Houses of Parliament

About Houses of Parliament

For nearly 1000 years The Palace of Westminster, also known as The Houses of Parliament, is where new laws have been debated and agreed by the Chambers of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Not to be confused with Government, though Members of the Government are usually members of Parliament too, the responsibilities of Parliament are to:

  • to examine proposals for new laws;
  • to scrutinise government policy and administration;
  • to debate the major issues of the day

So while the Government use Parliament to bring new laws into force, Parliament also acts as a platform to scrutinise what the Government does.

The Palace itself is one of London's most spectacular buildings, especially when lit up at night and is well worth a visit. It has over 1,000 rooms, 100 staircases and over 2 miles of passages. Though most of the Palace had to be reconstructed after a fire on 16th October 1834, some of the original rooms are still present, the oldest and most notable of which is the Westminster Hall, which dates back to 1097.

The Palace has several towers including the famous Clock Tower, more commonly known as Big Ben. This is in fact a misnomer - in fact Big Ben is the informal name of the largest of the bells in the tower (officially, the Great Bell of Westminster), which weighs 13 tons and strikes every hour.

Visitors can enrol on a tour of the House of Lords or the House of Commons by joining the queue at the public entrance to the Palace, leading back from the visitors gallery through St Stephen's entrance in Old Palace Yard.

Opening times can vary, so you are advised to call the Houses of Parliament switchboard - 020 7219 3000 - to avoid disappointment.

Also don't leave the area before witnessing Westminster Abbey (Every King and Queen has been crowned here since William the Conqueror in 1066) and the Cathedral (the principal Roman Catholic church in England)

Nearest tube: Westminster (Circle or District)