chat rooms may not always be who they seem.  Anyone can be nice in such an anonymous setting, but how would you like it if those people started knocking on your door, or phoning you?  Don’t ever give out personal details such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or information about your family, school or workplace.  There have been many cases of personal details being abused, causing great distress to the victims.

Office Email Policy

You may find it useful to establish an office email policy, which can incorporate the above and any other rules for using email you think appropriate for your office and staff (seek colleagues’ opinions first of course). All employees should sign off on having received the information once it is finalised.

You might consider:

  • how restrictive you should be on the use of email for personal reasons at work. Your policy may like to emphasise that the use of the domain name (@parliament.uk) should be reserved for work-related emails and emails to colleagues only.
  • whether you will require all employees to have an email signature.
  • whether to establish a policy for deleting messages.
  • when to use email and when to use post – is your MP happy for you to contact constituents via email if they have emailed you, or should a letter always be sent?
  • When sending emails outside of the Parliamentary Network, a disclaimer is added automatically, which reads:

“UK Parliament Disclaimer: This e-mail is confidential to the intended recipient. If you have received it in error, please notify the sender and delete it from your system. Any unauthorised use, disclosure, or copying is not permitted. This e-mail has been checked for viruses, but no liability is accepted for any damage caused by any virus transmitted by this e-mail. This e-mail address is not secure, is not encrypted and should not be used for sensitive data.”

  • Do not allow the employee to pass off personal views as representing those of the party or Parliament – you should add your own disclaimer, along the lines of:

“Views expressed in personal emails do not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of the Labour Party/Conservative Party/Liberal Democrats.”

Further reading : The Core Rules of Netiquette, by Virginia Shea

Support in Your Job

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Guides

When you begin working for an MP, you will receive a Members’ Staff Induction Pack, including a letter from the Clerk of the House of Commons that provides links to relevant resources on the Parliamentary Intranet and elsewhere.

Here, you will find a collection of guides to good practice that will offer you advice in carrying out the main activities expected of you in your job.  They are constantly being revised and updated, so if you do print a guide out, please remember to check back from time to time.

Casework

Your Office

Research

Parliament

Others