Chambers of the two Houses

6.50The Chambers in which the Lords and Commons meet and debate are connected by a corridor leading through the inner lobbies of the two Houses and the Central Lobby. Along this corridor, which runs south from the Commons to the Lords, pass the messages borne by Black Rod summoning the Commons to attend the Queen or Her Majesty's Commissioners in the Lords, the processions of the Commons headed by the Speaker and the Mace, and the messages relative to bills and other matters borne by their Clerks from one House to the other.

The present House of Lords Chamber was first occupied by the Lords on 15 April 1847.1 The present Chamber of the House of Commons, in which the House first met on 26 October 1950, is essentially a re-construction of its predecessor, which was built at the same time as the Lords Chamber2 but was destroyed by fire in an air raid on 10 May 1941.3

Though differing in size and decoration, the general arrangement of both Chambers is the same. Both are rectangular in shape, are surrounded by galleries and have at one end the seat of the presiding officer and at the other a barrier known as the Bar; between these is the Table of the House. Unlike most chambers elsewhere, both Houses are divided lengthwise by a broad gangway with the benches on each side facing each other, an arrangement which is said to facilitate if not predispose the division of Members into government and opposition; and Members speak from their places and not from a special ‘tribune’ or ‘rostrum’. In both Houses, the galleries provide accommodation for the public, the press and government officials, but in the House of Commons the side galleries are largely reserved for Members (for only 350 of whom seating is provided on the floor of the House). A Member may in theory speak from these galleries4 but in practice it would be impracticable for technical reasons to record or televise such an intervention and the Speaker has indicated he would not do so.5 Members may not speak from below the Bar, where there is also seating.6 Special features of the Lords Chamber include the Throne which is at the south end and is occupied by the Queen on those occasions when she is present, the Cross Benches in the lower part of the House facing the Speaker, and the three Woolsacks which lie between the Throne and the Table of the House. It is upon one of these Woolsacks that the Lord Speaker sits as presiding officer.

Footnotes

  1. 1. LJ (1847) 123–24.
  2. 2. The Commons first occupied their new Chamber in 1850, CJ (1850) 377.
  3. 3. For the arrangements made during the Second World War, see Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), p 10, fn 43.
  4. 4. HC 109 (1943–44) Qq 178, 323 and 567. See also HC Deb (1967–68) 760, c 1820.
  5. 5. HC Deb (1981–82) 13, cc 165, 619 and Erskine May (20th edn, 1983), p 418; HC Deb (1986–87) 112, c 808.
  6. 6. In Session 2020–21, when the number of Members permitted in the Chamber at any one time was limited for public health reasons, the Speaker permitted Members to speak from the under-galleries below the Bar, in order to increase the safe capacity of the Chamber. Additional microphones were installed for this purpose. HC Deb (17 May 2021) 695, c 389.