What is a division? Where is the Lobby? What is the difference between a PPS, a PPC, an APPG and a POPTART? And, the greatest mystery of them all, just what exactly are the Lords doing when they are “at pleasure”?
One of the most overwhelming difficulties of starting a job in parliament can be coming to terms with the language, which quite often might as well be Swahili for a newcomer.
In an attempt to help the public connect with parliament, the Modernisation Committee made some changes to the language and procedures used around the place. For example, the procedure whereby Members wishing to raise a point of order used to have to wear a special hat, like a pirate, was abolished in 1998 to the dismay of the more fashionably (and piratically ) minded MPs of the time.
Similarly, ‘I spy strangers’ (formerly used to request that the House sit in private), ‘strangers’ being members of the public, was abolished in and replaced with the rather less romantic request that the ‘House sit in private’.
While there may be a certain smugness which emanates from being able to understand such obscurities, many feel that the use of such language further turns off an already disengaged public. Others argue it creates a sense of occasion and tradition and helps maintain dignified discussion.
The Parliament UK external website includes a glossary of terms at http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/ – let them know if you think of any they’ve missed out!
The BBC also has a very good jargon-buster, called the A-Z of Parliament, which can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/a-z_of_parliament/default.stm.
Parliament’s Education Service works with schools to support young people’s understanding of Parliament and democracy; they are here: http://www.parliament.uk/education/online-resources/parliament-explained/
ES March 2013