The Speaker of the House of Commons ruled recently that male MPs need not wear a tie when in the Chamber. There has been much fuss made in various newspapers about this. As well as ill-informed comments by MPs themselves. Many correspondents to letters pages seem to regard it as a lowering of standards.
The House of Commons is a strange and at times, eccentric place of work, with its old traditions and rules. All MPs still have a ribbon attached to their coat hook for hanging a sword on. Less than 20 years ago MPs still had a wear a collapsable top hat if they wanted to raise a point of order. MPs are also never referred to in the Chamber by their own name. My MP, for instance, is the Honourable Member for Vauxhall. MPs who are members of the Privy Council or have a knighthood are addressed as Right Honourable.
Such old style forms of address hardly sit well within a 21st century House of Commons. Many new MPs find themselves baffled by the procedures and customs. They do not make for a welcoming work environment. Some have likened it to going to Public School for the first time or even arriving at Hogwarts.
The Speaker, John Bercow gave no specific reason for his decision about ties other than it was for him as Speaker to decide what was “seemly and proper”. He continued saying that in his view; “a tie was no longer an essential part of business attire”.
But there is another story behind this announcement. That of making a “Reasonable Adjustment” at work for disabled people, as required by the Equality Act 2010. The new Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, Jared 0’Mara has cerebral palsy and is unable to do up buttons on a shirt or fasten a tie. He had previously indicated that he may need to ask for such an adjustment.
John Bercow, like any manager in a workplace has had to make a sensible and pragmatic decision. And not wanting to cause embarrassment to a new MP who has a disability, he made a general announcement. Would it have been better to give a more specific reason? I think not. As disabled people we do not what to be called out for our differences. But we do need employers to make suitable and reasonable adjustments so we can do our jobs easily and well.
This is precisely what John Bercow has done. He has also handled his decision with tact and sensitivity. I wish all employers would behave in the same way.
Many City firms, still require their female staff to wear skirts and high heeled shoes to work. This sexist and outdated attitude should be long gone. It was at the end of the 1960’s that the then Speaker Dr Horace King decreed that women could wear trousers in the House of Commons.
Surely this too, is a change that all employers should be making? Women should have choice in what they wear to work.
The law requires reasonable adjustments for disabled people. I can see no reason to restrict dress codes just to those of us that need them, they should be equally valid for all.
This post first appeared in my Blog on the Huffington Post UK site, where more of my writing can be found.