HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
I was proud, this week, to be the first Minister to bring legislation before the new Parliament. The Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Bill will modernise ATOL, the consumer protection scheme for package holidays that include a flight, and allow UK businesses to trade across Europe more easily.
It will ensure that a wider body of consumers are protected and provide an ability for the scheme to adapt to future trends, including changes that may be brought about as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
I took the opportunity during my speech on Monday to comment on the Speaker’s unusual pronouncement about sartorial standards in the House of Commons.
He had suggested that, contrary to the House’s long-standing customs, he would no longer refuse to call a male Member to speak who was not wearing a tie. In defence of the dignity of the House and out of respect for its traditions, I made clear that I would take interventions only from those wearing ties, producing a spare tie in case any Member found himself wanting.
Traditions like this matter because they embody the collective wisdom of ages. It goes without saying that if a Member, because of infirmity, illness or disability, is unable to do so, the House should be sensitive to his needs as a matter not only of courtesy but of common decency.
Wheelchair-using Members, for instance, have in the past been excused the rule that one must stand to speak. No-one should be made to feel embarrassed or, worse still, prevented from doing their job. My passion in fighting for the interests of disabled people will never fade.
But this was not the issue at hand – the Speaker’s “ruling” over the necessity of ties related to the attire of the Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, who has no difficulty in wearing one beyond poor taste and poor judgement.
What Philip Larkin wrote on visiting a church holds true for Parliament: “A serious house on serious earth it is, / In whose blent air all our compulsions meet, / Are recognised, and robed as destinies.”
What we wear is an outward representation of our inner dignity and pride: grace, elegance and style are timeless virtues which Parliament reflects in its own manner and metre.
This out-of-date nonsense from Mr Brake is reminiscent of the dark days when some attacked school uniforms as “old fashioned”. His views are a throwback to the “do as you please” mindset that typified the bourgeois left then, and still does.
I am sure that most of my constituents dress more or less formally depending upon the gravity of the occasion – after all, what one wears at a wedding or funeral is different from what might be worn at the beach or in the garden.
The real test is appropriateness and an understanding of the significance of totems and symbols. Formal wear is an emblem of seriousness and Parliament is a serious place, whatever Mr Brake might think or be.