Last week, I circulated details to MPs of the next meeting of the all-party group on the constitution. As soon as I had e-mailed the notice, I waited for my in-box to be inundated with automatic responses. Rather than deleting them immediately, I did a quick study of them. They are quite revealing.
MPs typically invite the senders, if constituents, to ensure they have provided mailing addresses and remind them that an MP cannot pursue a matter on behalf of another MP’s constituent. Many will also say that correspondence is dealt with in the order that it is received. Some also say that they try to turn correspondence round within x days and, if a reply is not received within that time, to write again. At least one says that he tries to respond within 24 hours, which is impressive. Another mentions the amount of correspondence he receives – “sometimes approaching 1,000 letters, emails and telephone calls a week”.
Most of the automated responses are relatively short. A few are more detailed, explaining if the matter is for the local authority, or a devolved matter, how to contact the local authority or the devolved assembly. Though most are simple e-mail text, some are more like letters with accompanying pictures. Some also say that they will add the writer to the list of recipients for their e-newsletters, unless they ask not to be added.
E-mailing peers results in fewer automated responses. Those that use an automated response during a recess tend to keep the message short – usually just a one-line announcement of being out of the office until a particular date. However, two responses from peers were particularly notable. One announced she would shortly be on maternity leave – not the sort of message one normally gets in the Lords (the average age of peers is 69) – and the other, from Baroness Berridge, had a nicely designed message saying: ‘Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, With love, Elizabeth’. MPs may wish to take note.