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Mr Speaker in Parliament Mr Speaker in Parliament. Photo Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament

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Mr Speaker Explains Parliamentary Language

The Speaker of the House of Commons reveals all on the unique language of the UK Parliament

Published on August 08, 2019
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The phrases used in the UK Parliament are famous. Whether it's the shout of "Order! Order!" from the Speaker of the House, the polite reference to colleagues as "Right Honourable" or the call to "Clear the Lobby" before a key Parliamentary vote (and there have been a few important ones recently, if you haven't noticed!), the UK Parliament has a fascinating, historically valuable language all of its own. What do some of these phrases mean, and where did they come from? Does a "Recess" involve Members going out for play time, what does the recent headling grabbing phrase "Prorogation" actually mean, and what is Erskine May? The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, tells us about what it all means.

Order! Order!

This is used to call MPs to attention at the start of proceedings. The Chair will call for order if it appears there is an attempt to drown out a Member or when a number of Members are leaving the Chamber and conversing loudly.

Clear the Lobby

When a vote is held the Speaker in the Commons asks Members to call out whether they agree or not. The Speaker will then judge whether there is a clear result. If this cannot be determined, the Speaker calls a division by announcing 'clear the lobby'. This means clear the voting lobby of people who are not MPs, so there is nothing to impede their progress to vote.

Right Honourable

To maintain a polite tone during debates in the Commons, MPs do not refer to each other by name but by a variety of formal titles according to their status.

Most MPs are referred to as "the Honourable Member for..." followed by the name of their constituency or as either "the Honourable gentleman" or "the Honourable lady".

"Right Honourable" indicates a member of the Privy Council, which provides confidential advice to the monarch. Members are normally past or present ministers, the Speaker or a leader of one of the main political parties.

The Other Place

By convention, MPs do not refer directly to the House of Lords when they are speaking in the Chamber. Traditionally, the House of Lords is known as 'another place' or 'the other place'.

Ayes to the Right and Noes to the Left

The corridors to the left and right of the Chamber in the Commons are used as division lobbies for when the House divides for a vote. Members cast their vote by walking through either one lobby or the other and are counted as they do so. These corridors are known as the Aye and No Lobbies. The lobby to the right of the Chamber - from the perspective of the occupant of the Chair - is always used for those voting in favour; the lobby to the left for those voting against.

Chiltern Hundreds and the Manor of Northstead

The Steward and Bailiffs of the Chiltern Hundreds and of the Manor of Northstead were positions traditionally paid for by the Crown. In modern times they are unpaid, formal titles that are applied for when an MP needs to disqualify themselves from the Commons.

An elected MP has no right to resign: unless they die or are expelled they must become disqualified if they wish to retire before the end of a Parliament. By law, taking on one of these titles immediately bars a person from being an MP.

Erskine May

Erskine May, named after the author Thomas Erskine May, is the authoritative book on parliamentary law and practice. It is a description of how procedure in the House of Commons and House of Lords has evolved and the conventions that apply, rather than a set of rules.

The first edition was published in the mid-nineteenth century and new editions are published approximately every six or seven years. However, for armchair politicians, Erskine May is now available online.

Giving Way

To 'give way' or 'giving way' are the terms used by MPs who want to interrupt an MP who is speaking in the House of Commons. An MP cannot intervene when another MP is speaking to the House unless that MP allows it by giving way.

Quorum

A quorum is the minimum number of MPs needed for a division (vote) to be valid, or for a parliamentary committee to function. Quorums for different types of business are set out in the standing orders.

Recess

A recess is a break during the parliamentary session (year) in which neither the House of Commons nor the House of Lords meets to conduct business. There are normally several recesses throughout a session and these usually include Christmas, Easter and Summer.

Unparliamentary language

Unparliamentary language breaks the rules of politeness in the House of Commons Chamber. The Speaker will direct an MP who has used unparliamentary language to withdraw it. Refusal to withdraw a comment might lead to an MP being disciplined. For example, the Speaker could 'name' the Member, requiring him or her to leave the House for the day or potentially longer.

Words to which objection has been taken by the Speaker over the years include blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, swine, stoolpigeon and traitor.

Prorogation

When a parliamentary session comes to an end the House is prorogued until the next session begins. Prorogation is the formal end to the parliamentary year.

Tours of UK Parliament include the House of Commons and the House of Lords and are available Monday to Friday until August 30 and every Saturday. New tours of the House of Commons Library run on one Saturday each month.. Book tickets online

If you found this article interesting, check out our Q&A with Mr Speaker after his recent trip to Washington's Brooking Institute.

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