- Different houses — different responsibilities 5. No entry
- Historic names 6. Criminal roots of the special day
- Don’t cross the line 7. Royal security tradition
- Parliamentary holidays 8. A show worth seeing
A. The Houses of Parliament are actually divided into two parts. The House of Commons is where the elected Members of Parliament meet to debate issues and agree on changes to the law. The House of Lords is the second debating chamber. Its members are mostly people who have been awarded a title in recognition of their work for the country. Their role is to examine proposals raised by the Commons.
B. Many people think that Big Ben is the Clock Tower on the side of the Houses of Parliament. This is wrong! Big Ben is actually the nickname of the big bell inside the Tower. It was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works, whose name is written on the bell. Recently the official name of the Clock Tower was changed to the Elizabeth Tower. The Tower was renamed in June 2012 in honour of the Queen’s Jubilee.
C. Each year, the Queen opens a new parliament session in a ceremony known as the State Opening of Parliament. The ceremony takes place in the House of Lords, where members of the House of Commons are invited too. According to the rules, neither kings nor queens can enter the House of Commons. This rule has been strictly observed since 1642 when King Charles I tried to arrest five of the House of Commons members.
D. In England, Guy Fawkes’ Night is celebrated with fireworks and huge bonfires. It reminds us about the date of November 5th, 1605, when a group of conspirators tried to blow up the king during the State Opening of Parliament. They were out of luck and one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, was caught with barrels of gunpowder. Strangely enough, the tragic incident started the long-lasting fireworks tradition.
E. Both UK residents and tourists can enter the Houses of Parliament for free and watch Members of Parliament debating. The best time to watch a debate in the House of Commons is on a Wednesday lunchtime. This is when the Prime Minister meets with the Members of Parliament. The atmosphere is usually nervous, especially when the Leader of the Opposition starts asking his six tricky questions. And this is what the tourists enjoy most.
F. The State Opening of Parliament is the most important ceremony of the year. The Queen comes to Parliament to open the new session. Before her arrival, a special ritual is held — the Queen’s Body Guard searches the basement beneath the Houses of Parliament with an old candle-lantern. This has been done every year since 1605 when a group of conspirators wanted to blow up the King.
G. In the House of Commons there are two opposite rows of benches: for the government and for the opposition. In front of the benches, there is a stripe on the carpet. When a member speaking in the House puts his foot beyond that stripe, there is a shout “Order!” This dates from the time when the members had swords and the discussions often grew into fights.