Parliament under scrutiny

Charlotte Oliver L6 writes: Our group of L6 politics students were granted access to the Houses of Parliament and House of Lords. The building’s imposing main entrance hall bears a close resemblance to the nave of a cathedral, adding to the grandeur and atmosphere. 

We awaited the arrival of our host Baroness Thomas of Winchester. Baroness Thomas used to attend St Swithun’s and had generously invited us to observe the political system first hand. She is unquestionably one of the most intelligent, witty women I have ever met. We talked about how St Swithun’s has changed. Comparing past rules and punishments came as a shock to us when she talked about skirt length (prompting subtle hem tugging) and the awful brown uniform of the past. 

We saw the Speaker’s procession, regarding John Bercow in his gown as if he were a celebrity, which arguably, in the House of Commons, he is. We witnessed a debate: there were many ideas being put before the speaker, and it was a struggle to keep on top of the statistics and terminology being flung back and forth across the room. We were then escorted to the House of Lords by Baroness Thomas and taken into a conference room, where we engaged in a political discussion about Lords’ reform and women in politics.

After lunch we witnessed a debate in The House of Lords. The debate here seemed a lot more structured and ordered with the members seeming to have greater respect for listening than in the House of Commons.

The Baroness then brightened our day further by informing us that we were adjourning to the Lords’ tea room, a beautiful room with exquisite décor, made all the more attractive by its promise of food. We sat down at a long table; I was lucky enough to be seated at the head right next to the Baroness. She encouraged us all to eat as much as we could and kept requesting fresh pots of Earl Grey tea so we were suitably fed and quenched within the first ten minutes of sitting down. We talked about the provisions made for the disabled in our society and how there is a startling ignorance of conditions such as autism and Asperger’s (I have a younger brother with severe autism, and my friend Alex has a younger brother with Asperger’s). It was the fact that she dutifully listened to our personal accounts of past struggles which highlighted her compassion and consideration. 

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