Politics trip to Parliament

London F39

On the afternoon of Monday 20 March, a party of A Level Politics students set out with their tutor to Parliament in order to observe debates in the House of Lords and the House of Commons. After going through the airport-style security, we proceeded to Westminster Hall. This is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster. It dates from the 11th Century and has a 14th Century hammerbeam roof. The rest of the Palace was destroyed by fire in 1834 and was thereafter re-built in neo-gothic style. This is the building we have today. Incidentally, the building is in desperate need of attention and it may be necessary for Parliament to re-locate for a few years so that the work can take place.

We were directed to the House of Lords first of all. Peers were debating the Digital Economy Bill and during the time we were there were discussing the very important question of the need to keep young people safe from harmful material on the internet. The House of Lords has long been subject to gentle criticism to the effect that it is little more than a day-care centre for the elderly. The students certainly found the tempo of debate somewhat sedate, and indeed some seemed convinced that one or two peers had in fact fallen asleep in the chamber. Their tutor countered, in their defence, that what appeared to be sleep might in fact simply be a posture of profound contemplation!

Having thus absorbed the atmosphere of the chamber, we proceeded to the House of Commons. Here, the subject of debate was the Prisons and Courts Bill, and the Lord Chancellor and Secretary-of-State Elizabeth Truss was at the despatch box. This was a subject on which members had strong views, and the Secretary-of-State gave way on numerous occasions. Perhaps this is because so many MPs come from a legal background? Students found the atmosphere markedly more lively. This was interesting, because there is a glass partition separating the public gallery from the chamber so proceedings can seem remote. To counter this, there are microphones in the gallery. It might have been this that produced the effect.

We then went back to Westminster Hall in order to keep an appointment we had made to meet our local MP, Victoria Borwick. Lady Borwick, an MPW parent, had recently come to the college to address students. She told us more about the work of Parliament, and emphasised how the role of MPs is to make sure that national legislation works for their constituency. In this connexion, she mentioned recent housing legislation, prices in London being markedly higher than the national average. In all, the visit succeeded in its aim of making Politics more immediate for students.

Richard McMillan