The public are welcome to visit both Houses during debates and tour the building during recess (holidays) and on Saturdays.
House of Lords exterior
The present-day Palace of Westminster, built in the perpendicular Gothic style, was designed by architect Sir Charles Barry. The construction of the new palace began in 1840 after the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834. The grade I listed building became part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
The Victoria Tower dominates the southern end of the 300-metre long Palace of Westminster. The latest tower was rebuilt after the fire in May 1860. It stands at 98.5 metres - that’s two metres taller than Big Ben.
The 12 floors in the tower house the Parliamentary Archives in special environmentally controlled conditions. These are open to members of the public for academic, business and educational research.
The gateways of the tower were constructed to be wide enough for royal coaches at State Opening. The Queen’s entrance is known at the Sovereign’s Entrance, which leads to the Royal Staircase and Norman Porch, where she starts her processions through the building. The tower was restored between 1990 and 1994.
House of Lords interior
Most House of Lords business takes place in the Lords chamber from Monday to Thursday and sometimes on Friday (about 10 times during the parliamentary year). Some of the House’s work also takes place in the Moses Room, the main venue for grand committees. There are also some ceremonial rooms which are open to the public on the House of Lords visitor route.
The chamber is where most of the work of the House, scrutinising new legislation and the actions of government, takes place. Members enter the chamber via the Peers’ Lobby and Prince’s Chamber. The public are welcome to visit and sit in the gallery and watch the chamber at work (entry is free). You can also watch work in the chamber live online on Parliament TV.
Members cast their votes on legislation by entering one of the two division (voting) lobbies. They run either side of the chamber and are called the 'content' and the 'not content' lobbies.
The royal throne stands at the far end of the chamber on a raised platform. The design of this ornate, gilded piece is based on the 14th century coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. The Queen delivers her ‘speech from the throne’ in the chamber during the State Opening of Parliament.
The Royal Gallery is used for important ceremonies and state occasions, like the State Opening of Parliament when the Queen attends the Lords chamber. Addresses to Parliament are also made here. When Parliament is sitting, the Royal Gallery is used as a work space for members of the Lords as it is close to the Lords chamber.
This room is used by the Queen during State Opening, where she gets ready in her crown and ceremonial robes. It is also used for parliamentary functions and state visits. The Robing Room leads to the Prince’s Chamber, where members can gather and discuss business on their way to the chamber.
The Prince's Chamber is named after an earlier chamber which was destroyed by fire in 1834. Members gather here to discuss their business as it has direct access to the Lords chamber. The interior of the Prince's Chamber was designed by Augustus Welby Pugin.
Image: Roger Harris