This is an anti-room for gathering before entering the House of Lords. Notice the message boards for mail. There is a mammoth sculpture of Queen Victoria, and the walls are adorned with paintings of the Tudor monarchy. This is where people are searched before entering the House of Lords, ever since Guy Fawkes foiled attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605.
House of Lords
There are over 740 members of the House of Lords, who are life peers. (Peerages are no longer inherited - this stopped in 1999). You enter the room next to a huge gold Royal Throne from where the Queen reads her annual speech at the State Opening of Parliament. (Her speech sets out the government program for the coming year.) Look for the St. George and the Dragon on the throne decoration.
In the middle of the room is the Woolsack, where the presiding officer sits during debates. On 4 July 2006, Baroness Hayman became the first elected Lord Speaker so this is her seat.
You can't help but notice the cameras on the walls and the microphones hanging down from the ceiling. Also note the speakers in the seats. This is all because the debates are televised.
If you stand in front of the throne, the seats on the right are for the government, and the seats on the left are for the opposition. The cross benches are in the middle, facing the throne, and these are for the independent members with no party political affiliation. Twenty-six Bishops are members and are automatically 'cross benchers'.
The House of Lords is the equivalent of the US Supreme Court as it is the highest level for final appeals.
The Central Lobby was designed in an octagonal shape to disguise the fact that the two corridors are not truly opposite each other. This is the main reception of the two Houses and is where the news correspondents stand when making their televised new bulletins.
The Central Lobby and the House of Commons is a post-war rebuild by the architect Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the famous red telephone boxes and the Bankside Power Station on The South Bank which has been converted into the Tate Modern.
You will be taken through one of the Division Lobbies for either the Ayes (yes votes) or Noes (no votes). Along the walls of the Division Lobbies are Hansard books – a transcript of everything that is said in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. What an incredible feat! Charles Dickens was once a parliamentary reporter as he was able to write so fast.
Our guide explained about Whips, who are effectively 'party managers' who encourage members to vote when needed. The MPs (Members of Parliament) collect a daily agenda and there are 1-3 marks in the margin. A one line whip means "they are expected to vote", a two line whip means "they had better jolly well turn up and vote", and a three line whip means "vote or else!"
House of Commons
The House of Commons has 646 members, but like the House of Lords, they are not all expected to turn up every day, and would struggle to fit in the room if they did. There is a Speaker who is politically-neutral but can cast the deciding vote is there is a tie.
Above the seats is the Stranger's Gallery which is the name for the public gallery as all members of the public are strangers. Monarchs cannot enter the House of Commons and Charles I once tried to enter via the Strangers Gallery in a disguise but he was spotted immediately.
The House of Commons has the recognizable green upholstery. The front benches are reserved for the Cabinet – the most senior MPs in the government.
The tour ended with St. Stephen's Hall which was once the original chamber of the House of Commons. There is a small shop available to buy souvenirs. This room is usually used as a waiting area before MPs move into the lobby and then the House of Commons. Here you can see statues of seventeenth and eighteenth century parliamentarians.
Recommended souvenirs are:
- House of Lords whisky £18.75
- House of Commons vintage orange marmalade £3.00
- House of Commons tea towel £3.50
- Souvenir book £3.00