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. 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! Continue reading
You’ve seen “Big Ben” hundreds of times but did you know you can visit the top of the tower and see the real “Big Ben” for yourself? Big Ben being the largest of the 5 bells of course and not the actual tower itself (The Elizabeth Tower) … we all know that. A chance to see the famous bells being struck, that have been heard, but not seen, by millions of people around the world.
13.5 ton Big Ben. Source: DS Pugh
There is a catch though! It’s not a tourist attraction like the ‘The London Eye’ or ‘Tower of London’ so you can’t simply rock up and buy a ticket. No, no – you can climb the 334 steps to see “Big Ben” and walk behind the opal inlayed clock faces but only a), if you are a UK resident, and b), if you’ve contacted your local MP, or been invited by a member of the House of Lords first … if you know a friendly Lord that is. The tour is free of charge at least. I for one like the fact it isn’t a mainstream tourist attraction, with a process and privilege to being “invited” up. Unfortunately it’s not available to overseas visitors though.
Another “catch” is that the tour is generally fully booked up 6 months in advance so you better be quick as “Big Ben” is going to be closed for 3 years for vital maintenance with the last tour being at some point in December 2016. If you don’t get in before then you’ll be waiting until at least 2020 before you get another opportunity. Continue reading
You’ve seen him dozens of times in the House of Commons, leaning on his despatch box, and you can get pretty close to standing there too! This all arose when we were invited to the Houses of Parliament by Exeter University’s chancellor Floella Benjamin. And on Guy Fawkes night!!
Meeting Floella Benjamin in The Cholmondeley Room
Where am I talking about? The Houses of Parliament (the ‘House of Commons’ and House of Lords’) sit inside the Palace of Westminster building, which itself sits alongside the River Thames in London. Its exterior having been photographed millions of times together with “Big Ben” on its northern flank.
So what’s it like to actually go there? Well whether it be for an organised charity event like ours, via an invite from your MP, or on a “paid for” tour you arrive at the opposite end to Big Ben at the ‘Black Rod’s Garden entrance’ and then 20 yards further along enter the building itself. 4-5 security guards welcome you as you proceed through one of two x-ray machines. All very procedural – just like an airport – but friendly nonetheless. On this occasion we headed diagionally across a courtyard towards The Cholmondeley Room and onto the terrace overlooking The River Thames. You can also attend Parliament if you write to your MP. Check out these posts to find out more about attending Prime Minister’s Questions and separately visiting the top of Big Ben! Continue reading