Select Committee on Procedure Fourth Report

Appendix: Conventions and Courtesies of the House

Mr Speaker's letter sent to all Members, 24 February 2003.

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 productive.

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:

—  Members 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 colleagues' constituencies

c)  they intend to visit colleagues' constituencies (except on purely private visits)

—  Members 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 way.

—  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 have ended.

—   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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 27 November 2003