Members' Lobby and the Chamber of the House of Commons
Moving towards the Commons Chamber, the visitor passes into the Members’ Lobby. This is a much larger space than Peers’ Lobby. When the House is busy, especially before and after votes, it is thronged with MPs and is the haunt of ‘lobby’ journalists; and it is then a clearing-house of opinion, news and rumour. It contains a message board with a slot for each member’s messages (less used in these days of mobiles and pagers), pigeonholes for members’ select committee papers (although many committees have gone paperless), a counter where members can get a wide range of parliamentary and government papers, and a post office that deals with some 50,000 items every sitting day. The whips’ offices of the major parties (see page 81) adjoin the Members’ Lobby.
The Commons Chamber was destroyed in an air raid on the night of 10 May 1941. Even Barry’s original Chamber was less ornate than that of the Lords; and the rebuilt Commons Chamber, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, is austere by comparison with that of the Lords. A labelled view of the Chamber and one of the House in session are shown on pages 9 and 10. From the public gallery one now looks down through a massive 7-tonne glass screen, installed in September 2005 on security advice. Below, the Speaker’s canopied Chair is the focal point. During Question Time and ministerial statements, the Speaker’s Secretary stands to the right
The Chamber of the House of Lords
Source: Copyright House of Lords, 2014. Photography by Terry Moore
The House of Lords in session
Source: Copyright House of Lords, 2014. Photography by Roger Harris
of the Chair (as seen from the gallery) helping the Speaker to identify members and keeping a record of those he has called. To the left of the Chair, against the far wall, is the officials’ box for civil servants advising ministers. In front of the Chair is the Table of the House, at which sit the Clerks at the Table, who advise the Speaker and his deputies, Whips and any other member, on the conduct of proceedings, and who also compile the legal record of the House’s decisions.
On each side of the Chamber are five rows of green benches, divided by a gangway into two sections. On the left, as seen from the gallery, are the benches occupied by the government party (in the 2010 Parliament, the two coalition parties, with the Liberal Democrats ‘below the gangway’, further from the Chair). On the right, as seen from the gallery, are the opposition parties, with the smaller parties sitting on the third and fourth benches below the gangway. Ministers sit on the front bench by the Table, and the main opposition party’s spokesmen and women (or shadow ministers) sit opposite them. Ministers and their shadows are thus known as frontbenchers; all other MPs are backbenchers.
On each side of the Table are the despatch boxes at which ministers and their counterparts from the main opposition party speak; and at the near end of the Table is the Mace, which symbolises the authority of the House.
At our observer’s eye level, above the Speaker’s Chair, is the Press Gallery, with seats in the centre for the Hansard reporters who compile the record of what is said. Other galleries are for members of the House of Lords and distinguished visitors, as well as for the general public. Two galleries are reserved for MPs and are technically
The Chamber of the House of Commons, looking down from the public gallery
Source: Copyright House of Commons, 2014. Photography by Deryc R. Sands
The House of Commons in session
Source: Copyright House of Commons, 2013. Photography by Catherine Bebbington
part of the floor of the House, although Speakers have indicated that they will not call members to speak from there (and there are no microphones). Down below, but not visible except from the front of the gallery, sits the Serjeant at Arms, responsible for order around the House and in the galleries. There, too, are the crossbenches; but as there are, apart from the occupants of the Chair, few members with no party allegiance (one in the 1997 and 2001 parliaments, two in 2005 and in 2010 three (all of whom had previously been elected for parties), these are in practice extensions of the seating for government and opposition members (although MPs may not speak from them).