House of Lords -- Public Gallery review
It's 10 to eleven... come on Big Ben, speed up son! I've been sitting in Parliament Square for the last half-hour waiting for 11 o'clock to come. I've already been to see the MPs debating in the House of Commons so I thought I'd give the House of Lords a try today. The Commons starts up at ten, so silly old me thought that the House of Lords would open at the same time. But I forgot -- they are all 80-year-old peers and need two hours to get out of bed. So here I am sitting in Parliament Square trying to wile away a bit of time.
Parliament Square has tidied up quite a bit since the last time I wrote about it. No more big wire mesh fences all over the place. No more protesters either, they've cleaned them all out -- all gone. They must have passed a law or something and kicked them all out -- good! It was starting to look like a messy old cub camp with pots and pans and scrappy old tents about the place. I don't know why they let them live there in the first place. I'm all for free speech, but only if you've got something good to say. Moaning about the Iraq war ten years after we left is just daft. If you want to bang on about Tony Blair all day, go and do it outside his house and leave Parliament Square alone!
Big Ben has just bonged his bell and sounded out the hour, so off I go...
Security was a lot tighter today than it's been in the past. I even had to remove my belt. I was a bit worried that my trousers were going to fall down and I'd be on the 10 o'clock news but they stayed up, thank god. After that you are free to walk through Westminster Hall on your own, and take a seat in St. Stephen's Hall. The queue for the House of Commons is usually a lot longer than the Lords. It was supposed to be 45 minutes today (for the Commons), but I got called through to Central Lobby after two minutes. You have to fill in a little card with all your personal details here, and then you get taken up a few flights of stairs to Stranger's Gallery. Be advised that you have to hand over all your mobile phones and cameras at this point, before heading through for a pick of the seats -- it was empty! When I went to the Commons it was packed out with people but the Lords is more boring (supposedly) so no one was there. But I don't think that it's boring at all though -- I'd happily visit either.
Okay, so I am sitting in the chamber now and it's miles better than the Commons because of the golden throne (where the Queen sits when she's opening Parliament). Big black statues of ancient kings stare down from the tall walls, and great stained glass windows decorate the sides. The ceiling is gold, the chandeliers are gold, the railings are gold, and the seats are plush red leather. The whole place has been decorated to within an inch of its life.
The discussion seems to be about Gibraltar and the behaviour of Spain. Everyone is up in arms about it and wants to know what we are doing to beat down Johnny Foreigner. What have we done? (Not a lot.) Why don't we send in the ships? (Because we don't have any left.) Why don't we drop a bomb on Madrid? (My idea.) Shall we burn all our Julio Iglesias records? The talk soon moves onto a different subject -- teacher training for kids who can't read.
Wait a minute... who do I spy here... is that Alan Sugar? I think it is! Yup, it definitely is - I recognise his gruff mannerisms. He's got his hand clamped around his face. It looks like he's trying to hold his jaw in place to stop it falling off. It's nice to see that he actually turns up and does stuff. I thought he might be one of those stay-at-home peers who collect all the dough and titles and not bother with the rest. But here he is, holding onto his face as he listens to something he's not remotely qualified to comment upon. Much like the rest of the chamber, I imagine.
The bloke has been talking for ten minutes now and I've just realised that I haven't heard a single word he's said (too busy writing this). His words are floating around my ears without ever going in. I wonder if everyone else is the same? A room full of people and he's still talking to himself. I'm still not listening to him, even now. I listened just long enough to note that I haven't been listening, and then I stopped listening again. That just about sums up the House of Lords for you. The Commons does all the important stuff, whilst the House of Lords talks amongst themselves.
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