By Poppy Bragg
Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas has renewed her criticisms of waste and inefficiency at the heart of government.
And she tried to temper expectations of what her party colleagues could achieve now that they are the largest party on Brighton and Hove City Council.
She told journalism students at City College that MPs spend 250 hours queueing to vote over a Parliament, describing it as “massively time-consuming”.
When she was an MEP – Member of the European Parliament – electronic voting enabled the politicians to spend their time much more efficiently.
She also called for parliamentary hours to be made more family friendly, saying: “Do we really want Parliament only populated by people who can afford child care or who do not have children and are not sensitive to the issues?”
The Green Party leader said that her first few months in Westminster were “really difficult.”
As the party’s first and only MP she had no one to help her get to grips with the workings of Parliament.
Most MPs were helpful, she said, but there were exceptions, notably an MP who almost recoiled when she went to shake hands with him the second time she met him.
He told her: “In this House we only shake hands once.”
She arrived at Westminster after ten years in Brussels having been influenced by the relative “invisibility” of MEPs in matters of public debate.
She put this down to general media hostility towards the European Union, adding: “In terms of influencing the debate there is an issue of credibility unless you are represented (in Westminster).”
Asked about the perception among some voters that the Greens are a single-issue party, Dr Lucas said that environmental issues were central to the party’s policies.
But she said that environmental issues and social justice were linked.
Her party had tried to address this during the general election campaign last year by focusing on wider issues such as health and education.
Speaking about her constituency work, Dr Lucas said that poor housing, incorrect benefits payments and visa-related issues were typical problems areas that people consulted her about at her weekly surgeries.
She said that being able to help her constituents was one of the best parts of her job as an MP.
She added: “You may not have changed the world but you have changed someone’s life enormously.”
Dr Lucas played down any idea of radical changes on news that Labour would help the Greens to review Brighton and Hove City Council’s budget
The two party’s co-operated to overturn the previous Conservative administration’s proposed cut in council tax when the budget was set in March.
But Britain’s first Green-led council – after its local election victory just over a week ago – could not change the overall levels of tax and spending set in the budget, she said.
It could only review the allocation of funds.
Dr Lucas said that the budget review would send “an important signal that the poorest and most vulnerable are protected to the greatest extent possible from the cuts”.
City College journalism student, Tanya Paulo, said that she enjoyed the insight into the workings of Parliament gained from Dr Lucas’s visit on Friday (13 May).
She said: “It was particularly fascinating to hear that while David Cameron has been preaching about the need for the public sector to become more efficient, Parliament is so wedded to tradition and custom it has MPs queuing for hours to vote rather than use an electronic voting system.”
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