Parliament's people

Page 7 – Spectators

Watching Parliament

Aside from its constitutional functions, Parliament has also provided a spectacle for members of the public. The public has always had the right to watch Parliament go about its business, but where the public has sat, how it should behave and who formed the public have been debated over time. For many years, the public seating area or gallery was called the strangers' gallery. Being neither elected representatives nor officials, members of the public were visitors or strangers to the House and there on sufferance and liable to be removed if Members of Parliament wished it. From the 1870s, the public gallery has been a purpose-built area, partially ringing the chamber upstairs, from which people can see down onto the floor of the House.

When Parliament met in Auckland, women and men sat together in a specially marked off area of the chamber, but in 1864, a separate ladies' gallery was created. Once Parliament moved to Wellington in 1865, a ladies' gallery became an accepted thing, and women and men sat in separate areas until 1945. There was also a Speaker's gallery, where people invited by the Speaker would sit; women had their separate Speaker's gallery until 1972.

Entry to the ladies' and Speaker's galleries was by ticket only. Seating in the rest of the public gallery was allocated on a first-come first-served basis, and tickets were highly prized, especially if the House promised to be full of action and excitement. All the galleries, but especially the ladies', were an important part of Wellington's social scene.

How to cite this page

'Spectators', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 16-Jul-2014