please empty your brain below

Great report. Something I have never done, although I've been to events in the canopied riverside rooms occasionally. Westminster Hall is fantastic.

I expect the vote was against an Opposition motion rather than a bill, ending with "Question accordingly negatived."
Great report. Thanks DG.
As you have a week of, the weather is cold and you have just "done" the Commons Public gallery, you would be in the warm it and might be interesting at one of the public gallery's at the Old Bailey.
Or the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, or the Supreme Court in Middlesex Guildhall.
Great report DG. It's excellent to see or hear parliamentary debates later and think 'I've been there'. I did a guided tour with my Mum back in October and it was superb - although more rushed than I would have liked. I intend to go back and do a self-guided tour so I can stand and look at things properly. Both chambers are a lot smaller than you envisage. And the loos are amazing!
It's been a good twenty years since I visited. Part of a school sixth form visit to see the workings of state.

We got to see a couple of committee rooms and various back corridors. My main memories of the place were how cold it was, and the large 1970s vintage TVs in each room displaying details of the debate currently going on.
Glad you enjoyed your trip to 'my office', so to speak - I always wish more people realised you can just drop into any debate. It's also worth wandering into the Lords gallery when they are sitting, just to experience the difference. I would say that I wished more people also knew about the free tours of the Palace that their MPs can book them on, but as I'm constantly having to tell constituents that they are full due to the very limited capacity, perhaps I shouldn't. Similarly, but in spades, for the free Clock Tower tours, but these are so superb that I would very much recommend trying to get on one - you need to contact your MP about six months in advance to have any hope of getting a ticket. Ever since they got publicity when the proposal to start charging for the tours was reversed by parliament, everyone suddenly wants to get on to them...

Going by timings, one of the missives you saw being handed to MPs was probably from me, following a land-speed record run from Portcullis House to the back of the chamber to get the hastily typed up notes for a speech to the boss. You are right to notice that each MP gets a note after they have spoken - this is from the Hansard transcribers, asking for the notes or text from which an MP spoke to help in producing an accurate record. They may also send queries regarding things like the spelling of any names mentioned in a speech or colloquialisms they didn't understand - one Scottish Labour MP earlier in this parliament got a note asking if he had really described the SNP as 'big fairies', the Hansard writers not having known the Scots term 'big fearties' (cowards).
Great report.

The reason that you were able to see more than the TV coverage shows isn't really down to the director.

There are some incredibly tight rules about what can and can't be covered by TV cameras.

So no cutting away to members reading emails on their smartphones. And it's why as far as the Commons are concerned, the main issue about the MP recently caught playing Candy Crush in a committee is that someone took a photo when they shouldn't have!
Thanks, Political Animal. It was good to drop in on your day job! I would have waved but, as you know, that's also against the rules...
"And all I had to do was walk in off the street."

Yet another reason why we shouldn't allow parliament to be panicked (?sp) into tightening up Security after events such as Paris, 7/7 etc.

Great report. Thanks, DG.
I'm glad you got in, it needs to be more widely known that you can just come in off the street and watch democracy in action.

And stop at the gift shop on the way out. (The House of Lords branded port is actually very nice, btw).

You're slightly wrong about the restrictions being "standard" though: you're not allowed to take a padlock in.
Absolutely fascinating post! You've definitely inspired me to go.
And thanks too, Politcal Animal for adding further insights.
I'm debating with a friend what you mean by the word "identikit". We are both non-native English speakers. Can you enlighten us?
Great post.

I've been to a couple of select committee meetings this month and while you're restricted as to where you can go, it was fascinating to be able to walk in off the street and watch MPs go about their business, and catch a glimpse of some well-known names.

The paintings at Portcullis House are quite something, as well...

* (trademark) a picture of a person, especially one sought by the police, reconstructed from typical facial features according to witnesses' descriptions
* (adjective, perhaps derogatory): having typical features and few unique ones; formulaic or standardized.
I went before the implementation of the glass. Shame really as no doubt you felt more connected but given security issues not a surprise.
I went in the House of Representatives on a recent trip to Washington. Although no debate was on it was great to be in the place that The State of the Union occurs.
When I visited, I went to both chambers, and it rather left me doubting the democracy of it. I heard a speech in the Commons, and a while later on in the Lords heard almost exactly the same speech, with just a few changes like the identification of the speaker. With the people skitting about passing bits of paper, it felt like someone elsewhere was pulling strings and telling them what to say.

I recommend visiting Big Ben, but be prepared for the climb!
Great report, thanks. I did it once - gosh, it must be 50 years ago - so maybe time to go again. One small point: I think what you refer to as 'Central Hall' is actually called 'Central Lobby'. It's midway between the Commons and Lords chambers. Central Hall Westminster is the name of the Methodist meeting hall across the street.
Fantastic report. I've been there a few times to argue with our elected representatives in scheduled meetings, and I hadn't realised one could just walk in off the street to the debating chamber. Doh. It's also worth pointing out that in most rooms of the building, there's a TV screen showing the current Commons debate (sometimes the Lords too), with subtitles. So in theory at least, our elected representatives can follow the arguments even if they're not sitting in the chamber.
When I used to visit in 1964-5 (ish) I used to wander in about 2100 and there were none of the checks you mentioned and no glass screen or anything else. It was just like sitting in the gallery of a Methodist church. I think I had to sign a visitor's book or similar.

Sad that it's all changed and sad you thought that what you experienced was 'free access'.
I think one of the restricted items for the public gallery is opera glasses. You know, just in case you had some on you.

It was a trip to the Lords gallery that made me realise that the slumped down members weren't having a sneaky nap, but were more likely trying to listen to the PA system, whose speakers are concealed behind grilles decorated as Portcullises on the benches - the galleries have these too.
When I was given a tour recently I discovered that every citizen has the right to enter the lobby and ask to speak with their MP (or someone from their office, more likely). If you want to make a good political point, if you ad friends time it well you can make quite a bit of political drama from it.

Despite the machinations it's quite an impressive place.

As for light levels of security, the more open a building like that looks, the more you can be sure it's very heavily guarded...

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