Inside the Commons (2015) - full transcript

A documentary series which shows the work done by Members of Parliament, both behind the scenes and in public proceedings in the House of Commons.

This is the House of Commons as
you've never seen it before.


With unprecedented access,

we've been filming behind the scenes
for a year.

That's where our laws are set.

These are the people that we're run

It's been a year of round-the-clock
plotting and high drama.


There are people sitting next to me
who've been in the House for decades,

saying, "I've never seen anything
like it."


We'll have to repair that later.

All played out in the ancient
Palace of Westminster

that's in danger of collapse.
The last thing you want to see

is the government building's fall

cos that means your government's
falling apart.

In this first episode,
two novice MPs

seek to navigate the bewildering
codes and customs of the Commons.


The behaviour in there is just

I mean, really embarrassingly

And we follow the Commons most
powerful official

who runs the whole place.

My goodness! That's invigorating!

His job is to square the age-old
parliamentary traditions

with the demands of a modern

This place is about hard politics,

but it's also about people and

It's spring 2014,

and the biggest day of the year in
the Commons' calendar - Budget Day.

Inside the Chamber, the security
sniffer dogs

are the first to do their
parliamentary duty.

The eyes to the right, the nose
to the floor.

Only MPs are allowed to sit on the
Commons' green benches,

yet they provide 427 seats and there
are 650 MPs.

So the Principal Doorkeeper,
Robin Fell, and his team

are ready for MPs to arrive early
for an unlikely procedure...

to reserve their seat.

Apart from the conventions of,

the Prime Minister and the Cabinet
on the government front bench,

everybody else is in the
melting pot.

So if they want to be certain that
they have their preferred seat,

be here when the doors open at
eight o'clock,

put the prayer card in, turn up for
prayers and it's yours for the day.

Good morning.

Charlotte Leslie was elected a
Conservative MP in the 2010

She's still getting used to the
rituals of the house,

like the fact that for over four

the Commons' day begins with morning

We actually turn to the back and
we all turn to face the wall

when we do one bit of prayers,
because I think the story goes

that at the time when to be a
Catholic was a little bit sensitive,

it was courtesy not to let people
see that you were a Catholic

and you were doing the crossing bit.
Oh, right.

But morning prayers is now also a
seat-booking system.

Theoretically, members respect the
fact that that is your seat being
booked for the whole of the day

provided you're here for
three-minute prayers

when the Speaker arrives.

If you're not here for prayers and
your prayer card is in,

then one of the member officers of
the House

will take the card out and rip it

Macleod? WOMAN: Yep. Baldwin? Uh-huh.

Newton? Yep. Ellis? Yep.

Gibb? Yep. Harrington?

Robert Halfon, who was born with
cerebral palsy,

is another Tory newcomer from 2010.

I put my prayer card right in the
middle at the back there.

It's where I usually sit, there's a
lot of legroom,

and I've tried to bag that place
since I got in.

On days like this, it's a bit like
the Germans on the beaches putting
their towels on the deckchairs,

because you have to rush in, you have
to be here early to get your card,

but I've kind of made that place my

I will sit at the back, make a quick
getaway. So you can shout at 'em?

Yeah, take a book along in case you
get bored as well.


On this showpiece day for the

the greatest crush for seats is on
the Tory side.

And Labour's veteran heckler,
Dennis Skinner, is unimpressed.

Most of 'em come in on the high days
like the Budget.

I come in every day and have done
for 40-odd year.

I remember when people used to wear
morning coats and top hats

and goodness knows what else.

And I don't mean the 19th century,
I mean the 20th century. Really?

And all that sort of glamour seems
to have gone now. Such a shame.

What are you wearing on your head
for this special occasion?

Ah, well, isn't that the great cause
of much...speculation.

My goodness! Not much choice left,
is there?

It's 8.30 and there's not a spot.

There's one at the back there, Toby.
There is, there is

There we go, it's official, I have
my space.

And as long as I turn up to prayers,
it's mine!

There's one backbench MP

who doesn't need to worry about his
prayer card, Sir Peter Tapsell,

the longest serving member who's
known as the Father of the House.

By custom, Sir Peter has his own
special seat,

but still insists on putting in a
prayer card.

The reason I put it in is because I
don't want the embarrassment

of turning somebody out of their

who may not know the convention in a
crowded House.

Particularly if it was a lady, it
would be quite a difficult thing to

And the problem would arise, do I
sit on her knee or does she sit
on mine?

Sarah Champion, the Labour MP
for Rotherham,

cuts a rather different figure from
the old boys of the Commons.

She won a by-election in 2012,

when her Labour predecessor resigned

and was later jailed for expenses

When I got my

I was told that I had
"unparliamentary" hair.


I was meant to do something about it,

but I still don't know what
"unparliamentary" hair is or what I'm
meant to do.

Right, I need a wee.

Let's go.

Sarah Champion used to run a
children's hospice.

She's one of only 148 female MPs.

The other 502 are men.

Every day, particularly when it's a
sunny day like this,

when I walk in, I go, "Oh, my God!

"They're going to rumble that it's me
rather than a proper MP coming in."

I hope I never get over it, though.

And she refuses to join the Budget
Day scramble to bag a seat in the

What's the point of being there at
seven in the morning?

I can see if it's a shoe sale,

but not to listen to a load of old
men screaming at each other.

Final copies of the Budget in plain

arrive at the Chancellor's official
residence in Downing Street.

The contents are market sensitive,

so tight secrecy is maintained until
after George Osborne's speech.

Another envelope of Budget secrets

is brought to the Commons for the
Deputy Speaker.

By tradition, he chairs the Budget

but to avoid leaks he won't open it
till he's in the Chamber.

For you, the sealed
envelope from the Treasury.

Oh, my word! Very tempting, isn't
it? But we won't.

Let me put this down. Let's put it
on here.

There's cards on every part of the
government benches,

there's not a spare place!

Today will be the real starting gun
for the general election,

so I think that's also going to add
to the intensity.

So we've just got to be aware of the
heat that will be in there.

It's two hours till the Chancellor

And in the bowels of the Commons

there's a mass delivery of strictly
embargoed copies of all the Budget

MPs won't be able to collect them
till the Chancellor has sat down.

Mostly, people will want the red

the Budget 2014 in all its glory,

not released for another hour and a
quarter at least.

All set? Good. Hi. Hi, Nicky.

Danny? Hey, George, you all right?
Hi. Paul.

Is the speech in the box? Speech is
in the box, we're ready to go.

When you go out there, there are a
lot of cameras. Yes. If you've not
done it before.

We've got a good Budget, so we're
going to go out there and sell it.

And thanks for all your help in
putting it together.


I always try to look smart, but
today I've got to be at my best.

We know parliament's a theatre,

politicians are all budding

they all want to be on that stage
and they all want to play their

And there is no bigger day for the
stage than today.


I can't fit in! So, apparently, we
can sit upstairs.

Sarah Champion is directed to a
place in the gods

as she doesn't have a prayer of
finding a seat in the Chamber.

How exciting. I've never been

The Upper Gallery is where she can
watch but can't speak.

Hello. Hiya. How do I get in?

To get in, into there? Yeah.
OK, come with me.

Here, she'll catch the first
glimpses of what the government

and the opposition regard as the key
to the general election.

Wrong bit. As Bill Clinton's
spin doctor once put it,

"It's the economy, stupid."


Right. Right.

MAN: The Chancellor of the Exchequer,
the Right Honourable George Osborne.


Built on the site of William the
Conqueror's first palace,

the "mother of parliaments" is where
the laws that affect all our lives
are made.

Re-built in Victorian times as a
gothic fantasy palace,

it's an eight acre jumble of
buildings and courtyards.

With 100 staircases, over 1,000
rooms and three miles of passages...'s a very easy place to get lost

even for long serving MPs like
Winston Churchill's grandson.

It's an extraordinary place.

I found somewhere the other day

I never even knew existed in the
House of Commons.

And... And you've been here 30 years?
And I've been here 30 years.

What was that? What did you find?
It was a bar. A bar?!

It's such a rabbit warren of a place.

I mean, I still, from time to time

find myself not knowing and having to
ask instructions or directions.

When you stand in Member's Lobby
and you see the statue of Churchill

and you see the broken arch that is
what remains

after the Chamber was bombed in the
Second World War,

you do feel a real sense of history
in this place.

It's a sort of mixture. It looks
half like a museum,

half like a church, half like
a school.

Many MPs share David Cameron's view,

they call the Commons...Hogwarts.

And if there is a Dumbledore, he's
the Commons' top official,

the Clerk of the House,
Sir Robert Rogers.

Right, see you later, darling. Yep.


The back door of his official
residence in Parliament Street

provides Sir Robert with a short
commute through his domain.


I suppose I have quite an odd job in
some ways.

Morning! I think most of my

back across the centuries would
recognise one half,

which is being the principal
constitutional advisor to the House,

but combined with that is a job as
Chief Executive of the House of
Commons Service of 2,000 people.


In the Chamber each day I wear a
court coat, black trousers,

black waistcoat, stick-up collar and
white bow tie,

and I wear a barrister's bob wig and
a silk gown.

It's very bling and dressing up,
which is quite amusing in a way,

but I think there is a serious
side to it

and that is that the formality that
we have,

the way the doorkeepers dress, the
way that the Chamber is laid out,

provide a rather dignified framework
within which the rough and tumble of
politics takes place.

Like Sir Robert, the Principal
Doorkeeper, Robin Fell,

has worked here for over 40 years.

And they share a delight in customs
from the past.

Morning, Robin.

Until recently, snuff was provided
free to members.

My goodness! That's invigorating!
Yes, but as I say,

as a conscious effort, I don't have
what I refer to as weapons-grade
snuff because...

It's still pretty good stuff!
Oh, yes. Yeah.

Robin Fell runs a team of
doorkeepers who wear formal dress.

They're the Commons' internal
security staff

trained in police restraint

They're also messengers who see

as the eyes and ears of the Commons.

That is a doorkeeper's badge.

That one's dated 1837.

The chain is pure gold, the badge is
silver gilded over.

And the little dangly at the bottom,
that is pure gold.

The winged messenger of the gods.

Not, of course, saying that we
deliver messages to gods.

Members of parliament.

In his role as Chief Executive,

Sir Robert manages a team of workers

from painters to plumbers

and cleaners to clock makers.

Sir Robert's central problem is how
to run a 21st-century parliament

in a mock gothic palace that is
falling apart at the seams.

We're trying to deal with the
problems as they come up.

Now, see up there, that's an example
of what I was talking about.

And that's where we've got water
coming in.

And you can see the damage there to
the stonework,

which is going to take a terrific
amount of work.

And you can see the damage too on
that wonderful complex window over to
the right.

And there are a couple of dozen
places where water is simply coming

in through the roof up and down the

We're trying to run a modern
parliament in a Victorian building.


The punchy Tory, Charlotte Leslie,
sees herself as a new breed of MP.

I've always been angry.

The reason I'm in politics is I get
angry about injustice

and the way things are and I want to
change it.

But sometimes, especially in
politics, you can't and it's
immensely frustrating,

and you do feel like smashing
a brick wall down.

Good. Big shots.

I was a very naughty kid and my
mum took me boxing.

And I didn't end up in a gang, but I
did end up in parliament.

A former lifeguard and journalist,

Charlotte Leslie narrowly won her
Bristol seat from Labour in 2010.

I hadn't had any sleep for something
like 40 hours.

And then after a day of doing media,

I finally went to bed at about
11 o'clock the next night.

And I woke up and I thought,
"Good lord! I'm an MP!"

Arriving in the Commons is a
daunting experience for new MPs.

It feels like a very intimidating
place, I think.

It feels like a club.

I was in my first parliamentary
Labour Party meeting with my brother

and I sort of saw him across the
crowded room

and I thought it's...
"Who'd have thought it?"

I remember when I first came here,
opening the door to somebody,

cos that's the way you are,
you open a door,

and people just trooped through as
if that was my job.

And not one of them said, "Ta."

You know what I mean?
"Thanks very much."

The Commons retains the look and
feel of a Victorian gentleman's club

and at its heart is the legendary
Members' Tea Room,

run by Gladys Dixon who often
sings as she works.

# Amazing Grace

# How sweet the sound

# And saved... #

She opens up the tea room at seven
in the morning

as it actually serves MPs cut price
breakfast, lunch,

tea, supper and drinks.

Gladys is just a wonderful figure.

She's a force of nature. She's got a
cherry word for everyone,

she never doesn't have a smile on her

She's just the most adorable woman

and every time I see her I feel

MPs regard the tea room as their
inner sanctum,

where they can gossip and plot in
total privacy

in what they call their
"holy of holies".

Here is for Conservatives...and
officers from the House.

Conservatives tend to stay all on
this side.

And this is Liberal.

Here is Northern Ireland...table.

And when you come on this side, it's
all for Labour.

When I first came here, I sat in the
wrong place

and somebody said, "That's where
Labour sit."

I thought, "Well, it's a free
table." It's all these old

You know, you go in a coffee shop
and you sit where you want, don't

The Commons has opened its own
coffee shop

in a glistening annexe called
Portcullis House.

But the new building hasn't put an
end to some MPs' old ways.

It's sort of playground stuff,

so if they see any weakness, whether
it's about your relationships,

the way you look, something that's
happened to you in the past,

you'll hear it. And it's little sort

There's your tea, Sarah.
Thank you very much.

Little snide comments...just designed
to get under the radar

and put someone off their game.

It's really... It's not nice.

A central role of MPs

is to seek to hold the government of
the day to account.

In the month after the Budget,

MPs will be voting on one of the

most controversial projects - HS2 -

the high-speed rail link from London
to the north.

But as both front benches support
the bill,

any member proposing to rebel
will have to defy their party whips,

the shadowy groups of MPs in charge
of discipline.

The Tory with the Boris-lookalike
hair, Michael Fabricant,

is one MP who plans to vote against
the official party line.

I don't want to be on the "dark
side," as the whips call it,

and be seen as some sort of a
non-team player,

but just occasionally, when you think
the government's got it badly wrong,

you have to make a stand. And this is
what I'm doing over HS2.

Constituents who live on the
proposed HS2 route

have come to the Commons to lobby
their MPs.

Anyway, fantastic.
Every MP has to balance

the conflicting pressures of party,
constituency and conscience.

Well done for the things you've
done on HS2. Thank you very much.

I think it's very good the position
you've taken. Thank you very much.

Labour's Sarah Champion will be
voting with the government.

It's a lot easier for me because, to
be honest, the area that benefits the
most is Yorkshire.

So for my constituents, there are a
few that are going to be impacted on

and with them, I went and talked to
them and spoke to them and explained
my position.

But if it was going straight through
the middle of my patch,

I can see why you'd want to make a
big stink about it.

The debate is likely to run late

and the whips have told their MPs to
stay till the end to be present for
the vote.

I actually have an emergency duvet
in my office for really late nights.

At 11pm, after a five-hour debate,

the Speaker, John Bercow, puts the
bill to the House.

The MPs shouts of "aye" or "no"

trigger a vote known as a


MAN: Division! MAN 2: Division!


Once the bell rings, MPs have eight

to choose the "yes" or "no"
lobby before the doors are locked.


As MPs come into the voting lobbies,

they're counted by sharp-eyed whips
who act as tellers.

All MPs from the humblest to the

must join the scrum.

The whole system of the voting lobby
is an extraordinary institution,

because it's a place you walk

and it's a place where ministers,
leaders, MPs have conversations.

It's partly an opportunity for
people to talk business, to talk

Just 41 MPs are prepared to vote
against the bill

in defiance of their party whips.

A thumping majority vote for the

but a number of MPs with doubts
about HS2

told us privately they saw no point
in putting themselves in the black
books of the whips

as the result was a foregone

If you want to make a point, you
only have so many rebellions.

With each rebellion the currency of
your rebellion goes down.

So you do have to think about where
you want to use your chips, if you

So it's important to be able to keep
the powder dry

and be someone that if you do rebel,
people say, "Oh, so-and-so's

"We might need to have a rethink
about that."

The voting has taken over half an

and it's close to midnight when MPs
can finally make their getaway.

On occasions where we've got very
large numbers going through one lobby

it's like the Black Hole of Calcutta.

And when you've got several votes
following each other,

you're spending a lot of time hanging
about waiting for the next vote.

So there's an enormous challenge here

to bring parliament into the
21st century.

We should have a smart card and so
long as we're on the premises,

we should be able to vote sensibly,
like everyone else would think we
would do.

MPs come in all shapes and sizes and
they're constantly on the move,

from committee meetings to party

and dealing with constituents.

New members find it hard to discover
how best to work the system.

All MPs suffer from chronic job

especially those like
Charlotte Leslie with marginal seats

for whom the next election could be

One way of showing her constituents
she's working hard for them

is if she can get called to speak at
the highest profile Commons event,

Prime Minister's Questions.

We have got here the order paper.

And this is what MPs will wave if
they're feeling particularly
incensed about something,

but its much more useful purpose is
that it's got the summary agenda for

She wants to get government support
for a new football stadium for
Bristol Rovers.

It's probably not going to make
national headlines,

but it might make local headlines.

But there's a great deal of
competition among MPs

to be called at Prime Minister's
Question time,

so Tracy Jessop, a Commons clerk,
organises a selection system

as nearly 300 back benchers apply
most weeks.

Can I get one Questions for the
Prime Minister? Thank you very much.

One of these blue forms there.
Have you got a pen?

Yes. There you go.

Like filling in a lottery card,

Charlotte Leslie has to put in an
application form.

Lovely. Thank you very much.
Thank you.

Thanks a lot. Thank you.

Tracy Jessop puts Charlotte
Leslie's name,

along with all the other MPs who've
applied, into a computerised ballot.

The 15 Members whose names come up

are the only ones guaranteed to be
called at the following week's PMQs.

It literally is completely random,

it doesn't know what party people
are from, it's not seeking to
achieve party balance.

People certainly have theories about

some members believe that if they
come into the office to table
their orals,

especially their PMQ, that they're
more likely to come out

than if they e-table it via our
electronic system.

While the Tory, Charlotte Leslie,
is seeking a platform at
Prime Minister's Questions,

Labour's Sarah Champion wants to use
parliament to have a real impact

on a scandal that's been hitting the

Child sexual exploitation is massive
and is national,

but I've now been given a voice and I
think it would be so negligent of me

not to use that voice and shout
really loudly.

I want to find ways to strengthen the

so it's become a bit of a crusade.

I've been told it's impossible for an
opposition back bencher to change the

I'd rather try and fail than do

because for too long people have been
doing nothing

and that's why this abuse has been
going on.

First she has to find her way from
glossy Portcullis House

to the Commons' office that deals
with government bills.

Where do we go to the Public Bill
Office? If you come with me.
Thank you

Sarah Champion wants to amend the
government's Justice Bill.

At present somebody trying to groom
a child for sex must make contact
twice before it's an offence.

She wants prosecution after just one

She seeks advice from a Commons
clerk, Georgie Holmes-Skelton.

Right, I need help.

I don't know if we can shoehorn these
in? Sure, yeah.

But if we can, it would be phenomenal
to try.

My reading... I've gone through what
you're trying to do here,

so in terms of this bill, new
clauses like this, I think, are
entirely reasonable.

Yay! I think that's absolutely fine.

The third one is slightly different.

I don't know the language.
It isn't easy.

I mean, this bill is particularly
technical in some bits of it.

It's just so impenetrable some of it.
I spend most of my days reading
bits of legislation

and clause one, I looked at it
and I went, "I've just got no idea."
It's not only me, then? No, no.


See ya. See you.

Learning to understand parliamentees
comes with the territory of being a
new MP.

Sarah Champion isn't just struggling
with procedural language,

but with an institution that was
designed for gentlemen members of


Charles Kennedy was the baby of the

when he was first elected 30 years
ago age 23.


How are you today? Very good, sir.
Yes, very good.

Good, good.

Looking forward to the recess?
Not half.

Not half.

You may say that, I couldn't possibly

Every trip around the Commons is
still something of a

voyage of discovery for the former
Lib Dem leader.

That is a cigar lighter!

All these years, I've been walking
past this

and I've never really paid much
attention to it at all.

If that's the lighter, it must have
been a hell of a size of cigar.

Must have had Churchill in mind, eh?

And then the Member's Cloakroom,

which pretty much lives up to its
name, it's the cloakroom for the

I suppose the only idiosyncratic

are these pink-ish ribbons.

And, would you believe, this is for
honourable and right honourable

once they've hung their coats to
hang their swords.

There you are.

I have to say, I've never seen one of
them used in all the decades I've
been here,

but if you wanted to avail yourself
of the opportunity, this is the place
to come.

Did you spot this here?
Look, just there.

What? Just... Oh!


Now, look at that. This is the place
where you say something

and the minute you say it,
it's contradicted.

But, I suppose, that's what the
"mother of parliaments" is supposed
to be about.

Somebody has actually got...a wooden
sword attached to their tassel.

That doesn't give anything away.

Well, I wonder, I wonder, I wonder,

because I don't know who the MP for
that particular constituency is.

Well, there you are, there's always
a first for everything and we didn't
make that up.


Each morning Robert Rogers and other
Commons' top brass

meet the Speaker, John Bercow, in
his grand office.


Sir Robert claims that the Commons'
biggest problem is how the old
should live with the new.

And that, despite appearances, he
welcomes the challenge of change.

I may wear 18th-century clothes,

that doesn't give me an 18th-century

Sir Robert sees himself as a
thoroughly modern man.

He's determined to cut down the
Commons' paper mountain.

The House produces 80 million
printed pages a year,

including committee reports,
draft bills

and the daily Hansard record of
every word spoken in the Chamber.

I'm certainly not frightened of new

I mean, new technology is at our

Have you got a Hansard?

Each day's Hansard report includes
many pages of written answers by
ministers to MPs' questions,

but Sir Robert's reform has brought
an end to the traditional system.

That's the debate and Question Time
and those are the written answers.

And after...September,

all of those will be done
electronically and put online.

It'll save us about £800,000 a

as well as saving a good few trees
as well.

I've been here four years...four
years in a couple of months' time

and I haven't seen an enormous
digitalisation of the Commons in
that time.

I mean, to be honest, it really is
very backwards,

we've only just got Wi-Fi in our

MPs constantly complain about the
Commons' IT system,

but Sir Robert has bigger headaches.

He's concerned that the building
itself is falling apart.

As Clerk of the Commons, Sir Robert
is the legal owner of Big Ben.

It's due for its five year check-up,

which will be a barometer for the
state of the whole House.

We'll be having a team of abseilers
abseiling down in front of the dials.

They'll clean the dials on the

and they'll be doing a condition
report of the paint,

the glazing, all the glasswork,

but especially what condition the
centre of the hands are.

The abseilers attach ropes to anchor
points in the belfry at the top of
Big Ben.

They plan to lower themselves down

to clean the clock and assess its
state of repair.

The Palace specialist clock makers

disconnect the four pairs of
clock hands.

Now. OK?

The hands are so well balanced, you
can actually see that he's just doing
it one handed.

So you're moving a 14ft minute hand,

a 9ft long hour hand just with one
hand on the inside.

What time's that? 12. Excellent

From 60 metres above the ground

the abseilers will have to lower
themselves past 300 panes of glass
covering the clock face.

Is he strapped to it?

From down the bottom it looks like
it's pristine,

from up here you can see that there
is paintwork flaking away, the gold
leafing's come off,

and the glass is a lot dirtier than
it looks down here.

If you could just give us a good
close-up shot

of the bottom of the dial where the
black paint's coming off. Yeah, no
problem at all.

We'll get that in for you. Wow!

That's brilliant. Right above your
left hand there.

Yeah, just above Steve's hand where
it is now, there.

There? Yeah. Is that blowing is it?

It's blowing in all directions

What they've spotted is that the
paint's flaking off

and the stone underneath's getting

which means that it's going to get
more porous and water's going to get

So it'll never get better, it's just
going to get worse again.

It's the clock face of England,

This is where our parliament are.

That's where our laws are set. These
are the people that we're run by.

Unless they're done soon, repairs
to the world's most iconic clock

could run into many millions of

The Palace of Westminster often
looks like one great building site.

And the authorities have to decide
how much longer

they can make do and mend the old
Victorian building to support a
modern parliament.

Successive generations have adapted
the disused giant chimney

above Central Lobby in the Commons
to fresh use.

We've utilised the original chimneys

to run various types of cabling down
throughout the building

after there was no longer the
requirement to use the fireplaces
and so forth.

Looking up and seeing where all the
smoke and soot from all the chimneys

and then suddenly we turn round here
and we've got fibre optics.

That's amazing.

Portcullis House Comms Room to
Palace of Westminster 3rd floor, New
Frame Room.

Just as well you've got them

The people who maintain the estate
are absolute geniuses.

They manage in the most challenging
of circumstances

to keep the show up and running,

but we can't very long put off

some really serious restoration and

In the modern world of
Portcullis House,

it's a big day for Sarah Champion.

I need my lunch.

For three weeks, she's been
attending committee meetings

to scrutinise the government's
Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

I think in about two hours,

I might change the law to protect
children better.

Which is pretty cool, isn't it?

You don't do that every day on a


Today, she'll be in the spotlight

to make the case for her amendments
to the bill.

The details of the bill are being
scrutinised line by line

by a cross-party committee of MPs,
including the Justice Minister,
Jeremy Wright.

After 30 hours in committee,

Sarah Champion finally gets her

Thank you, Mr Causeby,

it's a great pleasure to serve under
your chairmanship once again.

She has to persuade the committee
that her amendment,

which will make it harder for child
groomers to escape justice, will
protect children.

New Clause 9 would mean that the
perpetrator would only have to make
one contact to be guilty.

Minister, please don't let this
committee sit and wait.

Minister? Can I start by thanking
her more generally

for the work that she has done.

I think she's made a very powerful

I do have some reservations.

She now faces a dilemma.

The minister won't accept her
amendment in the way she's
worded it.

If it goes to a vote, she'll
probably lose.

So she has to decide whether to make
a tactical withdrawal,

in the hope that the government will
include their own version of it in
the bill.

I thank the minister very much

for taking seriously the new clause
that's put in front.

I will withdraw the new clause,

but I would like to have the
opportunity if I could come and
discuss it further

if he needs additional information.
Thank you.

Is it the committee's pleasure that
the new clause be withdrawn? Aye.

Aye. The amendment by leave

Sarah Champion won't get her
amendment in today,

but she still has a chance to
convince the government of her idea

in the hope that they'll include a
similar clause at a later stage.

I'm knackered.

I would have loved the minister to
say, "Yes, we'll adopt them and put
them straight into the bill,"

but that was never going to happen
cos I'm on the opposition.

What I'm really, really, really
hoping for

is that when it comes back to the
Chamber, my new clause will be in

And if they call it theirs, you know,

It's about making change, it's not
about ego.


It may be many weeks before she
finds out

whether all her months of hard work
have paid off.

For backbench MPs like Sarah
Champion and Charlotte Leslie,

there's one day each week when they
get a chance of challenging the
government at the very top,

Prime Minister's Question Time.

Every Wednesday, the Prime Minister

sets off from Downing Street to his
office in the Commons.

He clutches his file known as the
"plastic fantastic,"

with Post-it notes marking subjects
he thinks will come up.

There isn't a Wednesday that you
don't feel total fear

and trepidation about what is about
to happen.

Normally, I'm sitting here preparing
for Prime Minister's Questions

and about five minutes beforehand you

you know, "Have I got to do this

And I think Prime Ministers have
always felt that.

If PMQs is a nervous ordeal for the
Prime Minister,

it's no less so for the other key
actor in the drama,

the Leader of the Opposition.

Once you're in it, you forget about
the nerves,

and it's try and do the best job
you can.

The anticipation, I find, is worse
than the reality.

I've met no Leader of the Opposition
or Prime Minister

that looked forward to
Prime Minister's Questions.

When I took over this job,
David Cameron said,

"You're not going to find yourself
looking forward to it."

William Hague has said the same to
me. Tony Blair has said the same to

Ed Miliband!


Mr Speaker, can he tell us

whether the number of people having
to wait more than the guaranteed two
months for cancer treatment

has got better or worse? Hear, hear!

There are 7,000 more doctors!
Hear, hear!

There are 4,000 more nurses!
Hear, hear!

There's over 1,000 more midwives!
Hear, hear!

The NHS is getting worse on his

and there's only one person to blame
and it's him! Hear!

Honestly, if he can't do better than
that even on the NHS,

he really is in trouble.


Now, two party leaders just exchange
personal insults

across the dispatch boxes.

My toes curl when I hear it.

It would have been inconceivable
25 years ago,

that party leaders would address
each other like that across the
floor of the House.

The behaviour in there is just

I mean, really embarrassingly
juvenile, screaming.

And the fact that it's men in their
50s and 60s doing it, it's just

Prime Minister's Questions is the
theatre of politics,

and that's quite right, it can't all
be done in dusty committee rooms.

When important issues are being

where you think your opponents are

and what they would do would be
damaging to the nation's interest,

you have to do it with some passion
and some verve.

Although unmanned fixed cameras
televise PMQs,

there are very severe restrictions
on what the public is shown.


But we were given access for
the first time

to film on the floor of the House.

Will you find a safe place for this
camera crew,

so that he can film without getting
in our way?

As far as I can see, the camera crew

is certainly not interfering with
the business of the House

and everybody is safe.

It's Wednesday the 14th of May.


And the first act of the
day's political theatre

is the Speaker's procession.

Hats off, strangers!

I think that...clump, clump, clump
and the acoustics in here,

you get a natural silence.

I'm talking in a whisper out of
reverence already.

Behind the ceremonial scenes, party
strategists from the government
and opposition

are at work as Commons

Both sides are plotting how to turn
the day's PMQs to their advantage.

Before each PMQ, if we either have a
question or want to bob,

we have like a team strategy meeting,

because PMQs are different from any
other questions,

cos we try and have an orchestrated
team approach to it.

I mean, more than anything else,
it's our only chance to hold the
Prime Minister accountable.

So if we all go off on different
tangents, it's a bit chaotic,

so I think it's more about making it
focused, strategic, on target,

giving him as much of a bashing as we
can, basically.

We don't need to be told to cheer Ed
when he stands up,

we don't need to be told to jeer or
to make fun of Cameron

or some of his more loyal,
obsequious backbenchers,

we just do that because we're
Labour MPs.

Soon it will be time for the
"bobbing" to begin.

It means MPs, who've not been lucky
in the computerised ballot,

bob up and down in the hope of
catching the eye of the Speaker,
John Bercow.

He'll alternate bobbers with
questioners from the ballot.

The Conservative MP Andrew Percy
bobs most weeks

to try to question the PM
on constituency matters.

I have a record of failure when it
comes to the PMQs ballot.

Whenever I've applied,
I've never been called out.

I mean, I don't try every week,

so I have to rely on
the free hits instead,

which are the ones that
the Speaker calls on the day itself.

But he knows that if he gets
what's called a free hit,

there'll be pressure to push
the national party political line.

Every week, David Cameron's
Parliamentary Private Secretary,

Gavin Williamson,

circulates an e-mail to members
encouraging helpful questions.

Ahead of PMQs we get an e-mail,
it's just come through at 11:06,

and these are some suggested topics
that would be helpful,

the Prime Minister would be happy
to receive a question on.

So which of these...this is

an e-mail from the Prime Minister's
Parliamentary Private Secretary

suggesting questions that you as
Conservative MPs can.... Exactly.

So, let's see
what we've got today.

So, suggested free hits are we've
got the OECD has joined the IMF

in forecasting that the UK will
have the fastest growing economy

in the developed world. So,
obviously the question will be,

"Does the Prime Minister agree
this proves our long-term
economic plan is working?"

Questions suggesting we talk about
being pro-business, being pro-jobs.

So, what they want is, "Does
the Prime Minister agree with me

"that our long-term economic
plan..." There's that phrase again.

" giving more people
who want to work hard

"the security of
a regular pay packet?"

Fine, how are you?
Really well, thanks.

The big beasts of the Commons jungle
arrive just before noon.

Sometimes, our lot cheer Ed Miliband
when he walks in

and nothing could be worse
for the Labour Party

to have the Conservatives
giving him a big cheer.

And they do the same to us,
of course.


Within minutes, there's a whole lot
of bobbing going on.

And some on the Tory benches
follow the suggested script.

Stevenage continues to lead the
economic recovery, and unemployment

figures today show our long-term
economic plan is working.

ALL: Yes!

My honourable friend is right.

In Stevenage, unemployment
has fallen by 24% over the last year

which shows that our
long-term economic plan is working.

Does the Prime Minister agree that
the building of vital roads,

like the A5-M1 link,
Dunstable Northern Bypass,

will create even more jobs,
and that continued infrastructure

investment like this is a key
part of our long-term economic plan?

It's always so obvious when
somebody's just been handed,

you know, "Read this out,"
and it's pathetic.

I mean, I just can't understand
how anybody wants to get elected

to a parliament,
to any representative body,

but least of all
to the House of Commons,

and then just to be handed out
a couple of sentences

written by somebody else and say,
"Read this out."

"Doesn't the Prime Minister agree
he's doing a great job this week

"and will do an even better one
next week." What is the point?

In politics, you've got to try
and have a clear message.

And, my team, there are some
messages we want to get across.

We want to explain we've got
a long-term economic plan,

we want to explain that we're
on the side of people who work hard,

and if you're saying it's appalling
that Tory MPs should possibly

use any of these phrases, I would
say politics is about the team

putting across a team message,
and so people shouldn't be

too worried about that happening
in Prime Minister's Questions.

It's three months since
Sarah Champion sought to persuade

the government to include
her amendment designed to deter

child molesters
in its Justice Bill.

And she's been tipped the wink
to expect good news

when the government's amendments
are published today.

This place just relies on gossip
and rumour, so you know,

there isn't a timetable and literally
it was a minister pulling me out

of the chamber saying, "It's going
to be in," so... This time, please!

Good morning, Sarah. Good morning!
I really, really, really hope...

We have some very good
news for you this morning.

Is it in? Let me see.
Well, let's have a look.

It's in! There you go,
there's your amendment.

Oh, that's brilliant. Oh, that's
absolutely brilliant. Perfect.

Oh, I'm beside myself
with excitement. It's great.

It's finally in!

It is in print,
it's actually going to happen.

I've made a change that's going to
protect children better.

Once a Bill has been
passed by the Commons,

it will be signed off by the Clerk.

Following the 700-year-old

he writes in Norman French,
"Soit baille aux Seigneurs."

"Let it be sent to the Lords."

No Bill is going to become law
until it is agreed upon

by the three parts of parliament,

so, the Lords and the Commons
have to agree,

and the Queen agrees by giving it
her royal assent.

But, obviously, there has to be
an absolutely authentic

and authoritative copy
that goes between the two Houses.

Tied up in green ribbon,
the colour of the Commons,

the final Bill is physically walked
along the corridor

to the House of Lords.

Good morning, gentlemen.

Are our lordships ready to receive a
message? I will find out for you.

Thank you very much,
thank you very much.

Message for the Lords!

I always think that
history should be our inspiration

and not our jailor.

I take it myself up to
the bar of the House of Lords,

bow to my opposite number,
hand the Bill over.

But, at the same time, the text
of the Bill is on the shared drive

between the two public Bill Offices
using some of the most advanced

text handling software in the world,
so that combination of the old

and the traditional is a really good
example of how they've got absolute

cutting edge technology but there is
a picturesque side to it as well.

It's early July.

And today is almost the last session
of Prime Minister's Questions

before the summer recess.

And Charlotte Leslie
has won the Commons' lottery.

She's come top
of the computer ballot

and so is guaranteed to ask
David Cameron the first question.

You feel the first question
there's more pressure on you to do

something that the Prime Minister
would particularly want you to say.

First, she must select
the best position

from which to ask her question.

I'm just deciding on my place. I've
got a luxury choice of three here,

so I think I'm going to go for...

If you're right behind the
Prime Minister it looks a bit weird,

when, if he turns right round to
look at you, and so here I can

look at him, he can look at me but
none of us are craning our necks.

Because I'm kicking off
on the first question,

I've never done that before.

It's supposed to be quite
national and big, but I've got

a really burning local issue that
I need to talk about so I'm going

to try and weave in some grand
national stuff into my local issue.

It's still breakfast time

and Charlotte Leslie knows that
three hours from now

she'll become famous
for five minutes.

I'm going to go down to the terrace
cafe which does a nice porridge.

There's a tea room
I could have breakfast in

but there are times when you don't
always want to be surrounded by MPs.

And, you know what?
I realise I've gone the wrong way.

I was so busy looking at my phone,
I've gone the wrong way.

This happens a lot.

Getting my daily porridge.

I'm a bit apprehensive,
I'm just anxious to get it right.

I'll probably get a few
butterflies before I stand up,

you get a bit, "Whaa!", shaky
just a few seconds before.

But I'm just quite anxious
to get the words right

and not to trip over it all.
Morning. Morning.

It's just 14 minutes
till the start of PMQs,

the best attended event
of the Commons' week.

And MPs on both sides understand
what it's like to be

top of the bill.

When you hear your name, you think,

"What was I going to start
with again? I can't remember

"what I was going to start with!"

The pressure is immense. You have
never felt that kind of pressure.

As an MP, when you stand up
at Prime Minister's Questions

and every one of your colleagues
from all sides of the House

is looking at you, and you know
that this is the most viewed event

of Parliament's week.

The Prime Minister will be
entering very, very shortly

and then we'll be kicking off.

Ah, here comes...a late member.

That's it, everything's done now,
so what we're doing now

is just waiting for it to start.

Questions to the Prime Minister!

Questions to the Prime Minister!

Charlotte Leslie!

A key driver of our wealth
and economic growth

has been investment
in new commercial enterprises.

Does my right honourable friend
agree that the speedy completion

of the Sainsbury's and
Bristol Rovers deal is a key part

of Britain's fight back to
prosperity not only in achieving

a new stadium for the South West
but unleashing hundreds of jobs,

affordable housing, business growth
and rail infrastructure plans,

and will he do all he can to hasten
the completion

of this Sainsbury's deal?

ALL: Hear, hear!

Well, having visited my honourable
friend's constituency recently,

I know how passionately she feels
about this important development.

Not only will this mean a new home
for Bristol Rovers,

but it'll mean more jobs,

more growth and better infrastructure
for Bristol.

It's how long you can keep going
with little things

you want to mention before
everyone goes berserk

and starts sort of chucking stuff
at you metaphorically.

Erm...and, yeah,
it's like many things.

You don't actually
remember it very well,

but at the time you're just
thinking, "Don't cock up,
don't cock up, don't cock up."

The Clerk of the Commons,
Sir Robert Rogers,

has come to appear like a permanent
parliamentary fixture,

but he's suddenly stunned MPs by
informing the Speaker

that he intends to retire early.

I have to inform the House
that I have received

the following letter
from the Clerk of the House.

"As Clerk of the House, I have been
fortunate indeed to have

"the best job in the service
of any parliament,

"indeed one of the best
jobs in the world.

"I have spent much of my career
seeking to make the House,

"and its work, and the work
of its members better understood.

"This House is the precious centre
of our parliamentary democracy,

"and with all my heart
I wish it well.

"Yours sincerely, Robert Rogers."

ALL: Hear, hear!


Applause in the House
is extremely rare,

a break with centuries of tradition.

That was unparliamentary.

I think that Robert
would not have approved,

so I just went, "Hear, hear"
rather than applauding.

I think applause is a little bit
modern for the

Chamber of the House of Commons.

It'll always echo in my ears.
I think I shall never forget it.

The moment when the House
just burst into applause,

and it went on and on,
was really moving. Really moving.

This place is about hard politics,

but it's also about
people and emotions.

And I don't think one
should be too apologetic

about emotion occasionally.

Over the following weeks,
a fierce battle will break out

as the Commons seeks to find
a replacement for Sir Robert Rogers.

Pitted against each other are those
who value its historic traditions,

and those who believe the Commons
needs to be dragged

kicking and screaming
into the 21st century.

In her Commons office,

the shoe loving Sarah Champion feels
she's learning to work the system

at Westminster since her success
in amending the Justice Bill.

When a report into child sex abuse
in her Rotherham constituency

becomes big news in the summer,
she decides to make use of

the parliamentary platform
she has most despised - PMQs.

Sarah Champion.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The horrific, vile, and disgusting
abuse suffered by children

in my constituency should never
have been allowed to happen.

The victims have still not got
the support they deserve

and the criminals
are still on the streets.

So when will the Prime Minister
appoint the Chair

to his enquiry into child abuse

so that no child will be let down
by statutory agencies again?

ALL: Hear, hear!

Really good, I really felt that
the Prime Minister listened to

what I said. Yeah, I was really,
really grateful that I got in

and could ask the question.


Well spoken, that was very good.

Thank you ever so much,
I appreciate your response as well.

Next time.

What really goes on behind the

at the state opening of parliament.

The Coronation damask, lovely.

And we discover some unlikely
alliances across the House.

Talk to a Tory? No, I've never spoke
to a Tory in me life.

And we show just how far some MPs
will go in the call of duty.

To find out more about
this series, go to...

..and follow the links
to the Open University.