Appendix: Conventions and Courtesies of
Mr Speaker's letter sent to all Members, 24 February
At the start of this Parliament I wrote to all Members,
new and old, about the conventions and courtesies of the House.
I think it would be helpful if I reissued this letter in updated
and expanded form.
Members wishing to speak in debates in the Chamber
or in 90-minute debates in Westminster Hall should write to me
in advance. Members who have not written in may still take part
in debates by approaching the Chair or seeking to catch the Chair's
eye: but it is likely that preference will be given to those who
have written in.
Selection of speakers in debate is at my discretion.
My objective at all times is to give all Members a fair opportunity
to take part in debate. I will take account of relevant experience
or expertise (in or outside the House), Members' expressed interests
or constituency involvement and the number of times Members have
previously spoken (or have failed to catch my eye) during the
parliamentary session. Wherever it seems to me appropriate, I
will impose time limits on speeches in order to give as many Members
as possible the opportunity to contribute to debate. Members must
understand, however, that it will not always be possible for them
to be called when they wish to speak. The Chair will generally
seek to be as helpful as possible to Members seeking advice on
the likelihood of being called.
It is not necessary to apply to speak when the House
is in Committee or is considering a Bill at Report stage. It will
be sufficient for Members to rise in their places on such occasions.
Prior to Departmental question time or Ministerial
statements, Members should only write to me seeking to be called
where they wish to draw to my attention a particular fact (eg
a constituency connection or personal interest) which they think
I should bear in mind. Members who submit generalised requests
to be called will be given no preference.
A request to be called at Prime Minister's Questions
should be submitted only in the most exceptional circumstances.
An example might be where a human tragedy has taken place in the
constituency. Generalised requests to be called will be counter
My office keeps comprehensive records of Members'
success and failure in being called in debate, following Ministerial
statements and at Prime Minister's Questions. These statistics
are always taken into account on a subsequent occasion.
The following are the conventions and courtesies
of the House to which I attach importance:
must address the House through the Chair. Accordingly, other Members
should not be addressed as 'you' but should be referred to as
'the honourable Member for [constituency]', 'my honourable friend'
or 'the honourable Member opposite'. Privy Councillors are 'Right
Honourable'. Ministers can be referred to by office or simply
as 'the Minister'.
On entering or leaving the Chamber, Members
should give a slight bow to the Chair, as a gesture of respect
to the House.
Members should not cross the line of
sight between the Speaker and the Member who has the floor, or
at Question time, between a Member who is asking or has asked
a Question and the Minister who is responding to him.
Members must resume their seats whenever
the Speaker (or a Deputy) is on his or her feet.
Members should notify colleagues whenever
a) they intend to refer to them in the Chamber
b) they table Questions which specifically affect
c) they intend to visit colleagues' constituencies
(except on purely private visits)
must speak from the place where they are called, which must be
within the formal limits of the Chamber (eg not from the cross-benches
below the bar).
Members may intervene briefly in each
other's speeches, but only if the Member who has the floor gives
Members speaking in debates should be
present for the opening and winding-up speeches, and should remain
in the Chamber for at least the two speeches after they have concluded.
Members who fail to observe these courtesies will be given a lower
priority on the next occasion they seek to speak.
Members may refer to notes but they should
not read speeches or questions at length.
Members seeking to be called following
a Ministerial statement, Private Notice Question or the Business
Question must be present for the whole of the opening statement.
Members with oral Questions should not
leave the Chamber until supplementary questions on their Question
Half hour adjournment debates in the
Chamber or in Westminster Hall are intended to be an exchange
between the Member and the Minister, who will respond on behalf
of the Government to the issues raised. Other Members may take
part in the debate only with the permission of the Member and
Minister concerned and, if such permission is granted, the Chair
must be so notified. It is inappropriate to criticise other Members
for failing to attend an adjournment debate in which they cannot
expect to participate.
Mobile phones should not be used in the
Chamber. Pagers may be switched on as long as they are in silent
mode. Members should not use electronic devices as an aide memoire
or to receive messages when addressing the House.
Members should bear in mind Erskine May's
dictum that "good temper and moderation are the characteristics
of Parliamentary language". It is important that exercise
of the privilege of freedom of speech is tempered with responsibility.