Visiting the Houses of Parliament

We went to the Houses of Parliament. Very exciting. DBF works there and so he agreed to take me and sister (who is actually in the same country as me for a while) for a quick tour.

Trip started well with a train ride to London. Looking out of the window, just before Wandsworth Common, I saw a naked man. Something of a surprise. Not completely naked, he was wearing a short tee-shirt and striding through a park. Never seen that before. Wondered if we should call the police or something but felt it wasn’t exactly an emergency and by the time we got home he would be long gone, so we mentioned it to the guard on the train but did nothing else.

Rest of journey uneventful and we met DBF and daughter outside Parliament. Went through the gate, DBF showing his pass and us collecting visitor’s badges. DBF told us we had to be with him all the time and we were not allowed to take photographs inside. I saw this as something of a challenge, daughter informed me I had to behave (she can be scary at times, is rather like sister. I obeyed. Loosely.)

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I was keen to see the tunnels where Guy Fawkes was arrested but DBF didn’t know where they were and neither did the random policeman who I asked. There were lots of random policemen. They were armed and checked everyone’s passes. Rather inhibiting in terms of taking surreptitious photos, though I DID see a man take a sneaky one of his wife on his phone. Considered telling policeman in case he got shot (added interest for blog report) but felt scary daughter would be cross.

Walked through some seriously ornate rooms – lots of red and gold and the sort of textured wallpaper that would be an absolute nightmare to hang. There were a few builders in places. DBF explained that due to the age of the building, lots of it is broken and in need of repair. Workmen are only allowed in at weekends. I bet they take photos.

Saw some of the statues of Prime Ministers that I have seen on the tele (the statues, not the Ministers.) Also stood in the lobby where journalists catch MPs for a statement on the News.

Went into the chamber, which is a lot smaller than it looks on tele, it must be bit of a squash when full. The green leather seats all have lots of microphones hanging above them, which I though a little creepy – you wouldn’t be able to whisper funny comments to the person next to you.

All the chairs had notices on them, telling you to not sit on them. Except for the Speaker’s chair. I did point this out to daughter but she was fairly sure I would be shot if I attempted to sit on it. Or thrown out.

Passed a postbox and a place to mail letters internally. Tempting to drop a note to David Cameron and give him a few pointers. There was also a writing desk with paper and envelopes for the Members to use.

Walked along corridors lined with shelves of bound volumes of Hansard. These contain everything that has ever been said in the chamber, named after Thomas Hansard (1776-1833) who was the first printer to print them. Hansard reporters sit in both the Commons and the Lords and write down everything that is said. It is published online the next day at 6am. You can read them back to Nov 1804 – should you be interested in reading an historical King’s speech. DBF told me that each reporter does a very short stint of scribing before they are replaced by the next one, so errors are rare. They are frequently referred to, because just like real life, people often misremember exactly what was said by whom. They would, I think, help to settle many marital arguments – though whether I would want someone recording all my conversations is another matter.

We visited the Commons library, where DBF spends some of his working day. No one else was in there but I was still not allowed to take photographs or walk into the part of the library reserved for Members (and no one would have known, so it seemed a waste.) Here there were lots of reference books and papers written by civil servants, so the Members can appear knowledgeable when discussing things in chambers. It was a nice place to work, with lovely views across the river and places where the Members could recharge their mobile phones.

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We then walked across to Portcullis House, which has been described as being like the sixth form area of a school or a common room. It has a central part with cafes under a glass roof and lots of art on the surrounding corridors. Members can book rooms for debates. The art was interesting – I preferred it to the paintings in the main building, lots of portraits of members, all very different in style.

 

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On the way there we passed the entrance to Westminster underground station. Did you know that MPs have their own private entrance to the station? I wonder what it looks like from the other side (the door was locked so we couldn’t go through to see.)

 

 

 

We also passed a plaque saying the foundation stone of the Speaker’s House was laid by the wife of the architect in 1840. That made me laugh, can you imagine that conversation?

“Who shall we invite to lay the foundation stone, Shall we ask the Prime Minister or someone royal?”
“Er, actually the architect says his wife is doing it.”
Ha, wonder how she wangled that one!

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