Networking in the Palace

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.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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9 Responses to Networking in the Palace

  1. tory boy says:

    You could sit in your office and ring the switch board to see if a peer is in the chamber, and ring the bishops bar to see if they are there, once you have rang round to locate the peer you can tell him not to move and you will come to him!!

  2. Lord Norton says:

    tory boy: I fear there is a flaw in your cunning plan. I don’t think the operator at the switchboard will be too keen to be asked if a member is in the chamber! It would involve either a long walk or having to ring round the Doorkeepers. I’m not sure the staff in the Bishop’s Bar will be too keen to have ‘phone calls, especially when they are busy.

  3. Dean B says:

    You have the advantage – at least sometimes – of switching on the tv to see if your colleagues are in the chamber. Not many jobs allow for that!

  4. ladytizzy says:

    Surely the cunning plan is yours, Lord Norton? “…Black Rod’s shower room: this tiny space now houses desks for two peers.” Clearly intolerable for elected members.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: Quite so. My room – what was Black Rod’s living room and quite spacious – houses ten desks, but I judge that in the event of elected members it would probably be sufficient to house two. After, that is, structural work to divide it into two separate offices, one member to each.

  5. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,
    In my often comparative vein, this reminds me of some now forgotten source who was asked to describe the inner workings of the Curia, College of Cardinals and State Govenorate of the Holy See from the inside. This rather knowledgeable and distinguished witness chose to answer that the Apostolic palaces and associated buildings had on a functional basis “over a thousand rooms”. I think scale as you describe it is bound to shape an institution directly and rather profoundly…

    • Lord Norton says:

      Frank W. Summers III: Indeed, the architecture and internal organisation of a building can be a major ínfluence. I think many of us in the Lords are conscious of the significance of the building in shaping what we do. It is the same in the Commons. When there was a suggestion that one or both Houses may have to relocate elsewhere while essential work was done on the roofs, there was a remarkably hostile response.

  6. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,

    I wonder what the dynamics of learning one’s way around are in Westminster. The largest single roof building in the world is the Boeing plant in Washington which has street and alley signs maps and air traffic control for the roof cranes. However, I find that rather exceptional. Even in my own diminutive milieu a newcomer has to grasp what Kisinoaks, Big Woods, the Bayou, Casa de Misiones, 500 Second Street and other names mean and only then understand the names or numbers associated with rooms, sections or buildings at each of those sites. Things were not designed to be confusing but they can be challenging to master. I rather get the feeling that Westminster is perhaps on a spectrum closer to my domestic arrangements than to Boeing’s assembly plant.

    I myself live largely in a small suite without much in the way of space or furniture which is where I most often correspond with Your Lordship….

    But perhaps the Doorkeepers and tourism folk have you all more organized than I picture you to be so far.

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