Silence, clapping, cries of ‘hear, hear’, etc

21.37All Members should maintain silence or should converse only in undertones. Whenever the conversation is so loud as to make it difficult to hear the debate, the occupant of the Chair calls the House to order.1

On 5 May 1641, it was resolved: ‘That if any man shall whisper or stir out of his place to the disturbance of the House at any message or business of importance, Mr Speaker is ordered to present his name to the House, for the House to proceed against him as they shall think fit’.2

While the strict terms of the 1641 injunction may not have been enforced for some time, it remains the case that Members must not disturb a Member who is speaking, by hissing,3 chanting, booing,4 exclamations or other interruption. A considerable volume of noise frequently arises from the fullness of the House, when five or six hundred Members are impatiently waiting for a division or for Prime Minister's questions to begin, which it is scarcely possible to repress. The Speaker has explicitly deprecated comments or noises designed to influence the conduct of the Chair.5

The Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons noted in 1998 that, while spontaneous clapping at the end of a speech could not be interpreted as disturbance of the Member speaking, if the practice became established it could lead to a situation where the success or failure of a speech was judged not by its content but by the length of the applause. Both applause and slow handclapping would ‘disrupt the tenor of the debate’.6 The Speaker has indicated that the rule against clapping did not preclude spontaneous reactions of a non-partisan character; and that in practice it is a matter of judgement for the Chair as to whether to intervene where applause has broken out spontaneously.7

There are words of interruption which, if used in moderation, are not unparliamentary, but when frequent and loud, cause serious disorder. These include the cries of ‘question’, ‘order, order’, or ‘hear, hear’, which have been sanctioned by long parliamentary usage. When intended to denote approbation of the sentiments expressed, and not uttered till the end of a sentence, the cry of ‘hear, hear’ offers no interruption of the speech. The same words may be used for very different purposes, and instead of implying approbation, they may express dissent, derision or contempt.8 The Speaker has frequently reminded the House that shouting and similar behaviours are out of order or discourteous.9 Whenever exclamations of this kind are obviously intended to interrupt a speech, the Speaker calls the House to order, and, if the cries are persisted in, may direct the disorderly Members to withdraw from the House or name them (see para 21.45 ). If the interruption should be so continuous and prolonged as to constitute a state of grave disorder,10 the Speaker may use the powers under Standing Order No 46 (see para 21.46 ).

Footnotes

  1. 1. HC Deb (1988–89) 143, cc 1008, 1025, 1034.
  2. 2. CJ (1640–42) 135; see also ibid (1693–97) 66.
  3. 3. CJ (1547–1628) 152, 243, 473.
  4. 4. HC Deb (1952–53) 508, cc 1565–66.
  5. 5. HC Deb (2000–01) 363, c 315. On 19 March 1872, while strangers were excluded, notice was taken of the crowing of cocks, and other disorderly noises, proceeding from Members, principally behind the Chair; and the Speaker condemned them as gross violations of the orders of the House and expressed the pain with which he had heard them, Parl Deb (1872) 210, c 307.
  6. 6. Fourth Report, HC 600 (1997–98) para 43. See HC Deb (1990–91) 188, c 1048; ibid (1991–92) 201, c 297; ibid (21 March 2012) 542, c 811; ibid (14 July 2015) 598, c 777; ibid (3 May 2016) 609, c 49; ibid (7 February 2017) 621, cc 229, 254–55; ibid (19 April 2018) 639, c 572.
  7. 7. HC Deb (3 May 2016) 609, c 49; ibid (7 February 2017) 621, c 254; ibid (5 December 2018) 650, c 895.
  8. 8. The Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons noted in its Fourth Report, HC 600 (1997–98) para 43, that the growing misuse of the traditional cry of ‘hear, hear’ could be disruptive. Similarly, loud cries of ‘shame’ have been strongly condemned by the Speaker, Parl Deb (1887) 310, c 166; ibid (1893) 12, cc 731, 790; ibid (1893) 14, c 469.
  9. 9. HC Deb (18 March 2009) 489, c 901; ibid (23 February 2012) 540, c 1006.
  10. 10. HC Deb (1912) 43, c 2054; ibid 44, c 33; ibid (1923) 162, c 1265.