Nine of Parliament’s most weird and wonderful traditions
Our elected representatives have an incredibly serious job, but some of the things that happen in their workplace may look a bit... odd.
From stealing a big gold stick being enough to unseat an entire debate, to some appointees being dragged into work, Parliament can sometimes be a very strange place.
Parliament has been around for a very long time, so it follows that some archaic rules may have been established in a distant past. But, perhaps surprisingly, they've stuck around.
1. Back-to-school vibes with personalised coat pegs
Yes you read that right: each of our MPs has a named peg where they hang their coats from when they get into work.
Not only that, but each one has a purple ribbon attached, which is meant for MPs to hang their swords from. We sincerely hope that now they’re just a form of decoration.
2. Saving your pew
There are 650 elected MPs in the House of Commons, but only 427 seats in the chamber, which leads to some MPs having to stand during the bigger debates and announcements.
There is a way that our parliamentarians can bag a seat though: if they get in bright and early at 8am, they can grab a ‘prayer card’ and place it where they would like to sit later on in the day.
The caveat to this though is that they need to attend prayers in order to do this. Not only that, but they need to face the wall throughout the prayer.
3. Tying up loose laws
Seems the House of Commons has an obsession with ribbons.
When bills make their way to the House of Lords to be signed off before making its way for Royal Assent, they’re tied up with a green ribbon which, if you have a keen eye, is the official colour of the Commons (or at least the seats).
4. The Speaker is literally dragged to work
We’ve all had those days when it feels like we’re dragging our heels to school or work.
Well, when the Speaker of the Commons (currently John Bercow) is appointed, they’re literally hauled into the office - or more specifically, the chamber.
It harks back to a time when the Speaker’s job was to report the goings-on in Parliament to the monarch, and depending on the message, it could occasionally cost their head. So you can understand why some people who held the post were somewhat reluctant to come in in the morning.
5. MPs get 'kidnapped' – and everyone is okay with it
Yes, you read that right.
When a session of Parliament is opened, Queen Elizabeth makes a ‘Speech from the Throne’ or ‘Queen’s Speech’, outlining the plans of the government for the next 12 months or so. During this, an MP is kidnapped and held hostage at Buckingham Palace. To be honest, there are worse places to be held captive.
This comes from a time when the monarchy had a difficult relationship with parliamentarians, and so the poor MP would be used as a bargaining tool in case the King or Queen were threatened during their time in Westminster.
- The Queen delivers the speech from the House of Lords because monarchs don’t set foot in the House of Commons. This has been the case since King Charles I tried to arrest five MPs in 1642, and the speaker at the time (William Lenthall) refused to tell him where they were.
6. If you steal a stick, Parliament stops
The Mace is a symbol of the Queen’s authority that sits in the House of Commons chamber when Parliament is in session. Any debate that takes place without it being there is illegal.
Recently, Lloyd Russell-Moyle caused havoc by grabbing it when Theresa May announced she was going to delay the Brexit meaningful vote in December 2018.
When writing about why he did it in The Guardian, he admitted that: “for the vast majority of people a gangly man in moleskin trousers holding a 5 ft golden rod might look a bit odd. But I work in a very odd place, which rests heavily on symbol and ritual.”
- It's said that when Oliver Cromwell dissolved the 'long parliament' in 1653 he turned to the Mace, declared it a "fool's bauble" and ordered the troops he'd brought with him to the chamber to take it away.
- Other countries such as Australia, the Bahamas and Canada also have ceremonial maces present where their governments sit.
7. Part of Black Rod’s job is to have the door slammed in their face
One of the more senior officers in the Houses of Parliament is called Black Rod, who is based in the Lords. They’re so named because, at the State Opening of Parliament, they bang on the door of the chamber three times with a big black rod. Makes sense.
Before that happens, the chamber door is slammed in their face, to represent the independence of the Commons. Surely there's a more polite way of portraying that these days?
8. You’re not allowed to talk about the Lords in the Commons
In the same way a mutual dislike of a person can bring friends closer together, the Commons is united by their forced disdain of the House of Lords.
It’s forced now, but didn’t used to be: historically there was a lot of bad blood between the two houses. Because of this, the House of Lords is referred to as ‘the other place’ when spoken about in the House of Commons chamber.
9. The House of Commons has a father, mother and baby
No, we’re not saying that the building itself has its own family.
The Father of the House is the longest continuously serving MP (currently Kenneth Clarke of the Conservatives). Prime Minister Theresa May dubbed Labour’s Harriet Harman Mother of the House in June 2017, because she is the longest continuously serving female MP.
The baby isn’t the shortest serving MP though, as lots enter the House for the first time at the same time. The baby is the youngest, which is currently the SNP’s Mhairi Black. She’s 23 now, but she was 20 when she was elected and made her maiden speech in 2015.