Why do MPs stand in the House of Commons? Reason politicians stand up in Parliament after a question in PMQs

The unusual tradition is just one of the many MPs are expected to follow while in the chamber

MPs are often seen standing up and sitting back down during PMQs - but why do they do it? (Credit: PA) MPs are often seen standing up and sitting back down during PMQs - but why do they do it? (Credit: PA)
MPs are often seen standing up and sitting back down during PMQs - but why do they do it? (Credit: PA)

The House of Commons is a symbol of British tradition.

The chamber is home to a lot of unusual and antiquated rules which MPs have to follow.

This is everything from not being able to refer to another MP by name, to the approval of “hear, hear” echoing throughout the room when an MP agrees with a point.

However, watch PMQs and you’ll spot one of the more baffling traditions as MPs stand up and sit down in quick succession.

By why do they do this and where does the tradition come from?

Why do MPs stand up during PMQs?

During PMQs, MPs can be seen quickly standing up immediately after a question is asked towards the Prime Minister.

This is also known as “catching the Speaker’s eye”.

Standing immediately after a question and before the Prime Minister gives an answer is a sign to the Speaker that they want to ask a question during the session.

MPs must add their names to the Order Paper before the start of PMQs to ask planned questions, however occasionally the Speaker allows for additional questions to be asked.

Standing up signals that the MP wants to ask an additional question outside the Order Paper, but there is no requirement for additional questions to be heard, especially if the schedule is busy.

Who can catch the Speaker’s eye?

The front benches of the House of Commons are reserved for ministers and the Chief Whip, while backbenches are reserved for MPs within the party who do not hold a ministerial position.

It is these backbench MPs who traditionally take part in catching the Speaker’s eye.

MPs can also only be called upon from where they sit - they cannot ask a question between the red lines in the gangway.

Why do MPs say ‘hear, hear’ in the House of Commons?

The tradition of saying ‘hear, hear’ can be traced back to the 1600s.

It is believed to be a shortened way of saying “hear him, hear him” as a way of agreeing with a point made in the chamber.

However, there was no version to agree with a point made by a female politician, with the first female MP only being voted into parliament in the 20th century.

Since the 18th century the phrase “hear him, hear him” has evolved to just include “hear, hear”.

Debates are often very busy and loud within the House of Commons, so this was traditionally said in order to bring particular attention to a point made within the hubbub.

Why do MPs not say each other’s names in the House of Commons?

If you watch PMQs or any debate in the House of Commons, you will have also noticed that MPs do not refer to each other by name.

Instead the phrase “my honourable friend” or “the honourable member” to address to fellow MPs.

“My honourable friend” is used when an MP is referring to someone from their own party, while “the honourable member” is used when referring to those of opposition parties.

“My right honourable friend” is a higher title bestowed upon those who are a member of the Privy Council.

Membership of the Privy Council, an advisory body to the British Monarch, is often given to senior MPS of any party, regardless of which party is currently in power.

If you hear an MP addressed as “gallant”, then they have served in the armed forces, while “learned” MP are barristers, although these two terms are rarely used in modern politics.

To use the name of an MP while in the chamber is a mark of disrespect.

Naming an MP in the House of Commons often means that member is being named and shamed as a disciplinary procedure for breaking house rules.