MPs reckon it's time for some name-dropping

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 December, 2002, 12:00am

British MPs must drop the arcane and often baffling language they have used in public debate for more than 150 years, a new proposal before lawmakers recommends.

If accepted, members will refrain from referring to each other as the 'The Honourable' or 'Right Honourable' and drop honorifics such as 'The Gallant' for senior members, or 'The Learned' for members who are also lawyers.

The recommendations have been put forward by former foreign secretary Robin Cook in a discussion paper to be presented to parliament.

Mr Cook, whose present title of Leader of the House would become Minister for Parliament under the proposed shake-up, has been charged with updating the often antiquated practices of parliament.

The present language used in the House of Commons was established about 150 years ago when the official recorder of parliamentary debate, Hansard, came into being.

MPs may soon be referring to each other by their first names.

The honorific of 'Honourable member for . . .', which denotes a backbench MP, and the 'Right Honourable member for . . .', which denotes a senior member of the House who has been accepted into the Queen's Privy Council, will all be referred to in the same way - simply Mr or Mrs.

Similarly, references to the House of Lords as 'another place' will be scrapped.

More obscure conventions and names will also be abolished. For instance, when an MP wishes to resign before the end of his or her term, they should no longer submit their resignation to the wholly fictitious Bailiff of Chiltern Hundreds and the Manor of Northstead, as has been customary for hundreds of years.

Further, the language of parliament's business will get a facelift. No longer will members be able to introduce Hybrid Bills or Early Day Motions. Neither will the 'guillotine motion' used by governments to forestall further debate on issues, be mentioned. They will all get new more realistic names.

MPs will continue to be banned from name-calling or swearing, and particular stress has been put on preventing members from calling each other liars and hypocrites.

The proposals are believed to have the widespread backing of the younger members of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government. But older MPs who have been addressing each other in such time-honoured ways for most of their lives are understandably concerned, denouncing the proposals as change for change's sake.