Puppydog tails — 28 November 2014

The last time any major work was done here was the remedial repairs after World War II and for a building more than 160 years old it’s showing its age.

This Grade I listed Enesco World Heritage Site is in urgent need of some repairs – in fact £3 billion. The proposal is to relocate to another London premises, but if MPs refuse to move home the work could take 50 years to complete.

Leaking roofs, ancient electrics and plumbing, asbestos, badly-damaged stonework and subsidence are among the problems at the Palace of Westminster identified recently. If its incumbents are forced to leave the premises while the building work is in progress will they take with them some of the curious and frankly bizarre practices and traditions?

Although as with most places of employment smoking is banned, a snuffbox is positioned at the front door of the House of Commons, it’s been there for centuries and apparently is still full of snuff. Apparently this is because smoking has not been allowed in the Chamber since the 17th century so the snuff box is there instead.

Unsurprisingly Members are forbidden to carry a sword within the Palace’s confines, and so hooks are provided which to deposit them. In the cloakroom wags have hung several plastic replicas as a nod to this archaic rule. Two red lines 2.5 metres apart are also to be found on the Chamber floor. They are intended to be just over two sword-lengths apart, should Member not hand their swords in upon entering the Palace of Westminster.

The door the House of Commons bears the scars of the hundreds of times Black Rod has knocked upon it, only to have it slammed in his face, to symbolically show the Monarch that he or she is only allowed in by consent. One hopes the door will not be repaired in the forthcoming makeover.

The Speaker has a rather worn looking velvet bag hanging from the back of his chair. Incredibly it is there for petitions to be deposited by Members who are too shy to talk about the topic in public – some hope with the present incumbents. From this tradition comes the saying ‘In the Bag’.

The Commons has green carpets and benches and the Lords have on their side of the Palace red, but there are also corridors with a mixed carpet but no-one is very sure that that means.

In the Members’ Lobby are statues to some of England’s greatest Prime Ministers: Churchill; Atlee; Thatcher; Lloyd George; Disraeli and others. Members will touch the statue of their favourite PM before they give a speech for good luck; if they move out what will they touch in their new home?

You can’t die in the Palace of Westminster, because it is a royal palace. Anyone who died there is entitled to a state funeral. If they notice you looking even the slightest bit sick, they carry you out of the building immediately.

Taxpayers spend £247,000 per MP, when all the costs of Parliament are taken into account. That is bound to rise when the building work commences, and if it is like any other project instigated by MPs, the Olympics is just one example, the original figure to be multiplied many times over.

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