The Houses of Parliament


The Palace of Westminster, the British Parliament
Never House, via Flickr

Nick Page and Colin Lowther take us to the Houses of Parliament in London, England. We learn about the history of this building, and the important events that happened there.

Watch Video


Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Nick Page.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

A beautiful building stands on the north bank of the river Thames in London. People everywhere in the world would recognise it. Most people call it The Houses of Parliament. It is where the elected members of the British government meet. Today’s Spotlight is on this building.

Voice 2 

There are two parts to Parliament. One part is called the House of Commons. The other part is called The House of Lords. Because of this, people often call the whole building the Houses of Parliament. But the correct name for this building is, The Palace of Westminster.

Voice 1 

Hundreds of years ago, the Palace of Westminster was the main home of the kings of England. They lived there from the middle of the 11th century until the beginning of the 16th century. But the Kings of England also travelled a lot. In those days, members of the government were expected to visit the king. They had to travel to him when they wanted to discuss matters of state. But in the year 1512, King Henry VIII changed this situation. He decided to use the Palace of Westminster as the permanent meeting place for the government. King Henry then moved to a new home built especially for him - the Palace of St. James.

Voice 2 

The Palace of Westminster is a huge building - nearly 300 metres long. The Palace contains more than 1,000 rooms. There are 100 staircases to climb. More than three kilometres of passages connect the different parts of the building together. There are also many small offices for the members of Parliament to do their work.

Voice 1 

At the north end is a Clock Tower. People all over the world call the clock in this tower ‘Big Ben’. But this is really just the name of the clock’s bell. Big Ben weighs 14 tonnes. It has been striking the hours of the day and night since 1858. People all around the world can hear the sound of this bell by radio when they listen to the BBC.

Voice 2 

The clock itself has four faces. People can read the time on the clock from the north, south, and east or west. The clock tower that holds Big Ben is one of the most famous things to see in London.

Voice 1 

The present Palace of Westminster dates from the 19th century. Two famous builders designed the new Palace. They were Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin. Most of the old building that King Henry VIII used was destroyed in a fire. But the present design does include some of the surviving parts of the ancient Palace of Westminster.

Voice 2 

One of these ancient parts is a huge room called Westminster Hall. The Hall was built in 1099 by King William II. People have used it constantly since that time. Many different kinds of events have happened in this great hall. In 1649, Parliament sentenced King Charles the first to death in this room.

Voice 1 

In modern times the government uses Westminster Hall for great public ceremonies. Sometimes a foreign head of state visits Britain. When this happens the members of both Houses of Parliament meet together in Westminster Hall. Nelson Mandela and other famous leaders have made speeches in this great historic place.

Voice 2 

Westminster Hall is also the place where a king or queen who has died will ‘lie in state’. It is a last chance for the people to honour that king or queen. In the year 2002, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother lay in state at Westminster Hall. Hundreds of thousands of people walked quietly past the Queen Mother’s body. They were showing their respect for her and for the Royal Family.

Voice 1 

Probably the most important event that has ever happened in Westminster Hall was the meeting of the first English parliament. In the year 1265, King Henry the third called a meeting to discuss his policies. He met with the important men of the time. But King Henry also requested some other people to be present. He asked each town to send two soldiers and two businessmen to Westminster Hall. This group represented the common citizens of the nation. They were not rich people. They were not important or royal people. They were not members of the ruling families. These citizens met with the King. They met with the other important men. The King listened to their ideas. He treated them with respect. It was the first time that the common citizens of Britain had a chance to be heard. This was the start of the first real parliament.

Voice 2 

Britain’s current democracy developed from that first meeting. Queen Elizabeth the second mainly has a ceremonial position. After an election, she invites the leader of the largest political party to form a government. This person becomes the Prime Minister. After that, she meets with the Prime Minister every week, and offers advice and ideas. But she is not actively involved in politics.

Voice 1 

Most ‘Spotlight’ listeners do not live in Britain. So what possible interest has the British parliament to them? Well, one answer could be that all or part of the British system has been copied by many countries around the world. Some people have called it ‘the Mother of Parliaments’. It is an example of a kind of government called ‘Parliamentary Democracy’. Democracy is a form of ‘government for the people and by the people’.

Voice 2 

The great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “People have tried many forms of Government. And they will try many forms in the future. No one can say that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.”

Voice 1 

Churchill was saying that no kind of government is perfect. All governments have problems. But he thought that democracy worked better than any other kind. It was the best of the worst! What do you think? Do you think democracy is the best kind of government? Share your ideas on our website: www.radioenglish.net.

Voice 2 

The writers of today’s programme were Joy Smith and Mike Procter. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘The Houses of Parliament’.

Voice 1 

You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

What kind of government does your country have? Do you think it is the best kind?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
nature187_vn
said on October 16, 2012

I wish I can travel to beautiful England country .I knew, London is a capital of England and there have a famous clock Big Ben.In the Vietnam,we too have parliament in governments but not have Queen and King like as England.If have chance I will make a tour going to England so know more about culter,food,and people in your country.Thanks Spotlighradio about the story of program!

Avatar Spotlight
Cbkratos
said on October 16, 2012

Maybe sometimes you guys should come to Vietnam, we also have lots of interesting places to show you. Thanks Spotlight for everything!

Avatar Spotlight
Carlos BR.
said on October 16, 2012

I’ve been to London a couple of years ago, and I can see how amazing the parliament is. I hope I can come back one day.

humble71's avatar
humble71
said on October 19, 2012

You transport me to London in history of Parliament, and Westminster palace. Then I think that the democracy is a way to express all the voices of a country , and at United kingdom it seems politicians are responsible and respectful of the position they have.  At Southamerica the democracy is not very good system because people is not very educated politically and choose for example a famous singer or tv announcer to represent to them at a congress and these people only want to be rich at any price and practicing corruption all the time.
  I admire this european country for its organization and respect to democracy and history and values heritage for centuries.
Good bye ,

Augusto
Quito-Ecuador

Elena_Moscow's avatar
Elena_Moscow
said on November 19, 2012

Thank you for this topic!
It is very interesting and important for students/ teachers and it is well done!
I have downloaded it and will listen to it again and again with friends and students.

Avatar Spotlight
bamfg
said on July 05, 2017

Democracy is great, only if it applied by people who honestly love their county, not like the stupid people who are in change of Iraq now.