The UK Parliament has eased its conventional dress code to allow male MPs the option of not having to wear ties in the chamber. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow made the change after a Liberal Democrat MP, Tom Brake, asked a question during a session yesterday without his tie on. He was challenged by Conservative MP, Peter Bone, who asked the Speaker why Brake was being allowed to address the House without the appropriate neckwear. “It seems to me that as long as a member arrives in the House in what might be thought to be business-like attire, the question of whether that member is wearing a tie is not absolutely front and center stage,” Bercow said. “Do I think it’s essential that a member wears a tie? No. I think there has always been some discretion for the Chair to decide what is seemly and proper, and members shouldn’t behave in a way that is disrespectful of their colleagues or of the institution,” he said.
It has been a long-standing parliamentary convention in the UK that male MPs must wear both a jacket and tie as part of a set of rules governing conduct and courtesy in the Parliament. But the Speaker has discretion about who he can call to speak in the House and Bercow is known for his unconventional ways and efforts to break down a stiff upper lip approach to doing things in Parliament. While there are spare ties and jackets available in the Parliament building for those who may forget to bring their own, there is no exact dress code. “Convention has been that for men, a jacket and tie is expected; for women, the equivalent level of formality should be observed,” the guidelines issued to MPs read. The Erskine May Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings, and Usage of Parliament, a parliamentary practice guide regarded as the last word on parliamentary etiquette, also states that the dress code rules are a custom rather than a rule.
“It remains the custom for gentlemen members to wear jackets and ties, but the Speaker has not enforced the practice in all circumstances,” it reads. However, Tory MP Bone remains unhappy with the Speaker’s decision, warning it could lead to a complete breach of dress code. “It’s a matter of opinion but generally speaking I thought the rule that male colleagues had to wear a tie was perfectly reasonable… If you are not wearing a tie, are we going to turn up in jeans?”