An image of Jacob Rees-Mogg reclining on the front bench provoked outrage last week, to which the Leader of the House of Commons responded: ‘There’s nothing in the rules about sitting comfortably.” For those of us unschooled in its idiosyncrasies, here is a rundown on the etiquette of the 200-year-old House of Commons chamber:
Brevity is encouraged to allow others a chance to speak, and ‘excessive interventions’ in another person’s speech are frowned upon.
Terms of address
MPs from the same party are addressed as ‘my honourable friend’ (or ‘right honourable’ if he or she is a privy counsellor). MPs from other parties are usually described as ‘the honourable Member for [constituency]’ and ministers as ‘the minister’ or by office.
In the past, QCs would have been addressed as ‘learned’ and those who have served in the Armed Forces as ‘gallant’. This practice has largely fallen out of favour, as has the tradition of calling the House of Lords ‘the other place’.
19th-century House of Commons clerk and author on parliamentary practice Thomas Erskine May advised that ‘good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language’, with a breach of order deemed to depend on context and determined by the Speaker. Freedom of speech is described as a ‘privilege … which should be exercised responsibly, in the public interest…’
Speaker John Bercow caused an uproar (or at least a brief ripple of interest) two years ago when he said that male members of the House needn’t wear ties. This reinforces the official ‘rules’, which only state that ‘the way in which you dress should demonstrate respect for the House’, although they describe the wearing of a jacket and tie, and the equivalent level of formality for women, as ‘conventional’.
The rules are more explicit on the wearing of advertising and campaign logos and slogans, which are banned, as are decorations and uniforms.
‘Hand-held electronic devices’ are permitted, but must be on silent mode and should not disrupt proceedings. You can take notes on your phone, but answering a phone call, listening to a voicemail, filming, recording and taking photographs are all prohibited.
Food and drink
Other than water, food and drink are banned from the House of Commons chamber.
…And finally, ‘Sitting comfortably‘? We’d advise exercising caution with this one.