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House of Commons rules: What are MPs not allowed to do in the Chamber?

Swearing can be allowed, but referring to someone by name definitely isn’t.

Speaker John Bercow in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)
Speaker John Bercow in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)

By Stephen Jones, PA

The curiosities of the House of Commons rule book were in evidence again today as Boris Johnson was told off in his first Prime Minister’s Questions for referring to Jeremy Corbyn by name – but not for swearing.

So what is and is not allowed by the Speaker? Here is a look at some of the more quaint rules and customs followed in the Chamber.


Boris Johnson was not censured for swearing in his first PMQs (House of Commons/PA)

The Speaker of the House, currently John Bercow, can direct an MP to withdraw any “unparliamentary language” – words that he deems have broken the “rules of politeness” in the Chamber.

Previous words that have been objected to by the Commons Speaker include “guttersnipe”, “rat”, “swine”, “pipsqueak” and “stoolpigeon”.

Phrases that insinuate wrongdoing by another member may be held in contempt, unless evidence is provided for the claim.

But contrary to the belief of some, there are no automatically banned words or phrases.

That may explain why Boris Johnson seemed to get away with describing Labour’s economic policy as “shit” in his first Prime Minister’s Questions.


Tony Blair receives a standing ovation from both sides of the House at the end of his final Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA)

There was criticism from the Speaker after a Labour MP called Mr Johnson “racist” in today’s session – but not for the reason you might think.

Lawmakers were given a dressing down after applauding the statement from Slough MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi.

According to Erskine May, the Parliamentary rule book, applause can “disrupt the tenor of the debate” – though it is up to the Speaker to decide whether or not to intervene.

Dozens of SNP MPs were censured for applauding as they made their first appearance in the Commons in 2015 – but the Speaker did not intervene when a round of applause was held for Tony Blair, Theresa May and David Cameron in their final PMQs sessions.

Naming other members

The PM got in trouble for referring to Jeremy Corbyn by name (House of Commons/PA)

One of the more archaic customs in the Chamber is one that prevents MPs from addressing other members by name – a rule that saw the PM come unstuck today.

Mr Johnson was ticked off by the Speaker for referencing Jeremy Corbyn by name rather than referring to the office he holds, or place he represents – in this case, the Leader of the Opposition or the right honourable member for Islington North.

Mobile phones

While mobiles and other hand-held devices were allowed to be used in the Commons in 2011, they must be on silent and must not be used to record or take photos.

The rules appear not to be too strictly enforced, however, with several photos from within the Chamber making their way on to Twitter during recent high-profile moments.

One notable example that technically is not allowed was an image shared by Labour MP Anna Turley of a reclining Jacob Rees-Mogg which subsequently went viral.

(Incidentally, lying down in the chamber does not appear to break any rules.)


The dress code in the Commons has been relaxed significantly over recent years – up until 1998, any MP wishing to make a point of order was still required to wear a top hat.

In 2017, John Bercow deemed that men no longer needed to wear jackets and ties in the Commons.

However, MPs are expected not to use their clothing to display slogans or make points – as Caroline Lucas discovered when she was ordered to cover up a “no more page three” T-shirt in 2013.



From Belfast Telegraph