House of Commons -- Public Gallery review (Jan 2012)
This is out-of-date! I have been here again since I wrote this review
After going on the Houses of Parliament Tour last summer I decided that I'd definitely be going back to sit in the public gallery... so that's what I did today. I went and sat in the House of Commons public gallery.
It's actually pretty easy to get in. I was a bit surprised because you don't need to book or show any ID or anything. You can literally just turn up at the door and they'll let you in. [Note: You do need a ticket for Wednesday mornings though, because that's PMQs.] It's a bit intimidating when you first get there because the visitor entrance is guarded by a couple of cops with big machine guns, but all you've got to do is talk to the little skinny guy in front of them who gives you a big green ticket. If you flash that at the cops then they'll let you past.
Westminster Hall is almost worth going for alone. I've written about it previously though, on the post about the tour, so I won't bore you with the same stuff here (read that post). It was a lot emptier this time round though because they used it as the waiting room on the tour, but this time there was just a trickle of visitors like me. Happily that means you've got more time to admire the ceiling and the little plaques on the floor, which tell you about all the famous trials that happened here -- for people like Guy Fawkes and Charles II. It's quite something to think that they know the actual spot where Charles II sat in his seat.
After that you go into St. Stephen's Hall, which contains a little shop and some seats. This is the waiting room. A pretty lady in a suit gives you a little card which you have to fill in with your name and address (remember to bring a pen), and then you just sit down and wait for a place to open up in the gallery. I was told that the queue for the Commons can sometimes last as much as 2 hours, but I was lucky because I got waved through after five minutes. It probably helped that I turned up five minutes before opening time.
When you first walk into the public gallery you get a bit of a thrill. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just a saddo, but I thought it was quite good. The gallery is at the top and the back of the Chamber, so the MP's seats stretch out below you. The Speaker's chair is directly ahead, facing you, whilst the Prime Minister's place is on the left. You are literally looking down upon the MPs heads. The Gallery runs around the sides too, but you are not allowed to go into those -- you are strictly limited to about ten rows at the back. The Gallery opposite, on the other side of the room, is reserved for the journalists and court reporters.
One little annoying thing was the big glass screen that they've constructed between the Gallery and the Chamber to protect the MPs. It's so thick and big that you can't actually hear the MPs speaking -- their talk gets piped in through the speakers. They got a load of TVs dotted around too playing BBC Parliament.
The most famous people that I saw talking today was Caroline Spelman, Ben Bradshaw and Simon Hughes. I might have seen John Redwood as well but he didn't stand up and say anthing, so I couldn't tell. If it was him, then his hair has gone grey from when I last saw him on the telly. Maybe he's stressed out.
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