11 Things That Are Forbidden in British Parliament

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: iStock.
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: iStock.

The UK Parliament is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world. And because of that—just like all of the old-fashioned and outdated laws that still sit on the statute books of towns across the U.S.—it operates under a number of strict rules and ancient traditions that at first glance might seem at odds with modern politics. Or, for that matter, just plain odd. Here are a few of its prohibitions.

1. GIVING A SPEECH IN A LANGUAGE OTHER THAN ENGLISH ...

It’s not permitted to give a speech in the UK Parliament in any language except English unless absolutely necessary—despite the fact that from 1916–22 Britain had a native Welsh speaker as Prime Minister. (Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords notes that "The use of the Welsh language is permitted for the purpose of committee proceedings held in Wales." In 2017, the rules were relaxed slightly to allow Welsh to be used in Welsh Grand Committee meetings at Westminster.)

2. ... OR READING A SPEECH.

According to Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, in most instances, the reading of speeches is "alien to the custom of this House, and injurious to the traditional conduct of its debates." That said, members may have "'extended notes' from which to speak, but it is not in the interests of good debate that they should follow them closely."

3. USING NAMES.

Members of the House are also prohibited from calling one another by name, meaning all comments must be addressed via the Speaker to fellow “honourable members.” Only the Speaker may use members’ first names (and will rebuke others if they fall short of the rules for correctly addressing one another).

4. LETTING THE SPEAKER "WALK" TO THEIR CHAIR AFTER ELECTION.

Tradition dictates that the Speaker must be physically “dragged” to the Speaker’s chair when they’re elected to the position (although it's more of a ceremonial dragging than an actual one). Supposedly this bizarre ritual is a holdover from the days when the Speaker of the House—once tasked with dictating Parliament’s will to the king—often found themselves first in line for imprisonment (or worse) if the king didn’t like what they had to say.

5. GETTING A VISIT FROM THE MONARCH.

On the subject of kings, no reigning monarch has entered the House of Commons since 1642, when Charles I stormed the House of Commons, an event that eventually led to civil war. When the queen officially oversees the State Opening of Parliament every year, her speech has to be read from the nearby House of Lords.

6. AND 7. TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS AND APPLAUDING.

Though members may have electronic devices—"provided that they cause no disturbance and are not used in such a way as to impair decorum"—they have to be in silent mode and can't be used "to film, take photographs or make audio recordings in or around the Chamber" [PDF]. (And don't even think about taking a phone call.) Cameras were only allowed in Parliament in 1989; according to the BBC's broadcasting regulations, “no extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be used in any light entertainment programme or in a programme of political satire” with only a few exceptions.

Applause is also forbidden, which 56 newly-elected Scottish National Party MPs found to their cost in 2015, when they were admonished by the Speaker for spontaneously applauding their leader, Angus Robertson.

8., 9., AND 10. DRESSING CASUALLY, WEARING SUITS OF ARMOR, AND HAVING SWORDS.

Parliament’s strict rules even extend to what Members are permitted to wear, with current guidelines expecting “businesslike attire” to be worn at all times. There have been some exceptions to Parliament’s strict dress code over the years, mostly as a means of protesting or raising awareness for various causes. In 2013, British Green Party MP Caroline Lucas wore a bold t-shirt protesting against the appearance of topless women in tabloid newspapers—and was promptly pulled up by the Speaker for failing to meet Parliament’s strict sartorial rules. And even Oliver Cromwell, the records claim, raised eyebrows way back in the 17th century for wearing a “plain cloth” suit that was “not very clean” and seemed to have been made by “an ill country tailor.” Worse still, his hat “was without a hatband.”

Wearing a suit of armor is also banned, thanks to a law introduced by King Edward II in 1313. The same statute banned swords from the Chamber—although tradition states that the two opposing benches in the House of Commons are positioned precisely two sword-lengths away from one another. (There is one exception: The Serjeant at Arms is allowed to carry a sword.)

11. USING "UNPARLIAMENTARY LANGUAGE."

Of all the UK Parliament’s rules, however, those surrounding what is officially known as “unparliamentary language” are among the most curious. For centuries, the Speaker of the House has repeatedly pulled Members of Parliament up on their use of abusive, insulting, or slanderous language, admonishing them for doing so and asking them to withdraw their contribution from the parliamentary record.

It is not permitted, for instance, to accuse a fellow MP of being a liar, a hypocrite, or a traitor. It is also against the rules to accuse anyone in the Chamber of being drunk. But there is not, according to Parliament’s own rules, a “hard and fast list of unparliamentary words.” Whether something is in breach of the rulebook depends simply “on the context” in which it was said. Nevertheless, some of the words that have been deemed unparliamentary over the years include:

  • Ass
  • Blackguard
  • Coward
  • Git
  • Guttersnipe
  • Hooligan
  • Hypocrite
  • Idiot
  • Ignoramus
  • Pipsqueak
  • Rat
  • Slimy
  • Sod
  • Squirt
  • Stoolpigeon
  • Swine
  • Tart
  • Traitor
  • Wart

Any MP found to use language along these lines is typically asked by the Speaker to withdraw their comments (as Labour MP Tom Watson did in 2010 when he called Education Secretary Michael Gove “a miserable pipsqueak of a man”) or else will be asked to leave the chamber (as fellow Labour MP Dennis Skinner did when he refused to withdraw calling Prime Minister David Cameron “Dodgy Dave” during the Panama Papers scandal in 2016).

Some MPs, however, have found ways of getting around Parliament’s rules on unparliamentary language. The phrase “terminological inexactitude” is used to avoid accusing a fellow member of telling what would otherwise be known as a “lie.” In 1983, Labour MP Clare Short attempted to get around the ban on accusing fellow members of drunkenness by euphemistically claiming Conservative Junior Employment Minister Alan Clark was “incapable.” And according to one (almost certainly apocryphal) tale, in the 19th century, opposition leader (and future Prime Minister) Benjamin Disraeli was asked to withdraw a statement he had made accusing half the government of being “asses.” In his half-hearted apology he stated, “Mr Speaker, I withdraw. Half the cabinet are not asses.”

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BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

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11 Fascinating Facts About Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Chesnot/Getty Images News

They blooped and beeped and ate, played, and pooped, and, for ‘90s kids, the egg-shaped Tamagotchi toys were magic. They taught the responsibility of tending to a “pet,” even though their shrill sounds were annoying to parents and teachers and school administrators. Nearly-real funerals were held for expired Tamagotchi, and they’ve even been immortalized in a museum (of sorts). Here are 11 things you should know about the keychain toy that was once stashed in every kid’s backpack.

1. The idea for the Tamagotchi came from a female office worker at Bandai.

Aki Maita was a 30-year-old “office lady” at the Japanese toy company Bandai when inspiration struck. She wanted to create a pet for kids—one that wouldn't bark or meow, make a mess in the house, or lead to large vet bills, according to Culture Trip. Maita took her idea to Akihiro Yokoi, a toy designer at another company, and the duo came up with a name and backstory for their toy: Tamagotchis were aliens, and their egg served as protection from the Earth’s atmosphere. They gave prototype Tamagotchis to high school girls in Shibuya, and tweaked and honed the design of the toy based on their feedback.

2. The name Tamagotchi is a blend of two Japanese words.

The name Tamagotchi is a mashup between the Japanese words tamago and tomodachi, or egg and friend, according to Culture Trip. (Other sources have the name meaning "cute little egg" or "loveable egg.")

3. Tamagotchis were released in Japan in 1996.

A picture of a tamagotchi toy.
Tamagotchis came from a faraway planet called "Planet Tamagotchi."
Museum Rotterdam, Wikimedia Commons//CC BY-SA 3.0

Bandai released the Tamagotchi in Japan in November 1996. The tiny plastic keychain egg was equipped with a monochrome LCD screen that contained a “digital pet,” which hatched from an egg and grew quickly from there—one day for a Tamagotchi was equivalent to one year for a human. Their owners used three buttons to feed, discipline, play with, give medicine to, and clean up after their digital pet. It would make its demands known at all hours of the day through bloops and bleeps, and owners would have to feed it or bathe it or entertain it.

Owners that successfully raised their Tamagotchi to adulthood would get one of seven characters, depending on how they'd raised it; owners that were less attentive faced a sadder scenario. “Leave one unattended for a few hours and you'll return to find that it has pooped on the floor or, worse, died,” Wired wrote. The digital pets would eventually die of old age at around the 28-day mark, and owners could start fresh with a new Tamagotchi.

4. Tamagotchis were an immediate hit.

The toys were a huge success—4 million units were reportedly sold in Japan during their first four months on shelves. By 1997, Tamagotchis had made their way to the United States. They sold for $17.99, or around $29 in today's dollars. One (adult) reviewer noted that while he was "drawn in by [the Tamagotchi's] cleverness," after several days with the toy, "the thrill faded quickly. I'm betting the Tamagotchi will be the Pet Rock of the 1990s—overwhelmingly popular for a few months, and then abandoned in the fickle rush to some even cuter toy."

The toy was, in fact, overwhelmingly popular: By June 1997, 10 million of the toys had been shipped around the world. And according to a 2017 NME article, a whopping 82 million Tamagotchi had been sold since their release into the market in 1997.

5. Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi won an award for inventing the Tamagotchi.

In 1997, the duo won an Ig Nobel Prize in economics, a satiric prize that’s nonetheless presented by Nobel laureates at Harvard, for "diverting millions of person-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets" by creating the Tamagotchi.

6. Tamagotchis weren't popular with teachers.

Some who grew up with Tamagotchi remember sneaking the toys into school in their book bags. The toys were eventually banned in some schools because they were too distracting and, in some cases, upsetting for students. In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article titled “The Tamagotchi Generation,” Andrew Ratner wrote that the principal at his son’s elementary school sent out a memo forbidding the toys “because some pupils got so despondent after their Tamagotchis died that they needed consoling, even care from the school nurse.”

7. One pet cemetery served as a burial ground for expired Tamagotchi.

Terry Squires set aside a small portion of his pet cemetery in southern England for dead Tamagotchi. He told CNN in 1998 that he had performed burials for Tamagotchi owners from Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, and Canada, all of whom ostensibly shipped their dead by postal mail. CNN noted that "After the Tamagotchis are placed in their coffins, they are buried as mourners look on, their final resting places topped with flowers."

8. There were many copycat Tamagotchi.

The success of the Tamagotchi resulted in both spin-offs and copycat toys, leading PC Mag to dub the late ’90s “The Golden Age of Virtual Pets.” There was the Digimon, a Tamagotchi spin-off by Bandai that featured monsters and was marketed to boys. (There were also Tamagotchi video games.) And in 1997, Tiger Electronics launched Giga Pets, which featured real animals (and, later, dinosaurs and fictional pets from TV shows). According to PC Mag, Giga Pets were very popular in the United States but “never held the same mystique as the original Tamagotchi units.” Toymaker Playmates's Nano Pets were also a huge success, though PC Mag noted they were “some of the least satisfying to take care of."

9. Rare Tamagotchis can be worth a lot of money.

According to Business Insider, most vintage Tamagotchis won't fetch big bucks on the secondary market. (On eBay, most are priced at around $50.) The exception are rare editions like “Yasashii Blue” and “Tamagotchi Ocean,” which go for $300 to $450 on eBay. As Complex notes, "There were over 40 versions (lines) of Tamagotchi released, and each line featured a variety of colors and variations ... yours would have to be one of the rarest models to be worth the effort of resale."

10. A new generation of Tamagotchis were released in 2017 for the toy's 20th anniversary.

The 2017 re-release of the Tamagotchi in its packaging.
Bandai came to the aid of nostalgic '90s kids when it re-released a version of the original Tamagotchis for the toy's 20th anniversary.
Chesnot/Getty Images

In November 2017, Bandai released a 20th anniversary Tamagotchi that, according to a press release [PDF], was "a first-of-its-kind-anywhere exact replica of the original Tamagotchi handheld digital pet launched ... in 1996." However, as The Verge reported, the toys weren't an exact replica: "They're about half the size, the LCD display is square rather than rectangle, and those helpful icons on the top and bottom of the screen seem to be gone now." In 2019, new Tamagotchis were released; they were larger than the originals, featured full-color displays, and retailed for $60.

11. The original Tamagotchi’s sound has been immortalized in a virtual museum.

The Museum of Endangered Sounds is a website that seeks to immortalize the digital sounds that become extinct as we hurtle through the evolution of technology. “The crackle of a dial-up modem. The metallic clack of a 3.5-inch floppy slotting into a Macintosh disk drive. The squeal of the newborn Tamagotchi. They are vintage sounds that no oldies station is ever going to touch,” The Washington Post wrote in a 2012 profile of the museum. So, yes, the sound of that little Tamagotchi is forever preserved, should it someday, very sadly, cease to exist completely.