Politics

Why do MPs stand up in Parliament? The bizarre tradition explained

Tory MPs will have to either 'sack or back' Boris Johnson

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The latest controversy engulfing Mr Johnson came on Monday, January 24, when a report from ITV alleged the Prime Minister had joined a surprise birthday party during the UK lockdown in 2020. The Metropolitan Police followed with an announcement, and chief commissioner Cressida Dick said the service would launch an investigation of its own into the alleged events. These developments promise to make for another explosive face-off in the House of Commons today, with Britons becoming increasingly invested in the ongoing chaos.

Why do MPs stand up in Parliament?

The British Parliament is the oldest in the world and, as such, comes with centuries worth of odd traditions.

One of them, as people may observe during PMQs today, sees MPs briefly shoot up from their seats.

They use the unusual practice to catch the eye of the Commons Speaker, who decides who contributes to the chamber.

House of Commons rules state that when someone wants to participate, they need the Speaker to introduce them first.

Standing up or rising slightly from a seat allows the Speaker to identify MPs who wish to contribute.

The standing MP must then wait to receive their acknowledgement before sitting down again.

When their turn to speak rolls around, they must rise from their seat once again.

Anyone unable to deliver while standing can choose to sit, however.

An archived fact sheet from the House of Commons Information Office describes the rules in more detail.

The fact sheet, first released in 2010, states members can only speak from where they are called.

Their location must “be within the House”, meaning in front of their chair and not behind the bar (a white line that stretches across the chamber’s width).

The document adds: “They may not speak from the floor of the House between the red lines (traditionally supposed to be two sword-lengths apart).

“They may speak from the side-galleries but the lack of microphones there is a strong disincentive from doing so.”

The factsheet also states the Speaker cannot call a member sitting in the gallery (the House of Commons upper level) if there are seats downstairs.

Parliament also has a selection of rules about where MPs sit during an active session.

Convention dictates that MPs sit in a specified arrangement depending on their rank.

Ministers, as the Prime Minister’s primary team, sit alongside him on the front benches, hence the name “frontbencher”.

Other MPs sit in the rows behind, earning them the name “backbenchers”.

The Leader of the Opposition and their team sit in a similar configuration, with shadow ministers upfront.

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