Tom Brake’s quiet revolution – but there’s so much more that should change about the Commons

Tom Brake achieved a bit of a baby step towards the 21st Century for MPs this week when he had the audacity to ask a Minister a question while not wearing a tie. Heaven forfend!

Conservative MP Peter Bone grassed him up to the Speaker and asked if the rules had changed. John Bercow replied that as long as the attire was “business-like” it was fine. No tie was necessary.

 So far as the Chair is concerned, I must say to the hon. Gentleman, although I fear this will gravely disquiet him, that it seems to me that as long as a Member arrives in the House in what might be thought to be business-like attire, the question of whether that Member is wearing a tie is not absolutely front and centre stage. So am I minded not to call a Member simply because that Member is not wearing a tie? No. I think there has always been some discretion for the Chair to decide what is seemly and proper. Members should not behave in a way that is disrespectful of their colleagues or of the institution, but do I think it is essential that a Member wears a tie? No. Opinions on the hon. Gentleman’s choice of ties do tend to vary, and it has to be said that the same could be said of my own.

This is of course not the first time that Lib Dem MPs have been at the forefront of such change. It was Duncan Hames who took his baby son through the division lobby back in 2014.

So that’s all well and good, but what about addressing some of the bigger issues about the way the Commons operates? There is so much else that needs to change to bring the Parliament closer to the people. Anyone watching the proceedings for the first time would not feel that they had any relevance in the real world.

In this day and age, for example, it should not take 20 minutes for 650 people to cast a vote. It might bode well for News Channel drama, but the technology exists for MPs to be able to press a button and for us to know the result pretty much instantly. Having to queue up in a corridor to give your name to a teller seems more than ridiculous.

I also think that it’s time to ditch the “Honourable Lady/Gentleman for Bloggshire” form of speech. Why not just use people’s names? I don’t particularly want MPs’ head space being taken up with having to remember 630 ish constituencies when they are speaking in the Chamber. They have much more important things to think about. Again, it’s something that looks incomprehensible to the average person

Finally, and not for the first time, I think it’s high time to sort out the childish behaviour in the Chamber. The shouting, the disdain, the disrespect shown by some does not set a good example for our public discourse. People should take note of that new Jo Cox memorial plaque that’s in there and behave accordingly.

What would you change about the way the House of Commons operates?

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

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  • Suzanne fletcher 3rd Jul '17 - 8:22am

    When I went to Westminster in the 1980’s as part of an all party delegation against some government badness there was nowhere to hang my coat and a long tortuous route to the ladies. I remarked that it was about time someone came and brought it up to date.
    Our town clerk intoned ” cllr Mrs Fletcher, MPs come to parliament thinking they will change it, but it changes them “.
    Well done Tom Brake and Duncan Hames.

  • David Pocock 3rd Jul '17 - 8:51am

    I personally love the way our parliament shouts and stuff. Funnily enough my European friends do too, in most nations you get a polite quiet whilst you humbly ask the leader a prescripted question which the leader has already read and prepared an answer to. I hope that aspect doesn’t change.

    The rest is reasonable to me.

  • Maureen Rigg 3rd Jul '17 - 9:00am

    20 years ago when I was teaching ESOL one of my students told me that he and his newly arrived wife really enjoyed the early afternoon comedy programme on TV. Further questioning showed that it was the broadcast of PMQs. They had no idea that this was the body which governed their right to live here amongst thousands of other things. They honestly thought it was a scripted comedy show. Has anything changed?

  • I also think that it’s time to ditch the “Honourable Lady/Gentleman for Bloggshire” form of speech. Why not just use people’s names?

    Because it is good to remind them that they are not there on their own account, but as the representative of their constituents.

  • David Thorpe 3rd Jul '17 - 11:39am

    the lords is where the reform is needed//

  • Do you not think that, when you’re voting on our nation’s laws, doing it by pressing a little plastic button marked ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ would lack a certain… gravitas?

  • @Dav – in line with your spot on observation concerning MP’s having to address “the Honourable Lady/Gentleman for Bloggshire”, I think there is something in requiring MP’s to positively vote publicly in person, using a process that is both time-consuming and difficult to rig.

    Also, it gives the MP’s a reason to take a short walk and in heated debates to take a break and ‘calm down’. Plus the real value in knowing the result of a vote 20 minutes sooner is what exactly?

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