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User luchonacho asks about the process of MPs giving way in the UK House of Commons. I’m curious as to why MPs give way so frequently when:

  1. Parliamentary speaking time is at a premium
  2. Interruptions can break the rhetorical flow of an MP’s speech
  3. Allowing counterarguments can undermine an MP’s point

Is the reason for giving way merely about being seen to be a good parliamentary citizen, thereby earning soft favour with other MPs, the Speaker(s), and - possibly - their constituents? Or is there some potential tactical advantage that might be gained by giving way, raising the probability of swaying a debate in the MP’s favour?

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    They don't always give way immediately. It's quite frequent for MPs to say they'll finish their current point before giving way. – Denis de Bernardy Apr 4 '19 at 8:03
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    Because it enables a good, constructive discussion? – Polygnome Apr 4 '19 at 9:00
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    Politeness, tradition, facilitates debate, quid pro quo? – Lag Apr 4 '19 at 9:41
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Tradition. To quote from "Some Traditions and Customs of the House" 1

The style of debate in the House has traditionally been one of cut-and-thrust; listening to other Members' speeches and intervening in them in spontaneous reaction to opponents' views. It is thus very different from the debating style in use in some overseas legislatures, where reading of set-piece speeches from a podium or from individual desks is more common.

It also states that:

To maintain the spontaneity of debate, reading a prepared speech is not allowed though the use of notes is.

So, a debate in a hypothetical legislative chamber could involve each delegate who wants to participate standing up, reading out a speech from a script, and then sitting down.

But the longstanding tradition in the Commons is that a debate involves a lot of back-and-forth. Giving way when other MPs wish to intervene is one way in which this is achieved.

To address other points in the question:

Is the reason for giving way merely about being seen to be a good parliamentary citizen, thereby earning soft favour with other MPs, the Speaker(s), and - possibly - their constituents?

Well, I'm speculating a little, but one can imagine that if an MP gains a reputation for frequently taking interventions, then other MPs may be more willing to take interventions from that MP, and the Speaker may look favourably on the MP as someone who is, as you say, "a good parliamentary citizen".

If MP1 has the floor, and MP2 and MP3 indicate to them that they wish to intervene, the choice of whether to give way - and who to give way to - is entirely in the gift of MP1, and is never required. If time is limited, or MP1 wants to make more progress on what they were planning to say, then they are free to decline. If MP1 accepts an intervention from, say, MP2, the Speaker is not involved, other than to confirm the choice of MP2 by calling their name (often after they've started talking) - and of course to maintain order.

To give one such example (Hansard, 29 Jan 2019):

Angela Smith: rose—

Jeremy Corbyn: I am making progress, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Is the right hon. Gentleman giving way?

Jeremy Corbyn: indicated dissent.

Mr Speaker: He is not giving way. [...] The rules of this House are clear. If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to give way, he does so; if he does not wish to do so, he does not have to do so.

To return to the question:

Or is there some potential tactical advantage that might be gained by giving way, raising the probability of swaying a debate in the MP’s favour?

If an intervention is met with a good response or counterargument, then maybe. It's a bit of a gamble.

Note that interventions are also used to ask for clarification, or to encourage the MP to elaborate on the point they've just made. This kind of intervention is commonly used when a minister is making a statement to the House. (Once the minister has completed their statement, the Speaker will then call MPs to ask questions in the normal way, just like in a debate.)

(1) House of Commons Information Office, Factsheet G7.

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If I am not mistaking, it's not that they necessarily want to. It's that they ought to give way more often than not if they intend to stay on the Speaker's good side; and they must stop speaking if the Speaker explicitly instructs them to do so (by e.g. allowing another MP to speak).

The Speaker controls who speaks and when, and MPs are only allowed to speak if they catch the Speaker's eye (by rising or half rising, with the Speaker acknowledging them). So the issue here actually is whether the Speaker gives whichever MP is speaking a sign that another MP wants to interject. They can then accept or refuse to give way so whoever would like to interject can do so. But at the same time, the Speaker can also force them to give way by giving another MP the right to speak -- the incentive is thus strong to simply go with the flow and accept. And simply not call them to speak if the MP doesn't engage in the customary way debates are held.

Just to clarify one point: MPs can refuse to give way and do so at times, if only momentarily, but at the end of the day it's the Speaker's decision whether they're allowed to speak at all.

As a further indication to that effect (albeit the other way around), to demonstrate that the Speaker takes note of who should get frowned upon for not respecting courteous debate rules, here's the parliament's rules of behavior related to giving way (page 5, paragraph 8):

You may intervene briefly in someone else’s speech, but only if the Member who has the floor gives way. If the Member makes clear that they are not giving way, you should resume your seat. An intervention should relate directly to what has just been said and not be a short speech of its own. Particularly where there are time limits in operation, you should be conscious of the impact of multiple interventions on the chances of others getting the opportunity to participate. Excessive interventions may prejudice your chances of being called to speak earlier rather than later in the debate. It is a discourtesy to others to make an intervention shortly after arriving in the Chamber, and to leave again shortly afterwards.

On a separate and somewhat related note, the only person MPs are allowed to address in the House seems to be the Speaker. This rule probably makes debates more orderly by introducing a level of indirection, in addition to disallowing MPs to interrupt each other directly.

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    I'm afraid that this is incorrect. MPs are free to give way, or not give way, at their discretion. If an MP gives way to someone, the Speaker does call that MP's name to acknowledge this; but it's still up to the first MP. – Steve Melnikoff Apr 4 '19 at 11:55
  • @SteveMelnikoff: That's not how I understand the Parliament rules I linked to. They can refuse to give way and do so at time, if only momentarily, but at the end of the day it's the Speaker's decision to allow them to not give way. I've edited this in for clarity. – Denis de Bernardy Apr 4 '19 at 11:57
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    I'm sorry, but that's simply not true. Both links in the question above specify that it's up the MP speaking. Also, if one spends time watching debates (as is apparently quite popular at the moment, for some reason...), one can see this in action. – Steve Melnikoff Apr 4 '19 at 11:59
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    That page doesn't mention giving way. If MP1 gives way to MP2, the Speaker will call MP2 to interject (note that this is different from being called to speak in their own right; interjections are required to be brief, and MP2 can interject multiple times if MP1 wishes to give way). But if MP1 refuses to give way to MP2, the Speaker will not call MP2, and there is nothing MP2 can do about it. Hence the first sentence of this answer is, I'm afraid, incorrect. But you don't have to take my word for it. Go watch Parliament Live! :-) – Steve Melnikoff Apr 4 '19 at 12:07
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    From the Commons' Rules of Behaviour document:" You may intervene briefly in someone else’s speech, but only if the Member who has the floor gives way. If the Member makes clear that they are not giving way, you should resume your seat. An intervention should relate directly to what has just been said and not be a short speech of its own." – Steve Melnikoff Apr 4 '19 at 12:57

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