Parliamentarians brave Britain's political bear pit

Parliamentarian Trix Heberlein (left) presents a gift to the Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin (second from right)

Swiss MPs have returned unscathed after a three-day visit to London that took them to the heart of Britain's political establishment.

This content was published on July 14, 2002

During their trip, the Swiss politicians were given a tour of Westminster and the House of Commons, with the highlight being a ringside seat during Prime Minister's Question Time.

"It was so fascinating to see how the House of Commons functions," parliamentarian Kathy Riklin told swissinfo. "There is such a lively atmosphere during debates. The MPs all speak very freely and spontaneously.

"They hardly have any notes or material to help them. In the Swiss parliament in Bern we have mountains of paper in front of us and everything appears much more disciplined."

Her colleague Rosmarie Dormann was equally impressed by the number of young British MPs and the performance of the British prime minister: "He is so passionate about issues. He comes across as very young, fresh and dynamic."

The visit followed an invitation from the British Anglo-Swiss Parliamentary Group as a thank you for the Davos ski race, which is hosted by the Swiss every year.

Chemical weapons

Also on the Swiss parliamentarians' agenda was a seminar on the decontamination of chemical weapons given by Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Geneva-based Green Cross International.

Gorbachev used the occasion, hosted by the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce in the Houses of Parliament, to lobby for more support from the European Union to facilitate the destruction of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons stored in unsafe conditions in Russia.

A reception was also held in Lancaster House, near Buckingham Palace, to celebrate the decision by Switzerland and East Timor to join the United Nations.

Tate Modern

The delegation also found time to indulge in a bit sightseeing, including a visit to the Tate Modern art gallery, designed by Swiss architects Herzog and Demeuron.

"It is so grand - the architecture of the place is absolutely amazing," said Riklin, admiring the work of her compatriots.

They were also able to rub shoulders with their British counterparts aboard the London Eye tourist attraction.

"It was quite funny to see the British parliamentarians in their business suits," added Dormann. "I got to know most of them on the slopes of Davos in their skiing outfits."

by Claudia Spahr, London

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