§ Madam Speaker
I wish to make a statement about the availability of services in the House for those who do not take their seats after being returned here as Members.
This House has traditionally accommodated great extremes of opinion. I am sure therefore that the House would not wish to put any unnecessary obstacle in the way of Members wishing to fulfil their democratic mandate by attending, speaking and voting in this House. Equally, I feel certain that those who choose not to take their seats should not have access to the many benefits and facilities that are now available in the House without also taking up their responsibilities as Members.
The present position is that, under the terms of the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866, any Member who fails to take the oath or to make the affirmation that is required by law and who then votes or sits during any debate after the election of the Speaker is subject to a penalty of £500 on each occasion and his or her seat is automatically vacated. In 1924, one of my predecessors ruled that any such Member could not receive a salary, and this regulation also applies to allowances.
In the interests of the House, and making use of the power vested in the office of the Speaker to control the accommodation and services in the Commons parts of the Palace of Westminster and the precincts, I have decided to extend these restrictions. As from the date of the end of the debate on the Queen's Speech, the services that are available to all other Members from the six Departments of the House and beyond will not be open for use by Members who have not taken their seats by swearing or by affirmation.
For the avoidance of doubt, a schedule listing these various services will be appended to this statement in the Official Report. One of the purposes of this will, of course, be to enable officers and servants of the House and others to administer these new regulations with clarity and precision.
Of course, I accept that there may be occasional cases where an elected Member, for reasons of health or for other good reasons, cannot attend to take his or her seat immediately after election, but, nevertheless, desires to do so at the earliest possible moment. Provided such a Member sends me a letter informing me of his or her 36 inability to attend and signifying his or her intention to attend to swear or affirm at the earliest possible time, I will give instructions that these new regulations should not be applied. This should be done not later than the date of the end of the debate on the Queen's Speech or, in the case of a by-election, after 10 sitting days.
The House will have noted that the date which I have set for the introduction of these regulations is the end of the debate on the Queen's Speech. That is not an ideal date, but the House needs notice of these changes. In a future Parliament, the effective date both for the cessation of services and for the deadline for the sending of the letter requesting excusal will be the date of the Queen's Speech itself.
The services to which the new regulations apply include:
- Legal services
- Procedural services, including the tabling of questions, motions and amendments, and public petitions
- Broadcasting services
- Vote Office services
- Services available from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
- The provision of passes, special permits and car parking facilities
- Access to those areas within the parliamentary precincts which are open only to pass holders
- The booking of Committee Rooms, conference rooms and interview rooms
- Office accommodation services for Members and their staff
- Computer services, except those available to the public
- The allocation of Gallery tickets
- The sponsoring of exhibitions in the Upper Waiting Hall
- Members' medical services
- Library and research services, except for those services of the Public Information Office generally available to the public
- Services provided by the Official Report
- Payroll and other financial services provided to Members and their staff
- Insurance services
- Catering services provided for Members and their staff, including the sponsoring of banqueting services
- Police and security advice available within the precincts
- Services in the Members' post offices
- Travel services