Labour MPs to spend more time with the people

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Labour's army of 330 backbenchers is to be put to work out in the country as the eyes and ears of the Government. In a move designed to prevent dissent born of boredom, the Government is planning a "revolution" in the way its MPs work.

Members' traditional tasks of sitting on Commons committees, voting in the House and dealing with constituency casework will no longer play such a major part in their lives. Now they will have an extra role as "ambassadors" campaigning for new votes, working to hold on to the support Labour won at the election, and warning ministers of potential problems.

There are three prongs to the initiative. New committees of Labour members will travel the country gathering information for ministers on how government initiatives are working, individuals will go out to explain party policy to the public, and all MPs will be given more time to spend in their own constituencies. With a majority of 180, the party whips can afford to spare them.

"This is potentially a revolutionary relationship," a spokesman said. "We are determined to make sure we don't repeat the mistakes of Tories. We are looking at new ways of working with MPs to make sure that the Government truly represents and keeps in touch with the people on whose behalf it governs."

The new committees will shadow each Whitehall department and will provide jobs for dozens of MPs. Unlike the old backbench committees which existed under the Conservatives, they will spend much of their time outside Parliament talking to experts and the public. They will then return to tell ministers what they have found.

The committees will also have a role in campaigning for Labour's 2002 election effort, according to Clive Soley, the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

"If we are successful what will happen is that people throughout the country will feel Labour listens. If they feel that, obviously we might benefit," he said.

The role of individual "ambassadors" is less clearly defined, though they will spend time visiting constituencies to explain party policy. They might visit community groups or local Labour parties to get the message across. Already, some new MPs have been sent out to explain Tony Blair's "Labour into Power" modernisation project.

Labour-held constituencies can also find their MPs planning to spend more time with them. Over the next six weeks, the party's backbenchers will each spend a week in their own areas. While they are there, they may find time to spread the Labour message among the voters.