[Taken from my blog
.] After going on the Houses of Parliament Tour last summer and enjoying it, I decided I'd definitely be going back to sit in the public gallery... so that's what I did today.
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. 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.
Once you've got past them, it's easy... Next up is an airport-style security scanner and a camera, which they'll use to take your photo and put it on a pass, which you have to wear around your neck.
After that you walk into Westminster Hall and 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.
Because of the way that the Gallery appears to hang over the Chamber, you can only see about half of the seats. You get a great view of the Speaker, the front benches and the big table with the golden sceptre, but anything south of that is blocked from view. Unfortunately that means that you can't see where the Lib Dems usually sit (not a great loss!).
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.
John Bercow was in the Speaker's Chair too.
The first half hour was filled up with countryside questions about meat and abbattoirs, and how to make life nicer for farmers. After that they moved onto catholics getting murdered in Nigeria. Then it was the Leader of the House's go, who read out his plans for the Queen's jubilee celebrations.
As you can imagine, it's difficut to stay awake for that kind of stuff, and the guy next to me actually started slipping over like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, eyes struggling to stay awake. After about an hour I could feel me slipping too, so I had a nice little stroll back through Westminster Hall.