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In the British House of Commons there are two "despatch boxes" on the table at which the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and other front bench ministers and shadow ministers speak.

The government-side despatch box contains "bibles and other items used when Members [of the House of Commons] take the oath". (Source: the British Parliament.) What are the exact contents of the two boxes?

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From what I could see, there hasn't ever been a definitive answer from the House of Commons authorities on this, so I made a Freedom of Information request to the HoC (now published on their website) asking for an itemised list of the contents of both despatch boxes in the commons chamber, with the below response:

We hold a list of the contents of each of the two despatch boxes in the Chamber of the House of Commons:

Government box:

  • Multiple versions of the Oath and Affirmation in different languages (including English, Welsh, Gaelic, Cornish and Braille).
  • New English Bible
  • King James Bible (Old Testament)
  • Welsh Bible
  • Gaelic Bible
  • New Testament Bible

Opposition box:

  • Various pieces of blank coloured card

I thought this was fairly interesting, as although religious texts from other faiths are available to members when taking the oath of allegiance, it seems that just the Christian Bible remains in the despatch box during the parliamentary session. I remain ignorant as to what the pieces of coloured card in the opposition box are used for.

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    Pure speculation here. The boxes are primarily used as lecterns, so it may be useful to have something in them to weigh them down and stop them moving when a minister or opposition leader leans on one. They don't say how much coloured card, although such card might be held up for voting or used some other purpose.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 10:10
  • Not for voting. Voting is by voice, or by walking thought the division lobbies.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 10:49
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    Dan Brown explanation: the coloured card is not actually blank, but covered in invisible ink visible only with special glasses, containing the oath of the true leaders of the country, who are sworn in in a secret ceremony while the House of Commons is supposedly empty...
    – IMSoP
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 11:31

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