Page last updated at 08:44 GMT, Tuesday, 18 May 2010 09:44 UK

Welcome to Westminster: A new MP's crib sheet

The House of Commons returns on Tuesday, with 227 MPs starting work at Westminster for the first time - the largest number in a generation. So, what do they need to know? Justin Parkinson reports.

Tube carriage
The District Line or the Jubilee Line will do just fine

It's been almost two weeks since the election, but here is where the job really begins. First things first: the best way in is by Tube to Westminster station, or by bus.

Or maybe cycling or walking.

Just get there by about lunchtime, please.

A reception centre has been set up. If they bring along a passport and other relevant ID, MPs will be provided with a parliamentary pass, giving them the freedom to get lost in the Labyrinthine Palace of Westminster.

But officials have been briefed to give guided tours, so there's no excuse any more really.

John Bercow
John Bercow will hope for a smooth passage

How great a game is this? You get to choose your own referee before the match starts, sort of.

The choosing of the Speaker always takes place on the first day the House of Commons meets after an election. The Father of the House, the MP with the longest continuous service - in this case Tory Sir Peter Tapsell - oversees the whole thing.

MPs traipse off to the House of Lords, where they are directed to choose a Speaker, and then potter back to the Commons. If John Bercow, only in the job since last summer, is willing to carry on, which appears highly likely, he will give a speech saying so. Another MP moves that this should happen and the question is put to the Commons.

MPs shout "Aye" or "No". If there are no noes or only a few noes, the Speaker is usually returned immediately. But if the shouts of "No" are repeated, a vote must be held in the division lobbies - where MPs walk past one set of tellers (the people who do the counting) or another - to show their decision. If Mr Bercow loses there will be a full-blown secret ballot to elect a Speaker.

Other candidates declare their intention to run. They will need between 12 and 15 backers to be able to enter the contest, officially putting themselves forward on Wednesday morning.

A few hours later, candidates address the House and MPs vote in a secret ballot. If someone gets more than 50%, they win. If not, ballots continue until this happens.

Candidates who come last or attract less than 5% of votes, or who withdraw, are eliminated at each stage. This can go on for a few hours, but when contenders gauge that things are not going their way, they normally drop out.

After this is all settled , the winning candidate will go before the House, with MPs asked once again to show whether they back him or her by shouting "Aye" or "No" again. This time, it is really a constitutional formality, unless some MPs are being unprecedentedly awkward and dogged.

A ballot is then held to elect the deputy Speakers. That's usually over with pretty quickly.

Repetition is a key part of becoming a working MP

Now the Speaker and his deputies are in place, the process of becoming a fully fledged MP can begin.

It's worthwhile too. All members, new and old, must take the oath of allegiance to the Crown - or make a secular solemn affirmation - before they can draw a salary, speak in Parliament or vote.

Those who choose not to can have their seats declared vacant "as if they were dead", which is not much good for a career politician.

Swearing in, MP-by-MP, is likely to start on Wednesday afternoon - assuming there is not a challenge to Mr Bercow.

There will be a choice of oath cards, depending on religious beliefs; the affirmation card for those with none. Initially this must take place in English, but MPs can repeat the process in Welsh, Scottish Gaelic or Cornish.

Hand raised, they take the oath or affirmation at the despatch box, before shaking hands with the Speaker and going behind his chair to sign the register.

At this point, they must say how they wish to be known in parliamentary documents - so a man called Robert could be forever remembered in Hansard as Robert, Dr Robert, Bobby or just Bob.

Sir Peter Tapsell
Sir Peter Tapsell will be at the head of the queue

New MPs, after all the slog of campaigning, may feel like king or queen of their constituency.

But it's time to get used to their place - the bottom - of the parliamentary pecking order.

The Father of the House, the venerable Sir Peter, goes first. He is followed by the cabinet and shadow cabinet, other privy counsellors and ministers.

After that, it continues by experience. So, MPs first elected in 1970 go before those dating back only to 1974, and so on.

Last into Parliament, last onto the register.

Most MPs are sworn in over a couple of hours on the first day, although some time is also set aside on Thursday. At least it's all televised, so they can set their video to record it for posterity or use the BBC's Democracy Live site to replay it as often as they like online.

Portcullis House
Des res: MPs will clamour for a place in the Portcullis House office building

OK. Once MPs are safely in the Commons, what about a little personal space to reflect, deal with journalists, angry constituents, lobby groups and the rest of the manifold characters who have claims on their time?

The new intake will all get laptop computers and e-mail accounts, with many expected to "hot desk" in committee rooms for a while.

Finding permanent offices might prove trickier. Party whips play a large role in allocation, so it is advisable to be nice to them.


Once MPs are all settled in, they can learn the intricacies of Parliament.

Erskine May, the multi-volume guide to procedure is recommended for those with time on their hands. For everyone else - pretty much everyone, in fact - months of muddling along await.

Albert Finney playing Winston Churchill in BBC's The Gathering Storm
Don't expect to be as good at Churchill - just be nice about the voters

Politicians love to talk - it's what they do. But new MPs will have to wait a while to speak for the first time, because the Commons is a busy place, especially with such a large intake this year.

The maiden speech is traditionally uncontroversial and fairly short, including a tribute to the MP's predecessor, whether genuine or with tongue in cheek. It is customary to talk about their constituency too.

Other members are required to listen to a maiden speech without interruption and those following have to pay tribute. Such politeness is unlikely to last when such niceties are over.

New MPs wanting stylistic tips may choose to read through Parliament's own handy listing of all maiden speeches since 1979.


Much of Parliament works on convention, newer MPs supposedly learning from predecessors.

So the class of 2010 should avoid the mistakes of the outgoing Parliament and stay clear of duck houses, moat-cleaning or films of an adult nature, if charging the taxpayer for them.

It would be advisable to imagine, before submitting them, how each and every expenses claim might look on the cover of the nation's finest newspapers.

With many MPs "enjoying" relatively small majorities it is a good idea to go back as often as possible to the constituency before getting fully stuck into the clubbable London scene.

It may be a dispiriting thought, but the campaign for 2015 starts here - and you'll probably be gaining a vote every time you help a constituent from now on.

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