UK Politics

MPs new and old prepare to be sworn in

Paul Blomfield MP shakes hands with the Speaker
Image caption Labour MP Paul Blomfield shakes hands with the Speaker in 2010

Parliament loves its traditions. So, new and returning MPs begin as they are supposed to go on - with a ritual that dates back at least 400 years.

Before anyone can take part in a debate, vote or even sit down on the iconic green benches, they have to "swear in" with an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

They even risk not being paid if they don't take the oath in their first six months in the job.

Non-believers can make a "solemn affirmation" that leaves out any mention of God.

It's taken very seriously too.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The late Tony Banks crossed his fingers while he took the oath

Anyone who refuses or forgets to swear in at the start of a new Parliament and tries to carry on regardless faces serious penalties.

They can be fined £500. And they lose their seat, too - "as if they were dead" say the rules, rather firmly.

So MPs start work after the election with a combination of two great British traditions: the oath of allegiance and a long queue.


I (name of Member) swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.


I (name of Member) do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm, that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law.

It takes about eight hours for everyone to file past the despatch box to take their oath and shake hands with the Speaker.

Equality has its limits here: they line up in order of seniority.

The Father of the House (the longest continuous serving MP) goes first, followed by cabinet ministers, shadow cabinet ministers, all the way down - presumably - to the most nervous new MP who never really expected to get elected at all.

Image caption Former UKIP MP Mark Reckless was sworn in after winning a by-election
Image caption It was a tight squeeze for the 2010 intake

Although the tradition goes back centuries, there have been changes.

For many years, the religious restrictions of the oath effectively debarred people from other faiths, including Roman Catholics, Jews and Quakers, from entering Parliament.

Now, not only can non-believers opt out of any mention of God, MPs of other faiths can swear on their own holy book: the Koran, the Guru Granth Sahib and the Old Testament in Hebrew are all available.

Those books which mustn't be handled by non-believers are kept in slip-cases so that the clerks can hand them to the MP without causing offence.

But those concessions still don't satisfy everyone. Sinn Féin MPs refuse to swear allegiance to the Crown so they don't take their seats in Parliament.

In 1997, a Labour MP who was no royalist - the late Tony Banks - got round the problem, at least with his own conscience, by crossing his fingers while he took the oath.

The former Labour minister, Tony Benn, made it clear on one occasion that he was only taking the oath because he had to.

Renew acquaintances

He also claimed Labour's Dennis Skinner had once uttered his own version: "I solemnly swear that I will bear true and faithful allegiance to the Queen when she pays her income tax."

A few years ago, a group of MPs, led by the Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, called for an alternative oath, allowing MPs to swear allegiance to their constituents, instead of the monarch.

It's an occasion to renew old acquaintances and form new ones, and sometimes MPs do forget that the swearing-in process is filmed and broadcast, as they chat to officials and each other in the queue.

In May 2010, the Conservative, Andrew Mitchell, famous now for what he may or may not have said to a police officer, had been recently appointed as international development secretary.

After swearing his solemn oath, the microphones picked him up proudly telling the clerk: "I've just sent 45 million condoms to Uganda!"

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