Publications / Briefings

Back to Business: Swearing-in

3 Jul 2024
Michael Shanks sworn-in as an MP, 16 October 2023. ©UK Parliament/Andy Bailey
Michael Shanks sworn-in as an MP, 16 October 2023. ©UK Parliament/Andy Bailey

The swearing-in of MPs usually begins the day after the Speaker’s election and can take several days; no other business is generally conducted before the King’s Speech. Why must MPs swear in? They can choose to take the 'Oath of Allegiance' of make a 'solemn Affirmation': what's the difference? How do Members of the House of Lords swear in?

The newly-elected Speaker swears the Oath of Allegiance in the House of Commons first, before all other Members, on his return from the House of Lords.

He will then be followed by other MPs in order of seniority beginning with the Father and Mother of the House, the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet. All other MPs are then called to take the Oath/Affirmation, usually starting with the shadow Cabinet and Privy Counsellors, followed by non-Cabinet ministers, and then other MPs in order of the Parliament in which they most recently entered the House.

A list of all those MPs returned at the General Election is formally submitted to the Clerk of the House of Commons by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. This is a ceremonial position for the conveying of the Crown’s commands to Parliament held by the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice (who is currently Dame Antonia Romeo).

The list of newly elected MPs is contained in a vellum-bound Return Book known colloquially as the ‘White Book’, reflecting the colour of the binding. (In practice, the list may be conveyed by the Deputy Clerk of the Crown in a copy of the Return Book.)

At the table of the House of Commons, in the presence of the Speaker a senior Clerk will invite each MP in turn to swear the Oath or indicate whether they wish to Affirm their allegiance.

If they take the Oath, the words are:

“I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles, his heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

If they choose to make a ‘solemn Affirmation’ the words are:

“I (name of MP) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm, that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles, his heirs and successors, according to law.”

The Oath / Affirmation must be taken / made in English first, but Members can follow this by taking it in the Welsh, Scots Gaelic or Cornish languages.

Once the Oath or the Affirmation has been administered, each MP signs the ‘Test Roll’ at the table in the House and is then introduced to the Speaker. The parchment book is known as the ‘Test Roll’ because historically the act of signing it was used to prove – or test – an MP’s loyalty to the Crown.

There are 15 different holy books that Members can swear their oaths on. ©UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
There are 15 different holy books that Members can swear their oaths on. ©UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

Three to four hours each day for two to four days may be set aside to enable all MPs to be sworn-in; the length of time set aside for the process is a matter for the Speaker. In 2019, when the Government wished to move quickly to begin consideration of Brexit-related legislation, swearing-in started on the day of the Speaker’s election.

Once swearing-in is complete, the House will adjourn until the day of the King’s Speech.

It is vital that all MPs take the Oath or Affirmation. By law, no MP can participate in the proceedings of the House (with the exception of the election of the Speaker) unless and until they have been sworn-in.

Under the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866, any MP who votes, or sits during any debate after the Speaker has been chosen, before they are sworn-in, will be subject to a £500 penalty; but more importantly their seat is vacated “in the same manner as if he were dead.”[1] A writ for a by-election would then be moved.

Once sworn-in, it had been customary for MPs not to participate in proceedings until they had made their Maiden Speech. However, this custom was relaxed in the 2010 Parliament because of the number of new MPs. As there will be many first-time MPs in the new Parliament, this relaxation of the custom may be repeated.

Sinn Fein have a policy of abstentionism from Westminster and their MPs decline to take the Oath or make the Affirmation because it would require them to swear allegiance to the British Monarch. As a result, they cannot take their seats, participate in parliamentary proceedings or draw a salary. However, they can claim parliamentary expenses for office and staffing costs as well as some accommodation and travel expenses.

The swearing-in of Peers in the House of Lords is similar to that of MPs in the House of Commons. Members of the Upper House present their ‘writ of summons’ to attend the Parliament and swear the Oath / Affirmation. Additionally, they must sign a commitment to abide by the House of Lords Code of Conduct.

©UK Parliament/Maria Unger

The new Parliament will assemble on Tuesday 9 July 2024, five days after the General Election. This guide explains the ceremonial, legislative, organisational and procedural processes that are engaged at the start of the Parliament. It examines the challenges a July General Election poses to the parliamentary calendar over the Summer and looks at the Government's plans with respect to legislation and public finances.

News / What has Keir Starmer got in common with Robert Redford? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 42

The legislative process is underway following the King’s Speech, so what bills are planned? This week, Professor Philip Cowley, an expert on parliamentary rebellions, joins the podcast to discuss managing a mega-majority. Intriguingly, he reveals why Keir Starmer reminds him of Robert Redford.

19 Jul 2024
Read more

Briefings / Back to Business 2024: A guide to the start of the new Parliament

The new Parliament will assemble on Tuesday 9 July 2024, five days after the General Election. This guide explains the ceremonial, legislative, organisational and procedural processes that are engaged at the start of the Parliament.

03 Jul 2024
Read more

Guides / How does Parliament approve Government spending? A procedural guide to the Estimates process

In order to incur expenditure the Government needs to obtain approval from Parliament for its departmental spending plans. The annual Estimates cycle is the means by which the House of Commons controls the Government’s plans for the spending of money raised through taxation.

16 Jan 2023
Read more

Blog / Mock Elections 2024: The results are in!

Results are in for the Hansard Society's nationwide Mock Elections. Thousands of pupils have cast their ballots and the results show that Labour has won the election among pupils across the country, with 27.3% of the vote.

04 Jul 2024
Read more

News / Who will be the stars of the new Parliament? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 40

With a 50% new intake and 40% female representation, the latest parliamentary group promises exciting new talent. Renowned journalist and 'Tomorrow’s MPs' watcher Michael Crick shares his insights on the standout figures to watch in the coming years.

07 Jul 2024
Read more