mnmlist: My visit to Parliament

Image: Parliament (Ian Britton) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Cathy (Member, Nottinghamshire Fabian Society) writes:

Recently I took advantage of the opportunity to visit the House of Commons on a trip organized by the local Fabian Society – something I had long wanted to do. The invitation was ostensibly to take tea at the House, but events on the day offered much more than just that.

Entry to the Commons is by invitation, either arranged through an organization affiliated to a political party or arranged by an MP. Understandably there was strict security even before we could enter the building but whatever delay this involved was more than compensated for by the visit itself. The architecture is quite splendid and being able to see it at first hand exceeded expectations. Also, the staff was helpful and friendly despite the large number of visitors they had to contend with. I wasn’t prepared for the crowds but it was particularly pleasing to see so many children in attendance, appreciating the visual arts and various activities in the Strangers’ lobby. In the background, one also became aware of the presence of monitors beaming the serious business of parliamentary debates live from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It was a little surreal at times but also familiar as a result of parliamentary coverage on television.

Our invitation stated that we would meet with an MP, potentially Sadiq Khan depending on parliamentary business at that time. Consequently it was a pleasant surprise to meet with 5 MPs. We were shown into a debating chamber which mirrored the House of Commons. There were approx. 120 people present and the debate that followed was lively and informative.  After 2 hours we adjourned to the Strangers’ dining room and enjoyed tea, cakes and sandwiches. We were joined by several MPs and took advantage of the opportunity to engage with them.

I had also requested to visit the House of Commons and the House of Lords and was fortunate enough to obtain a pass to do so. To gain access to the chambers you have a go through the Members’ lobby, again with an escort for security. The Members’ lobby, whilst familiar from television broadcasting, is truly impressive.  There is an imposing statue of Margaret Thatcher which, appropriately, is rather unflattering. We were shown into the gallery and it was exciting to peer down into the Commons where a debate was taking place. It was much smaller that I had imagined and it was fascinating to watch the debate. Many familiar MPs were present – David Milliband, Jack Straw, Dennis Skinner and our local MP for Gedling, Vernon Coaker. I was also particularly pleased to see the legendary Betty Boothroyd sitting in the opposite gallery.  The House of Lords is an altogether more elaborate chamber with its distinctive red benches and a considerable number of gold statuettes and artifacts.

It was an amazing, thoroughly enjoyable and insightful day into the workings of our Parliamentary system and I would certainly choose to repeat the visit again. Considerable thanks are due to the Fabian Society for organizing the day.

Cathy (Member, Nottinghamshire Fabian Society)