Dispatch box

Dispatch box

A dispatch box, or despatch box, is a box for holding official papers and transporting them from place to place.

In the United Kingdom such boxes, looking roughly like briefcases, are traditionally red, bear the monogram of the sovereign, and are used by government ministers to carry documents, exchange documents, or to present documents to the sovereign for review. As such they are something of a status symbol and a totem of office. In an interview in 2005, Tony Blair revealed that most ministers now carry laptops in their cases, rather than paper documents.

There are also two wooden dispatch boxes which serve as lecterns on the table which divides each house of Parliament in the United Kingdom and Australia, one box for the Government and one box for the Opposition. The prime minister and leader of the opposition are seated roughly right at these boxes, and ministers and shadow ministers address the house from the dispatch boxes.

In addition to giving those addressing the house a place to speak from, the dispatch boxes contain bibles and other items used as part of the swearing in of new Members.

People often speak of an MP's performance "at the dispatch box," meaning his or her skills in addressing the house and, more specifically, arguing the party's case.

Australian Parliament

The dispatch boxes in the Australian Parliament were gifts from King George V to mark the opening of the Old Parliament House in Canberra on 9 May 1927. They are made of rosewood, and have enamel and silver decorations. Inside the lid of each box is an inscription signed by King George.

The Senate has two lecterns which serve a similar purpose.

United Kingdom Parliament

The dispatch boxes in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom were gifts from New Zealand, presented after Parliament was rebuilt following World War II. They are modelled on the Australian boxes.

The box on the Government's side houses a number of holy books of various religions including a Bible and a Qur'an. The Opposition's box contains a burnt Bible, dating back to the destruction of the Commons chamber during the Second World War by a German bomb. The Bible was resting on the centre table at the time the bomb detonated and remarkably was recovered largely intact.

More recently, the Government dispatch box is reported to have sustained serious (and potentially irreparable) damage at the hands of serving Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Brown's habit of jabbing his marker pen at his papers has led to the surface of the box becoming covered in black pen marks.

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