The Palace of Westminster is a maze of offices. Over the years, more have been created. Opposite my office, for example, is what I understand used to be Black Rod’s shower room: this tiny space now houses desks for two peers. The parliamentary estate also extends now way beyond the Palace – Portcullis House, Norman Shaw North and South, and 1 Parliament Street (all for MPs), soon to be supplemented by 1 and 2 Millbank (‘the island site’) for use by peers. This means that parliamentarians are based throughout an extensive area. The creation of a social space in the Atrium (as well as a dedicated committee corridor) in Portcullis House has created an alternative attraction to the Palace. Though most parliamentarians have a ‘phone and e-mail, not all do. Some peers do not have an office and hence lack a dedicated ‘phone. Not all have yet caught up with the electronic age. One or two peers fall in both categories!
All this means that contacting fellow parliamentarians is not always easy, certainly not if you want to have a quick word in person. If I want to track down a peer, the best way to do it is to check the chamber or wait until there is a division. One can try to locate a peer in the lobby, though the most efficient means is to wait in the Peers’ Lobby or the Prince’s Chamber to catch them as they come out of the lobby. (This is especially so if trying to catch someone who has voted in the other lobby!) This is one reason, though not the only one, for retaining the existing method of voting. The least efficient means is to wander round, checking the Library, the Bishop’s Bar and other places where members may go if not in the chamber or their offices.
If it is case of locating yourself for the purpose of bumping into colleagues, I find the Atrium is ideal. If I pop over for a cup of tea, I always take work with me, but it is exceptional if I am not interrupted by an MP or an official or a parliamentary researcher (usually but not always one of my students or graduates) or a fellow peer. It a useful way of catching up on events. The last couple of times I was in the Atrium, I was greeted separately by two Labour MPs – each to tell me how much they opposed an elected second chamber – and by a senior Conservative MP, who said the same. I must get over more often.