School Council trip to Houses of Parliament

We met at school at 7.30am on Tuesday 7th May for a trip to the Houses of Parliament.

We travelled via London underground from Southgate to Westminster. On arrival the children had to go through a security check, like an airport but without a restriction on water! We watched a video lasting 15 minutes which explained the history of Parliament since 1066 and the Magna Carta. It was a fascinating journey explaining fires, rebellions and multiple reforms. In 1805 only 3% of the population could vote – ie wealthy land owning men; thankfully things have now changed!

The children were taken on a tour with two guides and shown that there are three main colours: gold, representing monarchy, red, for the House of Lords and green, for the House of Commons.
The children asked, “How do you get to be a member of the House of Lords?”
They explained that initially Lords used to be wealthy land owners, but now are special people who are experts in their field. For example athletes, people involved in the creative arts such as authors, dancers, musicians and composers, academics such as scientists and university professors. Their role is to make laws better. It starts as a bill with the House of Commons then the Lords will check it & make any changes and return it back to the House of Commons. This is called “parliamentary ping-pong” – the House of Commons has the final say. Then finally it is given to the reigning monarch (currently Charles III) to sign – then it becomes a law of parliament. This can take up to a year.

The children also asked, “Who sits in the House of Commons?” The guides explained that this is where Members of Parliament sit. We have a democratic system which means adults can vote for one person that they want to represent them in their constituency. There are 650 constituencies in the United Kingdom. The party which gets the most MPs for their party will become the government & the rest become the opposition. The children also learnt that there is a Speaker in the House of Commons who keeps order. If an MP wants to speak, they stand up. Whoever is chosen to speak remains standing and everyone else sits down. An MP might stand several times hoping to speak – this is called bobbing. The speakers calls, “Order” if they want the MPs to be quiet. The government in power sit to the right of the speaker and the opposition sit to the left.

The children also learn that the central lobby is at the actual centre of Parliament, half way between the House of Lords & House of Commons. In the past, if MPs wanted to raise a point of view, they would make their feelings known here, which is where the term “lobbying” comes from.

The final part of the day was a visit to Westminster Hall which is the only part of the building which survived the fire of 1834. This room was commissioned in 1066 & was finally finished in 1099. Big banquets took place here with 100s of people. The Queen lay in state here after she had died.

The children were asked to find out why no other monarch has been allowed inside the House of Commons since Charles I. I wonder who has found out?