If you ever want something to do in London, I would highly recommend a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament.
On Saturday I did just that – having pre-booked a ticket a couple of months ago. I travelled up to London on the coach in the morning; and travelled back following the tour in the afternoon.
If you ask me, visiting the Houses of Parliament is a brilliant way to learn more about how the political system in this country works. Only when you know about the history of the Parliamentary Estate can you really understand some of the odd – perhaps rather achaic – traditions of the UK Parliament.
My student ticket cost me £20 – and considering what the tour includes, that’s good value for money. Visitors enter using the Cromwell Green entrance, and after going through airport style security you enter the main building in Westminster Hall. Once you’re called up for the start of your tour, you start in one of the Committee Rooms, before then following ‘the route’ for the remainder of the tour.
What the guided tours have over the audio tours, is that you’ll enter some of the roped off areas, and while there are guides all around to assist those on the audio tours, with the guided tours being in groups of roughly 25, you can get to know your guide as the tour goes on, and there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions. With a guided tour, I somehow got the impression no two tours are the same; it appeared to me that the guides were extremely knowledgable about the building and how Parliament works, and that they basically write their own scripts.
The tour took us from the Queen’s Robing Room, through the Royal Gallery, the Prince’s Chamber and in to the main House of Lords debating chamber. Do not try to sit down – you would in fact committing a crime if you do so! Do not try to take photos either – that rule is also strictly enforced. After entering the House of Lords, you’ll walk through the Central Lobby and in to the Members’ Lobby in the Commons. I spotted my local MP’s pigeon hole – and as they’re sorted alphabetically, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown is just above Nick Clegg, and they’re not too far from David Cameron. You’ll then walk via the Aye Lobby and then in to the House of Commons Chamber itself.
It was rather quite fun to think that I was standing among the government benches (again – don’t sit down here), just metres away from where the Prime Minister sits for PMQs on a Wednesday.
Also included in the price of my ticket was a free Westminster Palace guidebook – and once I’d finished the tour I headed to the café for a drink and a slice of cake.
What I found particularly interesting was that the building is really quite ‘open’ to the public: the armed police surrounding the place – both inside and outside – might seem quite threatening with those massive guns, but as well as getting guided tours of when Parliament is not sitting, members of the public can simply turn up and request to see their MP in the Central Lobby, or watch (for free) proceedings from the Strangers’ Gallery in the Commons or the Lords, and sit in on the Select Committees. This does include PMQs – though for that session it is compulsory to get tickets – done through your local MP.
Armed with this information, I make it my aim one day to go and visit when Parliament is sitting and watch a debate or two in the House of Commons.
Maybe I should aim to do it before the next election.
Sound like a good day out?
It would be fascinating for me…
Bye for now.