The Palace of Westminster is a mock gothic building completed in the 1850s. It was regarded as an architectural masterpiece of its day and its remains an awe-inspiring building. It is difficult for anyone working in it not to be impressed by it. Buildings tend to shape how an institution operates. Parliament would not be the same if members had to work in a completely different physical environment. There has been some degree of in-building and acquisition of adjoining properties but the heart of Parliament remains the Palace of Westminster.
The Palace has two to three miles of corridors, over 200 staircases and more than 1,000 offices. It retains the grandeur of its original Pugin features. It also retains features of a 19th Century building that nowadays create some problems. The heating system is one: parts of the Palace can be very hot in summer and cold in winter. I have been sat in the chamber on the day we rise for Christmas and been conscious of the fact that it is chilly. Another problem is one of access for those with impaired mobility. Both Houses have members who are wheelchair-bound and there are visitors and staff who have impaired mobility. It is possible for them to get around – various adaptations have been made – but it is more problematic than for those of use who can manage the various staircases.
Another problem, but perhaps less commented on, is for those who suffer from acrophobia, that is, an extreme fear of heights. (People often refer to the condition as vertigo, but vertigo is dizziness.) There are some very steep and open staircases throughout the Palace – not least at the Lords end – where one can see straight down to the ground. If it were not for the availability of lifts, anyone who is acrophobic would have difficulty reaching the Upper Committee Corridor.
The building can thus generate some difficulties but none that has proved insuperable. Rather like the constitution, it retains its basic form and shape but has been able to adapt to meet new demands. It is an iconic building and it is difficult not to work in it without feeling awed and privileged.