What are the rules of speaking in Parliament and will Nigel Farage to be on his best behaviour?

Nigel Farage will need to be on his best behaviour in his new role as a Member of Parliament, as strict rules govern the House of Commons. The Reform UK leader, now an MP representing Clacton, is faced with strict set of rules which say all must be treated with respect while serving in Parliament.

The former UKIP leader made his name in the European parliament in 2010, calling a fellow politician a “damp rag” when he addressed Herman Van Rompuy, the former Belgian prime minister, who was appointed to the new post of European Council president.

He said: “I don’t want to be rude, but, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk and the question I want to ask is: ‘Who are you?’”

Mr Farage was first elected to the European parliament in 1999, but it was this speech and other acts such as adorning desks with union jacks and wearing protest T-shirts that propelled him into the limelight.

Gawain Towler, Reform UK’s head of press, who has been working with Mr Farage for 20 years, said: “Suddenly the media sat up and took notice. That really put Nigel Farage on the map,” recalling “hundreds of thousands of views” on Greek, Italian and Dutch YouTube.

And the controversial MP has wasted no time since his new appointment last week to make waves in parliament. Mr Farage used his first Commons speech to accuse “little man” John Bercow of trying to “overturn” Brexit during his time as Commons speaker.

The Reform UK leader, who dubbed his party the “new kids on the block”, elicited groans in the chamber as he took aim at Mr Bercow when welcoming Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s re-election as Speaker.

Mr Farage said: “We absolutely endorse (Sir Lindsay) entirely for this job. And it is, I must say, in marked contrast to the little man that was there before you and besmirched the office so dreadfully in doing his best to overturn the biggest democratic result in the history of the country. We support you Sir, fully.”

But what are the rules around speeches in the House of Commons? Read on for more.

House of Commons guidelines

In the rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House of Commons guidelines, it states: “These rules are important in maintaining the good order of proceedings and the civility of debate–so that all Members are able to participate and be heard with respect.”

The guidance was agreed upon by the Speaker and Deputy Speakers and is intended to help members, particularly those new to the House, in understanding the behaviour expected in the Chamber of the House of Commons and in Westminster Hall.

Wanting to speak

MPs wanting to speak out must do so politely and plan it in advance. The guidance says that “if you wish to catch the Speaker’s eye to speak in a debate in the Chamber, you should write to the Speaker in advance.

It adds: “You should also write if you wish to speak in a Westminster Hall debate of an hour or more in length. If you have not written in, you may still seek to take part in a debate by approaching the chair or trying to catch the chair’s eye during the debate, but those who have written in advance will usually be called first.”

Taking turns

Those who have asked to speak are then under an obligation to turn up to the debate and must be present to listen to the views of others.

The guidance reads: “You should plan to be present for most of it. Debates in the Chamber should be an exchange of views. If you are hoping to be called to speak in a debate you must be present for the opening speeches. After you have spoken you must, as a very minimum, remain in the Chamber for at least the next two speeches and you must return to hear the winding-up speeches at the end of the debate.”

Talking back

There are strict rules about interpreting others. Debate is said to be “encouraged” if done correctly, but there are rules on how this can be done: “You may intervene briefly in someone else’s speech, but only if the Member who has the floor gives way. If the Member makes clear that they are not giving way, you must resume your seat. An intervention should relate directly to what has just been said and not be a short speech of its own.”

Speaking and seating in the chamber

Those wishing to take part in a debate must be seated within the formal limits of the Chamber - those sitting on the cross-benches below the bar will not be asked to take part.

MPs must also “face the Chair” when addressing the House and it is considered “discourteous” to turn your back on the Chair. The guidance reads: “It also means your words may be lost. The television cameras and microphones covering proceedings for broadcast have been placed to give the clearest coverage of Members whilst addressing the House through the Chair, and the Official Report (Hansard) relies on the feed from these microphones to record what you say accurately.”

Listening politely and being mindful of your body language

Members are told they must take care that private conversation or observations on debate do not disturb proceedings or make it difficult to hear whoever is speaking.

According to the guidance, “you should remember that the TV cameras do not focus only on the Member speaking but also broadcast occasional reaction shots during debates and question time”.

Use of devices

Hand-held electronic devices are allowed in the House of Commons “provided that they cause no disturbance and are not used in sucha way as to impair decorum”. The guidance states that they should be used to “enable your participation in debate”.

It adds: “You may use electronic devices in place of paper notes in debate and may consult them when you are not speaking, but they must not distract you or others from the debate going on or make it look as if you are not listening. All such devices must be in silent mode and the taking of telephone calls or listening to voicemails in the Chamber is prohibited.”

Use of language

Official guidance explains that “you should always bear in mind Erskine May’s advice in ‘Parliamentary Practice’ that “good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language”, adding: “There is no hard and fast list of unparliamentary words. Whether something said is a breach of order depends on the context.

“The Speaker deprecates personal remarks about other Members. Any abusive or insulting language used in debate will be required to be withdrawn immediately.”