Business Law & Compliance

Strange laws from Parliament that are still applicable today

5 min read

03 August 2013

What could be more unique than David Cameron voting against his own Queen's speech? From never-ending jobs to stamina-building voting sessions, the life of an MP - or that of Prime Minister - is never easy when you have parliamentary oddities to contend with.

If you thought the UK not having a single constitution document was strange, then Member’s of Parliament (MP) tabling an amendment to the Queen’s speech is truly unique – something that hasn’t happened since 1946. 

According to The Sun, David Cameron was ready to vote for the amendment, and why shouldn’t he? After all, it backs up his policy. What is truly shocking, however, is that the Parliament website highlighted: “If the Queen’s speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign”. The last amendment to have passed, however, was in 1924.

To say the least, Cameron has abandoned centuries of parliamentary convention – which might not be such a bad thing when looking at the strange Acts to have survived the clutches of history. Although rumoured that it is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament – voted Britain’s most ridiculous law even though it lacks supporting evidence – that MPs are not allowed to resign, is genuine.

Th absurd reasoning behind this resolution, which was passed in 1642, was that MPs had been given the trust of their communities. From 1750 onwards, MPs wishing to leave their post could be appointed by the chancellor of the exchequer to an office of profit under the crown. This title made them ineligible for membership of Parliament. Where a number of offices were once used for this purpose, only two remain: Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, and Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

The title is normally held until the next MP wishes to resign. By alternating between the two titles, more than one MP can vacate their seat at the same time. It even allows more than two MPs to resign on the same day, each holding the title for only a short amount of time.

One of the difficulties of a never-ending duty to the nation, means setting a constant example as Britain’s representatives. This includes their use of language. When in session, MPs are forbidden to use “unparliamentary language”, as it would offend the dignity of parliament. Swearing, personal insults, mentions of “crooked deals” and accusing other MPs of dishonesty are all on the list of not-to-mention’s.

Erskine May’s guide to ‘Parliamentary Procedure’ penned that “good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language”. His list of profane language now includes: blackguard, coward, hooligan, hypocrite, idiot, git, ignoramus, liar, pipsqueak, rat, swine, stoolpigeon, sod and tart (a great deal attributable to Dennis Skinner).

But the notion of Cameron scrambling for one of two doors in eight minutes, tops all of the aforementioned resolutions. Although one of the UK’s most important procedure’s, parliamentary voting presents an amusing picture. Britain still uses an old method of voting where, when no clear winner is found through shouting ‘aye’ or ‘no’, the members are asked to “clear the lobby!” The MPs are given eight minutes to choose a corresponding lobby before the doors are locked. Those that don’t make it into a lobby on time are excluded from the vote. They are then counted in their respective rooms and the vote is finally settled.

Also, in order for an Act of Parliament to become a bill, it passes not only though the House of Commons but the House of Lords as well. Although the House of Lords can, and have, rejected bills, parliament acts 1911 and 1949 allow the House of Commons to pass bills regardless of what the House of Lords has to say. 

Ultimately, the Queen has the final say on passing a bill. The last monarch to have rejected a bill wanted by both Houses of Parliament was in 1715. Interestingly enough, although the Queen plays an important role, she has yet to enter the Houses of Parliament. The last recorded monarch to have set foot in Parliament was in 1642 when Charles I tried to arrest five MPs.