How the place works – Parliamentary Procedure

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You get a job working for an MP and suddenly you are immersed in an alien world, where the rules are different and no one clearly explains them.  This is one of the few areas where asking a colleague might not be the best way forward.  Very simply, only the true anoraks know their way comfortably around parliamentary procedures but everyone else likes to think they do.  You can’t really work here for three years and then admit that you don’t know the precise wording necessary to top and tail a Petition to the House.

So here are some sources that may help you when feeling your way blindfolded around the maze of parliamentary procedures.  A few of the website addresses below are accessible for those of you who don’t have access to the arliamentary intranet.  Some resources can be seen only by those with access to the Parliamentary intranet.

Thanks, as ever, are due to our friends in the Library for checking this update for us.

Who can help me to understand?

1.  The Library is always the first port of call. As we have said before, and are happy to repeat, the Commons Library is your very best friend and will save your life more than once in your Parliamentary career.  Their main enquiry point is 020 7219 3666 or email the enquiry desk on hclibrary@parliament.uk.  The Library website – a massive resource – is accessible via the Parliamentary intranet here: http://intranet.parliament.uk/people-offices/offices-departments/commons-departments/commons-information-services/commons-library/  or via the public website here: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/

2.  The Library’s training courses in parliamentary procedure and documentation are open to Members staff.  Ring x3666 for information or check out courses available at the Library’s web-pages on the Parliamentary intranet: https://intranet.parliament.uk/research-online/commons-library-services/commons-library-services/commons-library-training-and-skills/

3.  The Chamber and Committees Team supports the business of the House and its Committees, providing procedural services and advice, general and secretariat services to select committees, reporting and broadcasting services, security and support for international relations.

The Broadcasting Unit oversees the arrangements for broadcasting the proceedings of the House and its Committees. Through the Parliamentary Recording Unit it deals with requests for archive footage and oversees webcasting of parliamentary proceedings.

The Committee Office, headed by the Clerk of Committees and managed by three Principal Clerks, provides support and advice for all aspects of the work of select committees. Each committee has a secretariat, headed by a Clerk.

CCT Team Services provides budgetary and financial management support for CCT. It also carries out office management and communications functions.

The Journal Office produces the authoritative record of proceedings in the House, and provides a variety of procedural advice and services to the House. It also provides staff and administrative support for certain select committees.

The Office of Speaker’s Counsel gives legal advice to Mr Speaker, the Clerk and all the Departments of the House

The Official Report, commonly known as Hansard, supports the House, its Committees and individual Members through the timely production of edited verbatim reports and the processing of written answers to parliamentary questions.

The Overseas Office supports the House’s official relations with overseas Parliaments, including the UK Parliamentary delegations to international Parliamentary assemblies and the UK National Parliament Office in Brussels.

The Office administers the House’s procedures applying to private legislation and provides advice on those procedures to Members, parliamentary agents and others.

The Office administers all business relating to public legislation. It provides Clerks for general committees including public bill committees.

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards deals with the application of the Code of Conduct and related Rules that apply to Members of Parliament. This includes the registration of financial interests held by MPs and the investigation of complaints about MPs who have allegedly breached the Code or related Rules.

The Scrutiny Unit is a central resource that provides specialist assistance to Select Committees, Joint Committees and Public Bill Committees.

The Table Office is the place where Members table Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Early Day Motions (EDMs), and apply for Adjournment and Westminster Hall debates. The Office also produces the House’s Order Paper and associated business papers for each day’s sitting.  The Table Office will also answer general queries about House business and the Order Paper.

The Table Office is also responsible for the MemberHub: the new system for digital tabling of questions.

The Vote Office is responsible for the provision and distribution of all parliamentary, some non-parliamentary, and European Union publications required by Members, Members’ staff and House staff.

Where can I find quick definitions?

4.  The Glossary on Parliament’s website explains dozens of terms commonly used in both Houses.  The best link to it is: http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/.   So, check there if you want to peep into the Royal Robing Room, are desperate for Dissolution, are tickled by Test Rolls or demand to know “Who goes home?”

While you’re at it, have a good look around the Parliamentary Learning website which can be found at https://learning.parliament.uk/en/  This site is an award-winning free education services for schools, colleges, communities and home educators.

5.  The BBC’s A-Z OF PARLIAMENT list dozens of definitions on their website at
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/a-z_of_parliament/default.stm.   Keen to learn about Dilatory Motions, Retreads and Nodding Through?  Not to mention Catching the Speaker’s Eye, Bisque system and Unstarred Questions?  Then this is the place for you!

What can I read?

6.  About Parliament: Parliament examines what the Government is doing, makes new laws, holds the power to set taxes and debates the issues of the day.  The House of Commons and House of Lords each play an important role in Parliament’s work.  You can find out lots of information about Parliament works here: https://www.parliament.uk/about/

7.  Business of the House and its Committees: a short guide, issued by the Department of the Clerk of the House is an invaluable resource – the one you will use most regularly.  It is here that you will find the rules on how to word questions, EDMs, petitions and prepare other matters for your employer.  See here for further information: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/guides-to-parliament/business-of-the-house-and-its-committees-a-short-guide/

8.  Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice, a.k.a. the Parliamentary Bible, is the definitive guide to Parliamentary Procedure. It is available on the Parliamentary intranet here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/research-online/online-resources/parliament-and-devolution/erskine-may-e-book/

9.  The Members’ Handbook has information, aimed particularly at new MPs, on Speaking in the Chamber and Committees.  You can find it on the intranet here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/images/2019-Members-Handbook.pdf

10.  If you want a readable, layman’s guide to how the place works, we recommend How Parliament Works by Robert Rogers & Rhodri Walters (ISBN: 9780815369646), written by clerks in both the Commons and the Lords.  Find it online or you can pop round to the Parliamentary Bookshop on the corner of Bridge Street and Parliament Street, and pick it up there.  Of course, the Library has copies, too.