Hartlepool student Bethan Kelly in the House of Lords

Bethan Kelly
Bethan Kelly

WHEN it comes to work experience, most students my age can expect to be sent to a supermarket to stack shelves for a week, or maybe to make tea and coffee for a factory workforce.

So to get the chance to go to the House of Lords was extremely exciting. The opportunity was given to me by Tanni Grey-Thompson, who sits in the Lords as an independent cross bencher.

She arranged for me to shadow her for a week, to really get a feel of what it is like to work in such an amazing institution.

I got told by many of the people that worked there that I had chosen a ‘hectic’ week to visit.

I soon understood why.

Last Friday, it was the second reading of Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill, which is a highly charged emotive issue and one many peers were involved in.

I was immediately astounded by the magnificance of the building as soon as I arrived there. The building was created in the early 15th century, so the interior and exterior is extremely archaic.

Admittedly, it was slightly intimidating arriving on Monday for the first time. Not to mention I was incredibly nervous - it probably didn’t help that there was armed police patrolling the gates.

The security, as you would expect, was extremely strict.

That was probably a good thing as in another part of the building a man tried to sneak his pet ferret in for a tour. He had the pet stuffed up his sleeve, and told guards when they made the shock discovery that he “didn’t go anywhere without it”.

However, once you got past the armed guards - which the ferret and his owner didn’t - everyone was lovely and very welcoming.

The peers who work there have all done something of extreme note to be in the position they are in. It was surreal to be stood next to Lords and Ladies who had won 11 Paralympic gold medals - as Dame Grey-Thompson had - or who had been one of those responsible for breaking the German enigma code in Bletchley during the Second World War.

However they are not at all arrogant or condescending despite their achievements, as I thought some may be.

They are all amazing, and incredibly intelligent people who made my week there truly enjoyable.

It is not just the people who work there that give of the aura of surreality. The interior of the building was unbelievable, I expected it to be beautiful, obviously, but it exceeded all of my expectations.

You can see the fantastic display of wealth everywhere you look. It is also the wide array of unusual items that are housed there, Queen Victoria’s throne, Marie Antoinette’s clock, the Magna Carta and even sand collected from the five Normandy beaches.

Each room has it’s own unique history, some of it extremely gory, and its all incredibly interesting.

I ate were Guy Fawkes hid the explosives when he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Which was pretty cool.

It was a tiring week, Tanni was on the board for just about every committee in London, and it amazed me how she got to one place to the next a) without ever being late or b) not getting mixed up as to what meeting she was at.

But the aura of moderate calm was not truly broken over Westminster until Friday came around. I have never seen so many people in one building so stressed or nervous.

The assisted dying bill was introduced by Lord Falconer, after Lord Joffe’s similar bill was successfully blocked in the Lords in 2006.

The bill states that a person who has a terminal illness with only six months to live can request help to end their lives.

A total of 133 peers were on the speaking list, and each had four minutes to speak, meaning the chamber was in session for nine hours.

It was incredibly interesting experiencing this first hand. Many of the peers had personal stories that influenced their opinion on the matter making for a truly emotive yet interesting debate. The debate saw many influential figures voice their opinion. Lord Carey being one of them.

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, shockingly came down in favour of the bill after long standing opposition to assisted suicide. He said: “My views do not represent those held by the church hierarchy”, and this was soon proved correct when the Bishop of York stood up and explained his anger at the bill.

The whole House was gripped by this debate, and it was streamed live around the building. It was amazing to be there to experience the intense atmosphere that came with this bill.

I left the House of Lords on Friday afternoon, and was truly thankful to have spent a week in such an important, powerful institution.

It is an experience I will never forget and one I was very lucky to have.