Pictures of Parliament are normally confined to the Palace of Westminster. However, the parliamentary estate stretches well beyond the Palace to the north and to the south-west. Just as the Palace shapes behaviour, so too does the way the estate is configured. The building of Portcullis House – modern, with a floor of dedicated committee rooms and a large social space – has shifted some of the focus from the Palace. It is easily reached from the Palace.
However, the position of Norman Shaw South and North (the old Scotland Yard) is different. Portcullis House stands between them and the Palace. To reach Norman Shaw North one has to go through Portcullis House to Norman Shaw South and then through that building to Norman Shaw North. Norman Shaw North and 7 Millbank constitute the two outposts of the estate. A map shows the extent to which they are outliers.
I was visiting Norman Shaw North yesterday. It is the part of the estate furthest from the Lords end of the Palace. As soon as I arrived, I was told there was a division in the Lords! Fortunately, I made it within the eight-minute limit. However, many peers are reluctant to venture to Portcullis House, let alone beyond it, in case there is a division and they don’t see a screen in time.
It is not only peers’ behaviour that is affected. Norman Shaw North does not have the attractions of Portcullis House. It resembles Hull: it is not somewhere you visit on your way to anywhere. There is no scope for social interaction in the way that there is in Portcullis House. I referred to it as the parliamentary equivalent of Siberia. The MP I was visiting said that was exactly how he described it.
Offices in 1 Parliament Street and Portcullis House are attractive and well appointed, so Members are generally happy to be there. Otherwise, the real attaction is being in the Palace itself. MPs and peers resist moving out of offices in the Palace – even if the carrot is a larger or more modern office – and some in outlying buildings are very keen (some might say desperate) to get a toehold in the Palace. In the Palace, you are close to the action and everything is within moderately reasonable reach. The building itself has a magnetic effect. How we behave is shaped in part by the need to exploit space within the vicinity. Portcullis House is purpose built. Otherwise, we have had to make do and adapt existing buildings.