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Parliamentary Procedure: Seated And Covered

This British article explains the arcane practice of members of parliament remaining seated and covered in the chamber.

The article is taken from The Backbencher, the weekly newsletter from The Guardian.

Seated and Covered

House of Commons rules used to demand that an MP who wanted to make a point of order during a division was “seated and covered”. This indicated that they were not trying to start a debate, which is forbidden at this time.

When MPs stopped carrying hats themselves, the Serjeant-at-Arms kept a couple of collapsible versions at each end of the chamber for them to borrow.

But some MPs – notably Dennis Skinner – were too embarrassed to wear the hat, especially when the Commons was televised: “Nearly every time there was an argument during a division in the past 18 years, I wanted to raise a point of order… but I could not bring myself to wear the top hat,” Mr Skinner complained three years ago.

Others, like Derek Fatchett, wore a handkerchief “knotted in the peculiar seaside way”.

But a notable row developed when MPs tried to substitute Order Papers. “I can envisage a situation where a properly constructed paper hat was appropriate, but not an Order Paper,” pronounced the Deputy Speaker in 1993.

Five years later, the Modernisation Committee intervened, and the opera hat was consigned to the Stockport Hatting Museum, never to be worn again.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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