6.55The admission of the public has formed the subject of inquiry of several select committees.1 In July 1997 the House of Commons Commission announced a number of initiatives to improve public access to the Palace of Westminster and to increase understanding of the House of Commons.2 In 2004 the House agreed to the construction of a Visitor Reception Building at the north end of Cromwell Green.3 The building opened on 1 April 2008. The Parliamentary Education Centre was opened in the Victoria Tower Gardens, with access to the Palace via Black Rod's Garden, in 2015. Members of the public may also arrange a tour of Parliament through a Member of either House, free of charge, or book an audio or guided tour; for such purposes, access is subject to the demands of parliamentary business.
A limit is placed on the number of Members' personal staff, research assistants and lobbyists who are allowed passes securing them access to the House.4 Members of the European Parliament were granted passes providing access to both Houses from 1980, but since October 2009 have been allowed access to the House of Lords alone.5 Members are expected to take care not to introduce visitors whom they have any reason to suppose will behave in a disorderly way.6 Members' staff who have behaved improperly have had their right to enter the precincts of the House temporarily withdrawn.7 In 2018, the House of Commons endorsed a new Behaviour Code governing the conduct of everyone working in or visiting the parliamentary estate.8
The galleries of the Chamber comprise a reporters' gallery, a large visitors' gallery called the Public Gallery, and galleries for Lords Members, foreign and Commonwealth representatives, and distinguished visitors. There are, besides, private galleries allotted to the Speaker and the Serjeant at Arms. The regulations for these galleries approved by the Speaker provide for the reservation of seats in these galleries until a certain hour by applications made to the Serjeant at Arms at the Admission Order Office.
In April 2004 the House approved the installation of a permanent security screen between the Chamber and the Public Gallery.9
There is also a box within the Chamber for officials of government departments supporting Ministers in questions or debate.10
- 1. HC 132 (1888); ibid 126 (1893–94); ibid 371 (1908); ibid 116 (1923).
- 2. HC Deb (1997–98) 298, c 151W.
- 3. CJ (2003–04) 321.
- 4. HC Deb (1988–89) 146, c 139; Second Report of the Committee on House of Commons (Services) on Access to the Precincts of the House, HC 580 (1987–88); HC Deb (1988–89) 147, cc 806–07W, CJ (1991–92) 88.
- 5. The House of Commons stopped issuing passes to MEPs in October 2009, HC Deb (20 October 2009) 497, c 884.
- 6. Parl Deb (1895) 33, c 917; HC Deb (1995–96) 267, cc 1243–44. In 2004, in response to an incident in the Galleries, the Speaker temporarily suspended the right of Members to sponsor guests to the Special Galleries, HC Deb (2003–04) 421, c 1549.
- 7. HC Deb (1994–95) 251, c 787. See also Seventh Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, HC 501 (2008–09) and CJ (2008–09) 402–3; also para 4.27 for an account of the Speaker's powers relating to access to the precincts.
- 8. HC (19 July 2018) 627, cc 645–60.
- 9. CJ (2003–04) 280.
- 10. Only Ministers and their Parliamentary Private Secretaries may communicate with officials in the box: HC Deb (1996–97) 285, c 1116. Private Members may not seek information from officials in the official box unless asked to do so by a Minister (ibid (1995–96) 270, c 267).