Dear new MPs, Be careful you don’t lose your seats…

Something reminded me on Facebook this morning of a post I’d written almost exactly 5 years ago, on 18th May 2010. Sadly we don’t have any new MPs this time, but there are a fair few brand new ones converging on Westminster from Scotland for a start.

Back in 2010, I’d happened upon a guide for new MPs on the parliament’s website. It told them how to make sure they got paid and how to set up their office. It mentioned that they must take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen before they could participate in debates – but, to my surprise, the penalty for failing to do so was a little harsh. What would you expect? A slap on the wrist from the Speaker? Being banned from the Chamber for the rest of the day? Oh no, it’s much worse:

“Members who have not taken the oath or affirmation are unable to draw a salary and must not sit in a debate or vote in a division of the House (once the Speaker has been elected) or they will lose their seat.”

I am assuming that the settled will of the voters in any constituency won’t be overturned if someone forgets to swear in for some reason, but the wording of that suggests that it might be. So, new MPs, don’t say you weren’t warned. That place is just so full of absurdity and faintly ridiculous antiquated, archaic tradition. It really needs dragging into the 21st Century.

By the way, you might want to read the rest of my post to discover a different transgression by one of our lot.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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12 Comments

  • It’s called the constitution. MPs swear allegiance to the head of state, and on coronation the head of state swears an oath to rule according to the laws of parliament. System works rather well, what on earth could there be to oject to?

    (Unless the objection is to the monarchy, but Lib Dem policy is still to keep the monarchy, correct?)

  • It’s not just an archaic tradition. My very mild wishes that the country one day become a republic mean that I am conscientiously opposed to taking the oath or affirmation. I am therefore excluded from taking a seat in parliament, however many electors vote for me, just as I am barred from being a magistrate or taking any other office which requires a declaration of allegiance to the queen and her heirs. Were I prepared to lie, however, I would be regarded as a fit candidate for public office.

  • kathz–

    The oath does not mean that you have to politically support the monarchy. It means that you recognize that the Queen (which is to say Parliament) has lawful authority, and that you will not try to illegally overthrow her. It is reasonable for any state to require officials in positions of power to promise that they will obey the lawful authority of the head of state. Moreover, advocating that Parliament peacefully change the law to institute a republic is perfectly consistent with the oath.

  • Michael Nicholl 17th May '15 - 11:10pm

    “Members who have not taken the oath or affirmation are unable to draw a salary and must not sit in a debate or vote in a division of the House (once the Speaker has been elected) or they will lose their seat.”

    But Sinn Fein MPs don’t lose their seats when they don’t take the oath?

  • @Michael Nicholl

    Sinn Fein MPs do not get a parliamentary salary, However, they are able to claim expenses, And have been known in the past to rack up high expenses for second homes in London, despite not attending parliament.

    What the rules mean though, were an Mp from Sinn Fein to attempt to sit on the house of commons during a debate or go through one of the Voting lobbies, then they would lose their seat as they had attempted to participate in parliamentary business without first swearing an allegiance.

    Personally I think this kind of rot should be cleared up, I see no reason why any member should be entitled to claim expenses if they are not engaged in parliamentary business, it is disgraceful

  • Michael Nicholl 17th May '15 - 11:44pm

    @matt

    Oh, I see. I thought that they got some form of salary/expenses, but wasn’t entirely sure. It is disgraceful that they claim expenses. What I think is worse however is the fact that, by abstaining, they don’t represent their constituency.

  • Jane Ann Liston 18th May '15 - 12:04am

    Presumably, though, Sinn Fein do work for their constituents at Westminster, hence the expenses for the office.

    It’s only recently I believe that the SF even went that far. I remember seeing a photo of , I think, Gerry Adams and a colleague sitting in a Parliament office. On the desk beside the computer was – a bottle of freshly-squeezed ORANGE juice. ‘That’s a step forward, ‘ I thought.

  • Michael Nicholl 18th May '15 - 1:24am

    @Jane Ann Liston

    Perhaps they do, I couldn’t say. Although I’d say that if you’re tagline for the election was to “Fight Tory cuts”, taking the oath and actually voting against those cuts would help.

    The tribal nature of politics in NI is so frustrating. Especially now that we’ve lost the only Alliance MP. I still can’t believe that the Lib Dems are now the same size as the DUP… Scary thought!

  • Graham Martin-Royle 18th May '15 - 9:23am

    The MP’s are voted in to represent their constituents, not Mrs Windsor. It’s time the whole of government was modernised and we did away with archaic traditions.

  • Caron,
    Your article is not the first pointing out the absurdities of a pantomime “oath” to stop properly elected representatives of the people taking their place in the Commons.

    Liberal MP Charles Bradlaugh was thrown out of parliament more than once, arrested and imprisoned during his campaign to change the law in the 1880s

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bradlaugh

    It would be nice to think that one of our 8 MPs today would take a principled stand and challenge this feudal nonsense and seize the opportunity to put a Liberal Democrat cause at the centre of political attention.   It would be a shrewd move because our small group will be marginalised in the Commons for the next 5 years without some bold and imaginative initiatives.   

    Bradlaugh was a ‘Classical Liberal’ in the true sense of the words.   Some people (mostly not members of our party) have in the last few years have tried to capture that title for a sort of right wing Libertarian sect that apes The Tea Party of the USA.    Bradlaugh would have made mincemeat of them.

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