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Blimey! UK Parliament cuts tie with tradition

John Bercow, the speaker in Britain’s House of Commons, has said that he thinks it is not essential for male MPs to wear a tie in Parliament.

world Updated: Jun 30, 2017 15:58 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Britain,House of Commons,Speaker John Bercow
File photo of John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, at the Houses of Parliament in London in March 2015.(Reuters)

It is considered the “mother of all parliaments” and is known for its quaint traditions, customs and rules, but Britain’s current speaker, John Bercow, is allowing a break from the past: MPs need not wear a tie in the House of Commons if they so desire.

Not every parliament that follows the Westminster model has adopted the same dress code - for example, India - but the image of British MPs may no longer be the same. T-shirts and jeans may not yet be parliamentary, but there may soon be more lawmakers without a tie.

June has been one of the hottest months on record, making MPs and others hot under the collar.

The issue arose on Thursday when Scottish National Party MP Angus Brendan MacNeil came to the House without a tie and Bercow allowed him to ask a question. This prompted Tory MP Peter Bone to raise a point of order to ask if dress rules had been changed.

Known for his adherence to the traditional speaker’s dress, Bercow responded: "The short answer to the honorary gentleman is that this is something provided for, if memory serves me correctly, in the conventions and courtesies of the House. The traditional approach was that a member…a male member would be wearing atie.

“I think the general expectation is that members should dress in business-like attire. So far as the chair is concerned, I must say to the honorary 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 atieis not absolutely front and centre stage.”

Bercow added, “So am I minded not to call a member simply because that member is not wearing atie? 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 atie? No.”

Parliament officials revealed the wearing of jackets and ties in the House of Commons was a relatively modern convention and, as such, it was within the speaker’s power to rule on it. Wearing a tie was more a custom than a rule in parliament.

The 1844 authoritative guide to parliamentary procedure, Erskine May: A Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, states this on wearing ties: “Members are not permitted to wear decorations in the House.”

It adds, “The wearing of military insignia or uniform inside the chamber is not in accordance with the long-established custom of the House. It remains the custom for gentlemen members to wear jackets and ties, but the Speaker has not enforced the practice in all circumstances.”

First Published: Jun 30, 2017 14:37 IST