W.Va. legislator visits British House of Commons

CHARLESTON — A tour of Parliament during an English vacation turned into an experience of a lifetime for a member of the West Virginia Senate.

Sen. Ryan Weld. R-Brooke, and his wife Alex were recently guests of John Bercow, speaker of the British House of Commons. The couple is vacationing in England will return Wednesday.

The visit to Parliament coincided on Independence Day when the original 13 American colonies declared themselves free of British rule.

Weld, a fan of the parliamentary structure and a frequent watcher of British politics, presented Bercow with “The West Virginia State Capitol Building,” a book of architectural photography by Thorney Lieberman. The Welds also watched the House of Commons from a gallery as members of Parliament took part in Prime Minister’s Questions, where lawmakers get to directly ask questions of Prime Minister Theresa May and other government officials.

“A normal British citizen would make a request to their member of Parliament asking for tickets to Prime Minister’s Questions,” Weld said. “Well, I don’t have a member of Parliament, so I called the speaker’s office and asked. I asked if it would be possible to meet with the speaker to hand him a gift from the State of West Virginia, and they said ‘sure.'”

The Weld’s arrived at Parliament the morning of July 4, and were escorted to Bercow’s residence inside the building. In his private office, Bercow entertained the Weld’s and exchanged information on the differences between the state Senate and House of Commons.

“He was super nice in person, extremely personable,” Weld said. “He sat down with us and walked us through the events of that day, what Prime Minister’s Questions meant to them. He asked us questions about West Virginia and what we did. It was a terrific experience.”

While watching in the gallery, the Welds were introduced by Bercow while jokingly admonishing a minister of Parliament for a remark congratulating England for its performance in the World Cup.

“I remind the House, and I indeed inform the House most certainly for the first time, that we are today visited by an American state senator and his wife, whom I had the great privilege of meeting earlier this morning,” Bercow told the rowdy members of Parliament. “I am sure we will wish to impress the two of them with the quality of our behavior.”

“And perhaps on American Independence Day we should welcome the senator,” said Ian Blackford, a minister of Parliament and representative of the Scottish National Party.

“When the speaker said that about an American state senator being in the gallery, my wife put her hand over her face in embarrassment,” Weld said. “I’m sure that I had a massive grin on my face. And they all turned around to see who it was. It was probably pretty obvious from our expressions it was us. It was kind of surreal.”

Having gotten to see the British Parliament up close, Weld said West Virginia could benefit from the way the House of Commons does things, including being able to question their leaders directly.

“I think that it makes their prime minister, their leader, held to maybe a higher level of accountability, because they have to be accountable and answerable for all their policies,” Weld said. “At the same time, it gives their leaders an opportunity to get in front and explain their policies better.

“In America, our leaders rely on getting their message out to the press and working on favorable coverage,” Weld said. “In this instance, the prime minister has the ability to directly make her case to the British people through these questions and answers.”

Weld also was interviewed by the BBC.