Think of the House of Commons and most folk will think of the main chamber, with its rows of green benches. Perhaps you might also bring to mind a select committee or a standing committee, where bills are considered in detail.
But there is also a side chamber. The Grand Committee Room, known to all as “Westminster Hall” because it sits off the hall of that name, which is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, dating back almost a thousand years.
The last Labour government introduced the side chamber as a mechanism for allowing back benchers to raise issues of concern for which time could not be found in the main chamber, which is where legislation is considered.
Each government department takes it in turn to field debates every few weeks, and as usual, MPs apply by completing a form on the parliamentary intranet page, with successful applicants being drawn out of the hat, or chosen by Mr Speaker.
These debates can last for thirty, sixty or ninety minutes and are a great way to raise an issue of concern or interest, with a minister always replying on behalf of the government. It’s also a great way to put the spotlight on people in Chester doing amazing things.
Recently I led a short debate on the government’s support for allergy research and treatments. At the Chester Gangshow I met Tim McLachlan, who runs a national charity founded in the memory of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. You may recall Natasha’s tragic case: she died on a flight having eaten a sandwich with nuts in, to which she was allergic. The sandwich packaging was not labelled correctly and now Tim is helping to lead the battle for more research to treat allergies and get more public understanding of them.
I am hoping to submit an application shortly for a debate on the importance of wetlands and marshlands for environmental sustainability. This is to highlight the work of Chester’s Dr Christian Dunn, and the brilliant scheme he has to create a wetland in the Countess Country Park. Spend ten minutes listening to Christian and you will be captivated by the environmental benefits of the project.
This week I spoke in a debate to support Crewe’s application to be the headquarters of Great British Rail.
But next up for me hopefully is a longer debate on the current crisis facing our farmers. The cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine has made their lives even harder, and their issues need to be brought to government. Let’s hope I get drawn out of the hat!