“No, I shan’t give way”

A snowy and cold Tuesday evening is the perfect time to go and see a debate in the British Parliament.

I have no idea where that thought came from, it just appeared in my head when I was entering my room after the morning class.

So there we go. I went there and, in fact, the timing was perfect.

I left Harrow at about a quarter past four, and at five o’clock I was already in the Public Gallery, watching the House of Commons debate as shown on TV, but LIVE.

The topic for the debate was “School sports funding”, and, as many copies of the day’s Agenda stated, it was an Opposition Day. But you could have easily guessed that by the fact that Opposition rows were far more crowded than the Government ones.

I really liked the chamber in action, with clerks in wigs and black cloaks, the Speaker in control, the ceremonial mace on the Table of the House, and MPs passing notes to each other and keeping track on what is being said by the opposing team in order to bring it up against them later.

One of the MPs was delivering a speech when I entered the Public Gallery. Little screens on both sides of the chamber showed his name, a constituency he represented and the time when he started talking.

It looked a little like a theatre performance.

I just adore the way they breathe out “Aaaaa” or “Yeeeaaaar” in unison. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve witnessed in Britain. And there was also an indignant “What?!” and an approving “That’s right!” as the MP spoke.

And all of those little traditions they have! They stand up and raise a hand when they want to say something. But if the person speaking doesn’t want to “give way” to them, they have to sit down. So a lot of exercise involved in the debate, I guess, constantly standing up and sitting down, standing up and sitting down.

They still use phrases like “I’ll give way to my Honourable friend” (when addressing a member of your party) and “Happy to give way to the Honourable gentleman” (when addressing a member of the opposing team). Or “No, with respect to you, Honourable lady, I shan’t give way” and “As the Right Honourable gentleman acknowledged…”

I would say they were having a good time, both sides, joking a lot and trying to pique and tease each other.

The public, including your Most Humble servant, enjoyed the show. There were just about 15 of us in the gallery, so there was absolutely no time or space pressure. I left after an hour, when Big Ben struck six – it was amazing to hear that inside the House, – but could have stayed till the very end of the debate.

So if you want to avoid the notorious queues at the visitor’s entrance to the Houses of Parliament and enjoy one of the debates, wait till the next nasty Tuesday and give it a go.

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