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Layout of the Palace of Westminster

After coming through the public entrance - St Stephen's Entrance - the approach to tthe Central Lobby of the Palace is through St Stephen's Hall from St Stephen's Porch at the southern end of Westminster Hall. Central Lobby, a large octagonal hall, is the centrepiece of the Palace. When waiting to see their MP, members of the public wait here. The Central Lobby is a great masterpiece of Victorian art.

From the Central Lobby, corridors lead northward to the House of Commons Lobby and Chamber and southward to the House of Lords. Beyond the House of Lords are the ceremonial rooms used at the State Opening of Parliament - the Queen's Robing Room and the Royal Gallery - reached by a separate entrance under the Victoria Tower. The Royal Gallery is 33 m long, 13 m high and 13 m wide (110 ft x 44 ft x 44 ft). The Queen processes through it on her way to the Chamber of the House of Lords on the occasion of the State Opening of Parliament. It is also often used when members of the two Houses meet together to hear addresses by visiting heads of State or Government.

To the north of the House of Commons are the residences of the Speaker and the Serjeant-at-Arms, and various offices for ministers and officials. Beyond them is one of the most famous features of the Palace - the huge bell Big Ben housed in the Clock Tower. Big Ben came into operation in 1859 and weighs 13.7 tonnes.

House of Lords Chamber

The Lords Chamber, the masterpiece of the rebuilt Palace, was first occupied in 1847. It is 24 m long, 14 m wide and 14 m high (80 ft x 46 ft x 46 ft). At its southern end is the Throne, from which the Queen reads her speech at the opening of Parliament. In front of the Throne is the red cushion known as the Woolsack. In front of this are two similar woolsacks used by judges at the opening of Parliament, and the Table of the House at which the Clerks sit.

The Lords' benches, upholstered in red leather, are arranged on both sides of the House, in five rows divided into three blocks. The Government benches are on the right of the Throne and the Opposition benches on the left. Facing the Woolsack below the Table are the cross benches, used by members who do not belong to any political party.

House of Commons Chamber

The arrangements of the Commons Chamber reflect the site of the Chapel in which it was originally housed. It is 21 m long, 14 m wide and 14 m high (68 ft x 46 ft x 46 ft). The Speaker's Chair stands on steps at the north end. In front of this is the Table of the House at which the Clerk of the House and his assistants sit. At the head of the Table, whenever the House is sitting, rests the Mace. This symbolises the royal authority by which the House meets. It dates from the reign of Charles II.

The benches for MPs, upholstered in green leather, run the length of the Chamber on both sides, facing each other across a broad gangway known as the 'floor of the House'. To the Speaker's right are the benches used by the Government and its supporters, and to the left are those occupied by the Opposition and members of other parties. The Division lobbies into which MPs pass to record their votes are on the eastern and western side of the Chamber. MPs voting for a motion (the "Ayes") pass into the lobby on the right of the Speaker, and those voting against (the "Noes") enter the lobby to the left.

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