Lindsay Hoyle – 2023 Statement to MPs at Start of Paliamentary Session

The statement made by Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, in the House on 7 November 2023.

The House has directed the Speaker to make a statement at the beginning of each Session about the duties and responsibilities of hon. Members. I begin by reminding hon. Members of their duty to observe the code of conduct agreed by the House and to behave with civility and fairness in all their dealings. The behaviour code applies to Members as it applies to others who visit or work within Parliament, and it provides very clear guidance. Unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with seriously, independently and with effective sanctions.

The House asserts its privilege of freedom of speech. That privilege is enjoyed by Members of Parliament only in their work in this House; as private individuals, we are equal under the law with those whom we represent. It is there to ensure that our constituents can be represented by us without fear or favour. It is an obligation upon us all to exercise that privilege with responsibility.

I now come to the accuracy of Members’ contributions, which is more tricky. The Speaker does not have the power to police the accuracy of Members—[Hon. Members: “Shame.”] It may be a shame, but these are the facts. The Speaker does not have the power to police the accuracy of Members’ contributions, including those of Ministers. It is therefore incumbent on Members to be accurate in what they say in this House, but if a Member is inaccurate by mistake, they should correct that mistake as soon as possible.

Let us now turn to courtesy and temperate language. Members must also be mindful of the impact of what we say, not only on other Members but on those who follow our proceedings, and Members should be heard courteously whatever their views. I draw the House’s attention to the guidance on rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House of Commons. A new version for this Session is now available, clarifying those areas.

Turning to criticism of Members, in this place we are honourable Members, and the language we use about each other should reflect that. If a Member falls short of the standards expected of us all, there are ways of dealing with that, but not by accusations made as sideswipes during questions or debates. If we fail to treat each other with respect in debate, that diminishes our work, but it also risks raising the temperature of discussions outside this place, particularly on social media, which already too often descend into online abuse against hon. Members.

It is so important that hon. Members are able to raise matters with me freely. For that reason, I keep such correspondence confidential, including applications for urgent questions. I remind Members that it is equally important that my responses, particularly on matters of privilege, are treated with the same respect. I hope that certain Members are listening.

I also wish to give some advice about seeking to speak within the Chamber. The Deputy Speakers and I take into account a number of factors when determining whom we call during business that is not balloted, and one factor we consider carefully is how often a Member speaks. In other words, if you have spoken much more than a colleague then, other things being equal, that colleague is more likely to be called—or certainly more likely to be called earlier—especially in the next debate for which you both apply. [Hon. Members: “Poor Jim!”] Don’t worry; I am coming to him. [Laughter.]

I know that it can be frustrating not to be called in a debate, or to be called very late. That frustration may continue, but putting it on Twitter is not a good way of trying to be called earlier. My response will be that I cannot call you earlier because you have already told the world, so think carefully before using Twitter to try to intimidate the Speaker. Prioritising debates, question times, urgent questions and statements in which you seek to participate is one way of trying to avoid that happening.

Now that we have started a new Session, the reset button starts everybody’s scores at zero. That even includes Jim Shannon—[Laughter.] I should make it clear that when counting scores, different principles apply to Front Benchers from the three largest parties who are nominated to speak on behalf of their parties. Staff in my office are happy to offer further advice and help.

Let us come to something very important: security and safety. I want all Members and everyone in the parliamentary community to be able to go about their work safely, both online and here in Westminster. The security of this building and those who work here depends on us all. We have a duty to be vigilant and to assist those whose job it is to maintain this place as a safe place of work. Yes, we are Members of Parliament and we were elected to be here, but remember that those who carry out security duties here are doing so to ensure that we are all safe. Please, try not to abuse them—you should not abuse them—and do not take advantage of your position.

Before moving to the first business of the new Session, I would like to express my very best wishes to all hon. Members and all those who work in this House. I thank the staff of the House, whether they work in security or elsewhere. They are looking after us, so please realise that they have a job to do. I thank all the catering staff, because without them we could not function properly.