I had the opportunity to attend the Prime Minister’s Question Time at the British Parliament on Wednesday 26th (Australia Day, ironically!). The very hard to come by tickets were arranged for me by my exchange partner who organised them through the local MP, Angela Smith. I attended with another staff member.
We were asked to be in the central lobby by 11.15am so we could see the procession of the Speaker to the parliament, a quaint by fascinating ceremony. On our arrival we had to pass through security (scan and body search). We walked through the top end of Westminster Hall which was being prepared for the memorial service to remember the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. As we departed we were able to see the London Philharmonic orchestra rehearse for the ceremony, which was held the day after (I videoed it last night – very moving).
After the arrival of the Speaker we moved up to the Strangers Gallery, passing through another scan and body search – the security was much tougher than for an international flight!
As we were seated (behind glass – no opportunity for throwing eggs…) the Session involving Welsh members was in process. Right on time, the Prime Miinster and leader for the opposition (Michael Howard – Tory leader) got into action! It really was very entertaining! The only time everyone was composed and listened politely was when Tony Blair updated the latest figures for the British citizens killed by the Tsunami: 53 confirmed, 249 in total, 260 unaccounted for). However once that was finished the gloves were off and the repartee was most entertaining! Angela Smith was gracious enough to send me a copy of the Hansard for the session I attended so I now have a word for word record of what was said, complete with ‘Hear, hear!’. I was hoping they would discuss Howard’s proposal that the UK follows Australia’s lead and sets up off-shore processing centres for asylum seekers, and I was rewarded – it was the first point brought up for dicussion! The biggest point of contention seemed to be where these centres would actually be set up – there being an apparent lack of isolated Pacific islands nearby…
We stayed for the statement on ‘Measures to Combat Terrorism’ presented by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Charles Clarke. This was quite controversial and made it on the news that night (which I videoed). I am looking forward to reading the statement more closely in the light of how it was reported.
All in all it was an amazing experience I can recommend to others. Unfortunately, while it does seem relatively easy to view parliament in session in other parts of the day, getting tickets for the Prime Minister’s question time is very hard to do – you really need to ‘know’ someone (time to get to know your local British MP). I am hoping to find a way to incorporate my visit into future Australian Studies units!
I don’t know what I will do this weekend. I still have my cold, and it has come with a really horrible cough, which cold air does nothing for! I may go for a drive somewhere… Will examine my map tonight!