Entering Houses of Parliament?
July 19, 2010 2:30 AM   Subscribe

Anyone been to Houses of Parliament lately?

I've been invited to an ECB Banking Seminar at Houses of Parliament. Has anyone been to the chambers recently or can you advise regarding security to enter? I'm mostly concerned about electronic devices; I typically carry a notebook and a phone, neither of which would be welcome at The US Embassy here in London (I have biz there periodically, and while its a pain to have to leave my stuff home at least I know to do so). Are similar policies in place at Houses of Parliament? All I was told in the invitation was to allow 15 minutes for security clearance and the escorted walk to the committee room.

I have placed a query with my hosts office, but thought I'd ask here as well in case I don't get a response in time (busy people being busy people, don't you know).

Just to clarify: I'm specifically interested in information regarding the House of Commons. I suspect the tourist / public entrance and practices will be rather different as this seminar won't be an area accessible to the general public.

MeMail if you're uncomfortable replying in thread.
posted by Mutant to Law & Government (12 answers total)
Best answer: There is a helpful page here. Mobile phones are OK, but need to be switched off. It doesn't say anything about laptops specifically, but I would guess they just get screened as per going through airport security.

"Searches, similar to those used in airports, will be conducted on entry.

Mobile phones must be turned off.

Cameras cannot be used, except in Westminster Hall.

Personal defence equipment is not permitted. UK law prohibits the carrying of certain self-defence items lawful in other countries. Persons in possession of such items, eg, flick knives, butterfly knives, and personal defence sprays, are liable to arrest and confiscation of these items. You are advised not to bring bladed items of any kind into Parliament.

Bags or luggage larger than those permitted in aircraft cabins may be refused entry. Parliament has no facilities for leaving items; commercial outlets are available nearby at Victoria and Charing Cross stations."

I haven't been recently, but I have been since 9/11 and I don't recall overly onerous security.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:43 AM on July 19, 2010

Also, see this: Attending events at Parliament. Again, no mention laptops aren't allowed: everything goes through a screening process.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:45 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: There is airport-style security with metal detector gates etc. I don't think there's anything to stop you bringing in laptops and mobiles, although you should turn your mobile off.

You'll probably end up going through the main public entrance anyway. You might be able to bypass the tourist queue though.
posted by matthewr at 3:40 AM on July 19, 2010

You might be able to get more information from your local MP.
After all it's their place of work.
Link to find out who they are.
posted by 92_elements at 4:08 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: I was invited to the Houses of Parliament a couple of years ago. We were taken into sections that the public usually can't go to but we were still fine with mobile phones, cameras etc.
posted by thesailor at 4:16 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: Yes, it's like airport security. Laptops are fine.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 4:23 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: I'm a regular visitor. All bags and jackets will be put through a scanner and your photo taken. There won't be an issue with you having a laptop or mobile.
posted by eb98jdb at 4:47 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: A bit of background you might find useful:

The House of Commons is only one part of the Palace of Westminster (the old, gothic looking bit with Big Ben attached to it). This, in turn, is only one part of the Parliamentary Estate as a whole. There are half a dozen buildings in total, all connected by walkways and tunnels.

The actual "chambers" are the bits where the debates take place - green baize seats in the Commons, red baize seats in the Lords. Those are the bits you recognise off the telly. I highly doubt that you will be going in them, unless you are arriving early in the morning and they have booked you a tour.

There are Committee Rooms in the Palace, but also in Portcullis House (the big glass building above Westminster Tube). You might be using a Committee Room in the palace, in which case matthewr is right and you will probably use the main public entrance at Cromwell Green. (Map)

Security checks for all visitors are uniform, regardless of which part of the estate they are going to. The only difference is that in private areas you need a full passholder escorting you at all times (whereas in the tourist areas it is only some of the time).

You do not need to turn off your mobile phone - the wheels of government and business would cease to turn if every visitor weren't on their phones incessantly - but don't be using it when you go through security. Your notebook will be x-rayed but not confiscated. You may be politely searched.

It is a good fun visiting for the first time, don't let security concern you too much. Remember that thousands of people visit the building every day, many them for the first time. The security personnel are used to it. Do exactly what the nice police with MP5s say and you will be fine.

Do not bring a knife, even if you are an important diplomat, even if it was a present from your now deceased father, even if it is of great sentimental value and you always carry it around with you. You might just get away with it only being confiscated but you will still wish you left it at home. (This has happened. I work there).
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 5:00 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: I went to a dinner there a couple of years ago (lots of fun); it's a bit like airport security, i.e. you'll be searched & scanned, there are no particular restrictions on electronics as far as I can tell, but don't bring knives etc.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:28 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: I’m there a lot. Your invitation should say which Committee Room you’re in. This in turn dictates whether you turn up at Portcullis House or St Stephens Gate. Call 020 7219 1000 and ask for Commons information and they’ll tell you where to present yourself.

Laptops and mobiles are fine. But note that answering your mobile while before a committee, as well as being a dick move, could constitute contempt of parliament, so turn them off.

I normally tell people to allow up to 45 mins for security but that’s in part so high profile, busy people turn up with time to spare. If you get there and there’s a big queue, a discrete word with one of the police officers or parliamentary ushers (impossible to miss, look for someone in 19th centuary rig) explain that you’re giving evidence to a committee and you will normally be escorted to the front of the line. Don’t pitch up and give it the big “I am” or you’ll be invited to join the back of the line.

A little bit of Googling suggests that you’re unlikely to get the full ‘standing under a white hot light’ Select Committee experience – this will be a more discursive session I imagine?

That said I’ve done a fair bit of work down the years prepping people to appear before various Committees or to make representations so email or mefimail me if you’d like a chat.

Similarly, give me the names of the parliamentarians involved and I’ll send you full profiles of all of them so you know where they’re coming from (Rachel Reeves, the former BoE economist now a Labour backbencher, will for instance see things very differently from Tory Economic Secretary, Justine Greening, late of PwC, GSK and Centrica).

Whoever is in your meeting analyse their contributions in debate and PQs using the advanced search tool on the parliamentary website here. Good luck.
posted by dmt at 6:40 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

OP doesn't suggest they are giving evidence to a committee (and there is no mention of ECB in the upcoming select committee hearings). I'd guess that they are just using a committee room for something that isn't a committee hearing? Sounds like an outside organisation got an MP to sponsor a room booking. I think this happens pretty often.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 7:55 AM on July 19, 2010

I go a couple times a week for work and it's fine. You go through a metal detector and your bags go through an x ray scanner but all types of electronic equipment are fine. The only thing I've ever seen confiscated off anyone was a penknife - so don't take one of those. Allow at least 20 minutes to go through security, probably more if it's your first time. Once you're inside there are tons of staff around with the specific job of directing people so you'll find the room just fine.
I hold meetings in committee rooms all the time for the charity I work for, we get an MP to make the booking and use it for a discussion with people from inside and outside Parliament, it is not a committee hearing, just a seminar - these types of events are VERY common. And it is the same entrance as the public/tourists, unless you are giving evidence to a committee, which it sounds like you're not. When you arrive just tell the security staff why you're there and you'll be directed appropriately.
Any other specific questions feel free to memail me!
posted by cmarie at 10:59 AM on July 19, 2010

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