Fifty shades of Parliament

I was privileged to be invited for a visit to the Houses of Parliament in London this past week. Besides meeting with an MP (whose name I shall refrain from mentioning, lest I be associated with his political affiliations!) to discuss issues about youth justice and education, I was also fortunate to be present inside the House of Lords during the historical debate and vote which resulted in the UK becoming the first country in the world to approve laws allowing the creation of babies from three people.

However, even more thrilling than that, was the opportunity that I had to see one of only four remaining manuscripts of the original Magna Carta (the one usually held in the Salisbury Cathedral), on display in the House of Lords. The exhibition was part of commemorations to mark the 800th anniversary of the document, drawn up in 1215, which laid the foundations of the rule of law on the precept of “To no one deny or delay right or justice.”

Although the Magna Carta (Latin for ‘the Great Charter’) carries little legal weight in present day Britain, as most of its clauses have been repealed and relevant rights ensured by other statutes, it has come to symbolise the struggle for universal enfranchisement. Wilfred Lewis Warren, a renowned English medieval historian observed in his biography of the monarch in power at the time, *King John, that “many who knew little and cared less about the content of the Charter have, in nearly all ages, invoked its name, and with good cause, for it meant more than it said.”

The Magna Carta and Parliament exhibition in the majestic and awe-inspiring Queen’s Robing Room within the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster also featured other land-mark documents including the Petition of Right (1628), Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Bill of Rights (1689) (image on the left – click to enlarge it), the Great Reform Act (1832) and the Human Rights Act (1998). It was incredibly thrilling to see these historical original documents, in all their worn and greyed glory, with the ink fading, smudged and splattered in some places. Unfortunately though, photography is not permitted within either House of Parliament, and so I have no personal images to share.

The display is part of a year-long programme of cultural events, activities, education and online resources delivered by the House of Commons and the House of Lords – 2015: Parliament in the Making. Do explore the website as there are a variety of interesting resources there for all ages and interests, including a schedule of events planned around the UK.

*Warren, W. L. (1990). King John. London, UK: Methuen. ISBN 978-0413455208.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

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