There are any number of ways of visiting the Houses of Parliament and it‘s best to visit the website to find out the latest times and prices, but if you’re a UK citizen you can arrange a tour through your local MP.
Entry is through the Cromwell Green visitor entrance where you will have to go through a series of airport-like security checks. There aren’t any luggage lockers and they recommend that you only carry a small bag.
The procedures are all just common sense really, but bear in mind that during a terrorist attack in March 2017 a police officer was killed whilst on duty here, so naturally security is taken very seriously.
Inside, photography is only allowed in two areas – Westminster Hall and St. Stephen’s Hall which are the first two areas on the tour.The cavernous Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster and first built by William II. It has managed to survive two major fires and the blitz. The most impressive feature is the hammer-beam roof (the largest in the world) which was started by Richard II in 1393. As you walk through the hall look for the plaques in the floor commemorating significant events such as the trials of William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Guy Fawkes, and Charles I – all of whom were executed.
Climbing the steps at the far end of the hall and turning left will bring you into St. Stephen’s Hall. This used to be the royal chapel of St. Stephen where some of the greatest parliamentary events took place for nearly 300 years until it was destroyed by the 1834 fire. Members of the House of Commons sat here in the choir stalls and held their debates across the floor, much as they do to in the House of Commons chamber today. The statues around the hall are of some of the important figures who debated here, such as Walpole, Pitt and Fox.
St. Stephen’s Hall leads into the impressive Central Lobby, which is the mid-point between the House of Commons and House of Lords, and where people lobby their MPs.
The tour continues through the Peers Corridor, Peers Lobby, Not Content Lobby, Princes Chamber, into the imposing Royal Gallery and then the Queen’s Robing Room.
This elaborately decorated room is where the Queen puts on the Imperial State Crown and parliamentary robes before the processional route through the Royal Gallery to the Lords Chamber for the state opening of Parliament.
The decorating extravaganza of this whole building reaches its apogee in the Lords Chamber. This is where the British Monarchy, Church and Parliament come together, but judging by the size of the throne I don’t think that there’s much doubt as to who is the most equal of the three when it comes to the crunch.
The tour then continues back through the Central Lobby into the House of Commons. As you might expect this area is less ostentatious. The Members Lobby has a collection of statues of 20th century Prime Ministers and then you arrive into the great debating chamber that brings everything you see on television to life.
There’s a lot more that could be said about this quite remarkable building and its history, and it’s a shame that photography isn’t allowed in the more interesting rooms, but it’s understandable.
If you have an appetite to see where the British political system operates, then make the effort to come and see how it all works – and even if you don’t have an appetite for it, then come here anyway – you won‘t be disappointed.