Commons toppers are old hat

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THE COMMONS is to abolish the absurd rule that requires MPs making a point of order to wear a top hat, or other form of "cover", during a parliamentary vote.

The last occasion television viewers might have seen the practice was on Friday, when points of order were raised during votes on the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill.

A report from the Commons Modernisation Committee said yesterday: "At present, if a Member seeks to raise a point of order during a division, he or she must speak `seated and covered'. In practice, this means that an opera hat which is kept at each end of the Chamber has to be produced and passed to the Member concerned.

"This particular practice has almost certainly brought the House into greater ridicule than almost any other, particularly since the advent of television. We do not believe that it can be allowed to continue."

The committee recommendation - which will be accepted by the House - is that in future, such points of order should either be made directly to the person in the chair, or, more publicly, from one of the benches close to the Speaker's chair, where the complainant can clearly be seen and heard.

The committee also recommended that another archaic practice, "spying strangers", to force a vote on clearing the Chamber of public and press, should be replaced by a more modern device to test the presence of a 40- strong quorum of MPs in the House.