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February 21, 2007

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Lords, ministers and MPs – oh my!

Anne Smart mingles with Lords and Commoners, reporting from the SpeakUp VIP day at Westminster.

When you visit the Palace of Westminster, you quickly realise the difference between being a member of the House of Lords and a member of the House of Commons. If you’re a Lord, you sit in an opulent chamber and enjoy fine paintings, ornate rooms and rich red material on your furnishings. If you sit in the Commons, all your seat covers and carpets are green — and far less fancy.

Steve Wicks, head of the occupational health, safety and welfare service at the Parliamentary Estate, and health and safety adviser Elizabeth Cameron, invited our four SpeakUp winners from Slough and their teacher for the day, giving them VIP access to the heart of British politics.

The halls are full of politicians, Westminster staff, and journalists, as well as members of the public and tourists with their tour guides. A tour of the Lords and Commons areas is met with “oohs” and “aahs” from the girls, who appreciate Steve’s insight into the history and daily workings of the Palace.

PM’s Questions

A few hours later the Commons Chamber is packed for Prime Minister’s Question Time. There’s barely an empty seat and there’s now a glass security screen separating the public gallery from the Chamber, following the ‘Fathers 4 Justice’ purple powder incident in 2004.

There’s jeering, cheering and general mumbling of approval or disapproval. But it’s all done in an orderly fashion. The Speaker calls on MPs to ask questions, and everyone refers to each other as “my right honourable. . .”

Tony Blair makes a long and complicated statement about military finances: “I spent a long time this morning getting to grips with this€

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