The National:

THE UK Parliament, housed in the opulent Palace of Westminster, is a place steeped in tradition and etiquette, much of it passed down from hundreds of years ago.

The way elected Members of Parliament converse in the House of Commons debating chamber can therefore seem quite antiquated.

It's the place where laws that affect your everyday life are made (hopefully not for too much longer) so we thought it best if we cleared up why people don't talk directly to each other, why they shout out numbers and talk about things that don't seem to be that relevant.

So here's The Jouker's guide to Westminster lingo:

'Mr Speaker ...'

The National: Sir Lindsay Hoyle is the Speaker of the House of CommonsSir Lindsay Hoyle is the Speaker of the House of Commons

Every question, utterance or statement that comes out of an MP's mouth in the House of Commons has to be directed through the Speaker.

The convention is designed to keep things civil and stops just anyone speaking when they feel like voicing their opinion. It is a rule carried out in parliaments around the world.

The necessity for many other points of language used in Westminster come from the fact that MPs and Lords must direct their communications through the chair while in debating chambers.

The Speaker in the Commons cannot be in his seat for everything and, as such, has three deputies to take his place, but Sir Lindsay Hoyle is in place for big sessions such as Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) and particularly significant debates.

In the Scottish Parliament, MSPs can refer to each other by name, which does help the viewer - who these people are elected to serve - to follow along with developments.

'My right honourable friend'

The National:

As stated above, elected members are not permitted to address each other directly but are permitted to refer to them - or everyone would truly be lost.

There are several ways one MP can refer to another:

  • For someone within their own party, they will say: "My honourable FRIEND, the member for ..."
  • For someone in another party/on the other side of the House: "The honourable MEMBER ..."
  • If an MP is a member of the Queen's Privy Council, they will get the addition of "RIGHT honourable". The Privy Council is an advisory board to the monarch and includes many senior MPs and lords.

"Naming" an MP is actually a mark of shame in the Commons and is only done when a member breaks the rules of the chamber and are due a punishment such as being suspended.

In the Scottish Parliament, MSPs are permitted to refer to each other by name. The rules of this Parliament (reconvened in 1999) are more modern than those written at the time of the British Empire.

'Chuntering from a sedentary position'

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Only one person is permitted to speak at any one time in Parliament with the Speaker having overall authority over who is permitted and can interject at any point they like.

This is done to maintain a sense of civility, but anyone who as watched two minutes of PMQs will know that it's a bit of a zoo, with backbenchers shouting things out all the time.

The odd word here and there is permitted, but if someone, who is in their seat, begins to shout things at the person standing, then they will be either chastised by the Speaker or dealt with by the person speaking.

MPs are allowed to butt in if they have a real point to make and are given way by the person who is speaking. This does not tend to happen at PMQs but is more common in open debates where MPs are given longer to speak and are able to take interventions.

Former Commons speaker John Bercow was fond of an unusual verb and since his departure at the end of 2019, "chunter" has been less common, but MPs are routinely called out for speaking "from a sedentary position".

'Number one, Mr Speaker'

At Question Time, MPs must submit their questions beforehand - this enables the Government to deliver a considered response.

These questions are listed on the order paper and given numbers, so when an MP says something like "Number one Mr Speaker", this means the MP is happy to hear a response to the question as printed.

The MP will then usually be allowed a supplementary question on the same subject.

The other option is that the MP can ask their question listed on the order paper in their own words, which allows a bit of political point-scoring, but no supplementary.

'Point of Order'

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This is a way for someone to raise a potential breach of parliamentary procedure and seek clarification from the chair.

The Speaker will consider the point raised by the MP who will stand and say "point of order" during a debate or question session and will raise an issue that occurred during that session.

Whether the point is valid or not is decided on by the Speaker and it would behove the MP raising the point to know their stuff as a red face awaits if they do not.

'The other place'

When uttered in the Commons this term makes reference to the unelected House of Lords.

It can equally be used in Westminster's second chamber to describe the place where politicians are elected by the people of the country (the House of Commons) rather than placed there by political parties, perhaps in exchange for a big donation ...

'They're a liar'

This is certainly NOT something you will hear uttered by an MP and allowed to stay on the record which is possibly why Boris Johnson doesn't have it shouted at him whenever he walks into the Commons.

Even an inference to someone being untruthful is not permitted and can carry a warning from the Speaker or even expulsion from the House for the rest of that session or day if the MP refuses to withdraw it.

There are however exceptional circumstances where the word or inference is permitted, such as when SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford was permitted to call the PM a "liar" during a debate about Johnson's conduct. It was during an opposition day debate where Blackford put to Tories that Johnson had broken ethical standards of public life and said that he could "only conclude that the Prime Minister has demonstrated himself to be a liar".

Deputy speaker Eleanor Laing permitted the word "liar" due to the "specific and particular motion" that was examining the conduct of a member of the Parliament.

It followed Blackford earlier in 2021 asking Johnson if he was a liar and being warned over the use of language, you can watch that exchange above.

The royals

MPs are not allowed to ask questions which "brings the name of the Sovereign or the influence of the Crown directly before Parliament, or which casts reflections upon the Sovereign or the royal family," according to Westminster's guide to parliamentary procedure.

The reasoning is that mentions of the Queen or a member of her family are not used to "affect the views of the House".

Questions are however permitted that relate to matters such as costs to public funds of royal events and royal palaces.

Labour leader Keir Starmer fell foul of this rule when he mentioned that the Queen mourned the death of her husband Prince Philip alone due to social distancing rules set by the Tory government that appeared to have been broken by the PM and many of his colleagues.

That Mace in the middle

Back at the end of 2020, SNP MP Drew Hendry snatched the ceremonial mace from its place in the Commons and attempted to walk out of the chamber with it in protest at the Tory government's Internal Market Bill.

Hendry could be heard shouting that it was "outrageous" and a "democratic disgrace" that the UK was pressing ahead with the bill without the consent of devolved governments.

Hendry was stopped by Westminster doorkeepers and then "named" by deputy speaker Rosie Winterton.

Why? The mace, while ceremonial, is in place to show that the Commons is operating lawfully in the presence of it and represents the monarch's authority in Parliament and in councils.

Indeed, Parliament cannot lawfully sit, debate or pass legislation without the mace being present in the chamber. The maces of the Commons and Lords are carried in and out in procession at the start and end of each day.

Ceremonial maces are also used in devolved parliaments.