A Swords Length in the Commons

White House Hotel, London

On our tour of the Houses of Parliament, we continued on from the House of Lords through the Central Lobby which is the lobby that lies between both of the houses of parliament. The rules of the House provide that any constituent, at any time can come into this lobby and demand to see their representative. These days of course ‘lobbying’ is a bit more organized than strolling in unannounced.

My favourite story our guide told was about the organization and running of the place itself. The story is about the carpets in the centre of the floor in the House of Commons. On the carpets on each side of the house running parallel with the benches is a 6in. wide (or so) red stripe. One of the rules of the House is that the members while standing and speaking cannot cross beyond this red line. These red lines run parallel to one another on each the government and opposition sides of the house. The design was such that these lines are exactly two sword lengths apart, for reasons that may not be so obvious today, unless one understands that parliament has been meeting in this location since being offered the space by King Edward VI in 1547.

Once we had a look at the House of Commons, including its new bullet-proof glass screen sectioning off the visitor’s benches, we made our way back into the Central Lobby. We were fortunate enough to have included our group of fellow Churchillian from New York, Mr Randall Baker. Through a club of his, he made the acquaintance of a one Nigel Evans MP. Nigel was good enough to join us in the Central Lobby, answering a few questions and introducing us to a few colleagues as they passed by.

He first introduced us to David Lammy, the Cabinet Minister who heads up the Ministry of Culture. I can see how one would vote for David Lammy to represent their constituency, as he was immediately very engaging and likeable. He commented on the fact that in America we have a very underfunded National Endowment for the Arts and in the UK they have an entire ministry dedicated to culture.

Next Nigel introduced us to a former colleague of the House of Commons, now sitting in the House of Lords. Lord Brookside and Evans had obviously known each other for some time and had quite an entertaining and humorous repartee. Evans mentioned that Lord Brookside had voted against the measure to ban fox hunting, and Brookside responded, “Yes and my two daughters nearly disowned me over it. They got on their boots and went out to the hunt and lay out in the field to stop the hunts.” He then went on to say that his family and colleagues have taken to calling him ‘Tally-Ho Brookside.’

The measure passed of course…

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