Chorley is set to play host to some of the world’s leading parliamentarians when it stages the prestigious G7 Speakers’ Summit this autumn.
The gathering will see the town’s MP and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle welcome his counterparts from countries including the United States, Germany and Japan to the constituency he has represented for nearly 25 years.
The UK is the current holder of the G7 presidency and staged the main annual summit of the organisation’s presidents and prime ministers in Cornwall earlier this month.
More: M6 fuel station 'almost wiped out' by suspected drink driver
However, the parliamentary speakers of each of the member countries also meet up each year – and will be doing so at Astley Hall between 17th and 19th September, when they will be discussing how to maintain open yet secure parliaments.
The event traditionally takes place in the host speaker’s home area, but there was an expectation this year that the conference – which was held online in 2020 because of the pandemic – might instead be held in London. That was until the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, stepped in.
“[She] asked me, ‘Why can’t we go to your district? We always go to London, we want to get outside London’ – and of course there’s nowhere better than Chorley,” says Sir Lindsay.
He believes that having the borough as a backdrop to the summit will be priceless in promoting Chorley and the wider county on the world stage.
“It’s a great opportunity to sell Lancashire. The beauty of Chorley and what we have got on offer is what I want to put on show.
“We have got to show them the beauty of Astley Hall – and also [give them] the Chorley experience.
“So hopefully they will visit Cuckoo Gin, call round the constituency to have morning coffee and [experience] Lancashire food – and, in particular, Chorley food. We’ve got to get them onto the Chorley cakes – that’s very important,” laughs the veteran politician, who got his first taste of politics when he became the youngest member of Chorley Council more than 40 years ago.
His pride in now welcoming such senior figures to his home town is obvious and he hopes to show off the scenery at beauty spots including Hoghton Tower, Rivington and Duxbury Woods while they are here. But there is also serious business to be done.
“It’s really important that we get together to discuss the challenges in maintaining access to our buildings and our politicians, but also keeping safe.
“I was in the chamber on the day that PC Keith Palmer was murdered [outside the Palace of Westminster] back in 2017. We also saw the footage of the Capitol attack [in the United States in January].
“So it’s all about how do you maintain democracy and at the same time openness?”
Security will not only be a theme of the summit, but a key requirement of its staging – with the event set to be the subject of a major police operation.
Several of the guests also have their own private planes – and so will have to find a suitable place to land in Lancashire.
However, it is hoped that the long-term benefits of shining a global spotlight on Chorley will more than outweigh any short-term challenges.
Rachel McQueen, chief executive of Marketing Lancashire, says that the event will be “an incredible opportunity to show off the beauty and heritage of our county”.
“We cannot over-estimate the value that this international profile will bring to Chorley and to Lancashire,” she added.
Peter Wilson, deputy leader of Chorley Council, says that the summit will be a milestone moment for the borough – seeing it host its first international conference.
“We are deeply honoured that our local MP has chosen Astley Hall as the venue for the Speakers’ G7. We believe the hall is the jewel in our crown and we are so proud that we will be able to show speakers from across the world this special part of our heritage.”
Chorley Council’s arts and heritage manager David Tetlow says that “as a treasure trove of rich history [Astley Hall], is a delightfully apt venue for the speakers to meet”.
“Fresh from its restoration of the original brickwork and its elegant windows, the summit will form part of a wider exciting events programme for the hall and park, including the Chorley Flower Show taking place on 30th and 31st July and 1st August.”
Edwin Booth, Lancashire’s High Sheriff and CEO of the county-based supermarket chain Booths, says that the speakers will be welcome to “a county with diversity at its core – both in industry and its cultural heritage”
He added” “Sir Lindsay has been a wonderful advocate for his constituency and the county of Lancashire. He has brought the same enthusiasm to his role as Speaker of the House, a responsibility that he performs with good humour and fairness.”
Meanwhile, the man himself is eager to show off the place where he was born and bred.
“It’s the best kept secret in Lancashire,” he smiles.
Coming to Chorley
Those attending will include: Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives; Richard Ferrand, the President of the French National Assembly; Roberto Fico, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and speakers or their representatives from Germany, Canada and Japan.
They will be joined by David Sassoli, the President of the EU Parliament, and a guest list of others which is currently being drawn up.
“We’ve got some exciting things we’ll reveal nearer the time,” Sir Lindsay promises.