Watch Prime Minister’s Questions

You’ve seen the Prime Minister on the news standing behind his despatch box, and you might even have already been on a ‘House of Commons’ tour, but did you know you can actually be present when all the the MPs are in session and witness the main event of the week? ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ (or PMQ for short). This being a weekly event every Wednesday at noon. Well you can, and I did – just last week.

The view down into the House of Commons from the visitors' gallery

The view down into the House of Commons from the visitors’ gallery. Source: http://www.andreajenkyns.co.uk/

It was during a House of Commons tour I attended as part of an Exeter University alumni event that our guide mentioned PMQ, and that if we wrote to our local MP and asked to specifically attend PMQ we might just receive an invite. So I asked my MP Peter Lilley and was invited.

A few months later in April the invite letter arrived stating that I’d been successful and I could take along Mrs Biggs. But with their being no Mrs Biggs yet I invited a close travel blogger friend who’d been very much interested in the EU referendum outcome just a week before. As luck up would have it this was the first Wednesday after both the EU referendum results and David Cameron’s resignation!

The PMQ letter sent to me by Peter Lilley MP

The PMQ letter sent to me by Peter Lilley MP

On the day itself you arrive at the Cromwell entrance of the Palace of Westminster (just past the Oliver Cromwell statue), show the security guards your invite letter and then walk down to the airport style security just 20 yards along. Once through you are guided to the entrance of the Westminster Hall, which for us at the time was hosting the Ethics of Dust exhibition. At the far end you head left though to Central Lobby and into the small Administration office where you sign a security form to collect your ‘Visitors’ Gallery’ passes. It’s in this atrium that the Speaker’s Procession arrives. Many people were there simply to watch this mini event so make sure you get near the front as they enter from opposite the Westminster Hall entrance before turning right into the Commons’ Corridor. You then follow behind them into the Commons’ Lobby whereupon guides show you up the stairs to a cloakroom where you are patted down once again. No cameras or phones are allowed inside hence the distinct lack of my own photos in this post! Finally you appear in the ‘Visitors’ Gallery’. It holds about 200 people in tiered seating with everybody wedged in quite tight shoulder-to-shoulder. Ask for a copy of the ‘Order Paper’ so you can see that day’s agenda.

The Cromwell Green Entrance just past the Oliver Cromwell Statue.

The Cromwell Green Entrance just past the Oliver Cromwell Statue. Source: Lynn Hall

 

The steps at the end of Westminster Hall opposite the entrance. Alex Salmond giving a tour

The steps at the end of Westminster Hall opposite the entrance. Alex Salmond giving a tour

 

Central Lobby with the House of Commons entrance on the right

Central Lobby with the Administration office in the top right hand corner and entrance to the House of Commons where the guards are on the right. You enter from the doors opposite. Source: https://stephenliddell.co.uk/

 

The Speaker of the House of Commons, walking through the Commons' Lobby

The Speaker of the House of Commons, walking through the Commons’ Lobby on a separate occasion. Source: http://www.vancouversun.com

We sat down at 11:45 with the previous session still going strong. At 11:55 we elbowed each other, “Look there’s Gove, and now Cameron! And there’s Corbyn”. You’d imagine there would be a lot of hush in the gallery but behind soundproof glass the stewards were able to talk reasonably loud when showing people where to sit. At 12.00 protocol dictates that an irrelevant question be asked about the Prime Minister’s business for the day, presumably with him giving the same generic reply each week.

You feel a little distant from the action behind this full glass partition but that had to go up when somebody through some purple powder over the previous barrier in the days of Tony Blair back in 2004. While we were there we noticed that the window itself could have done with a bit of a clean! 😉

Looking back up at the visitors gallery.

Looking back up at the Visitors’ Gallery behind the soundproof glass partition. Source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk

Surprisingly the debate was far less raucous than I expected, especially considering the timing of our visit straight after Cameron’s resignation. Only once did Cameron “threaten” Corbyn with a 10 scone burst of “Go man Go” that took us all by surprise as it came out of absolutely nowhere. A pre-planned 10 second soundbyte for that evening’s news I wonder 😉

As most of the MPs questions are pre-planned it was delightful to hear a Tory MP ask whether 150 schoolchildren from her constituency would be able to pass on some Christmas cards that they’d designed to the Queen, when arguably 6 days post Brexit there were more important questions to ask! The MPs erupted into laughter but the speaker silenced them all by remarking “I want to hear about these pupils” and with that the MPs calmed down and the MP was allowed to finish her answer and await the Prime Minster’s quite amusing reply.

At 12:30 the session finished and ‘urgent questions and statements’ followed. Surprisingly many MPs left as this point, as did we soon after but not before an hour and 15 minutes of enlightening entertainment to see what it is that all those MPs get up to. So get writing to your local MPs to guarantee an entry rather than take a punt on queuing up on the actual day.

The view down into the House of Commons from the back of the visitors' gallery.

The view down into the House of Commons from the back of the visitors’ gallery. No photos allowed when we were there though! Source: http://www.yoppul.co.uk

More questions about PMQ can be found on the official website.

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