Following calls from Michael Fabricant (see the News Release dated 11th February ), the Speaker of the House of Commons has stepped in to prevent a deterioration of standards in the Commons chamber by providing all MPs with an updated list of parliamentary "conventions and courtesies".
Michael Martin, who has watched with growing dismay regular incidents of bad manners on the green leather benches, has produced a 21st century guide to Westminster etiquette. He has sent every MP a three-page letter detailing the "dos and don’ts" in the chamber, which takes into account the proliferation of mobiles, pagers, palm pilots and other electronic gadgets.
But he has also reminded his colleagues of some of the long-standing customs of the House "to which I attach importance" that are being missed by new members and veterans, including some ministers.
Much of his advice has to do with practicalities of "catching the Speaker’s eye" in order to speak in a debate or to intervene at Question Time. His office keeps records of how often MPs are called to ensure no one is left out.
He stressed the importance of showing "respect to the House" by making a "slight bow to the Chair" on entering and leaving the chamber. Members should also avoid crossing the "line of sight" between the Speaker and an MP who has the floor.
Following repeated complaints from MPs about those who rely on written speeches and questions, they are reminded that they may refer to notes but not read them out loud.
And in an acknowledgement that MPs increasingly make use of technology, he tells them not to use their gadgets to cheat by getting information before their colleagues. "Mobile phones may not be used in the chamber," he warned. "Pagers may be switched on as long as they are in silent mode.
"Members should not use electronic devices as an aide-memoir or to receive messages when addressing the House."
Mr Martin wrote to MPs to remind them of courtesies at the start of the Parliament, but has noticed that too many of them appear to have forgotten the rules that govern parliamentary business.
Michael Fabricant, who warned Mr Martin earlier this month that some of the customs of the Commons had been "degraded" and urged him to produce a guidebook on Commons courtesies, welcomed the guidance.
"I believe that the Speaker has spelled out with clarity what he expects of Members of Parliament with regard to the etiquette that we should show each other in the Chamber," says Mr Fabricant.
"I can only hope that those who have disregarded these niceties in the past will now respect them in the future. The Speaker has produced a set of guidelines that recognise our traditions but are also appropriate for a modern Parliament in the 21st century."