Off Duty: Time to stand up and be counted

Tired of shouting at the TV, Dr Chris Ainsworth went to Westminster to take up his issues with his MP.

How many times have you seen or heard a politician on the news and found yourself shouting out loud 'Absolute rubbish!'? I was so excited about Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying bill that I decided to plan ahead in case the bill ever progressed beyond the Lords.

I wrote to my Janet Andersen, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, asking to see her at Westminster to discuss 'assisted dying'. This formal approach helped to focus my mind and distil the issues for the MP, giving her time to make enquiries on the subject.

I gave an idea of which dates would suit me having checked www.parliament.uk to be sure I wasn't asking to visit during a recess. I wanted to have as full a parliamentary experience as possible, so I asked to visit on a Wednesday and requested a ticket for a seat in the Strangers' Gallery for Prime Minister's Questions.

She replied with a date and time to meet in the Central Lobby plus a generous invitation to lunch. On the day of my visit, I bypassed the tourist queue and showed a copy of my MP's letter of invitation to the police officers outside the public entrance. They then directed me through to security screening.

Central Lobby was a fantastic hurly-burly of visitors, familiar faces of politicians and journalists coming and going. I met my MP who took me on a brief tour of the main rooms of the magnificent House of Lords before catching the Speaker's Procession, which signified the start of the day's proceedings in the Commons chamber.

Then it was straight to the Stranger's Gallery, to get a good seat for Prime Minister's Questions, where the verbal duelling and rapier-like wit was so much more impressive 'live' than on TV.

Lunch with my MP was in the Strangers' Restaurant, where the hospitality was exceptional and I could mentally play I Spy with familiar political faces. Lunch actually provided the best opportunity to discuss my concerns about the 'Assisted Dying' bill, as well as other unrelated issues, with my MP. My MP was also able to suggest other MPs and peers who had a particular interest in the issues of concern to me.

Seeing my MP provided a wonderful chance to address someone directly who might one day vote on legislation of relevance to me. I felt I had had a chance to stand up and be counted, which is more productive than shouting at the TV.

- Dr Ainsworth is a GP in Pendle, Lancashire

ASK YOUR MP FOR A VISIT

- Visit www.parliament.uk to check for recess dates and general information.

- Write to MP to arrange date, time, and outline issues to cover.

- If you want to hear Prime Minister's Questions, ask your MP to request tickets.

- It is best not to take any luggage because security is understandably very tight.

- Good opportunity for obtaining other future contacts.

- Children may accompany you on your visit at your MP's discretion.

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