The House of Commons (image below from Wikipedia) has two red lines on the floor.

House of Commons room

Wikipedia states that:

In front of each set of benches a red line is drawn, which members are traditionally not allowed to cross during debates.

These lines can clearly be seen in the picture.

I have been following a couple of live parliamentary debates recently and I noticed that Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP in the House of Commons (the actual party leader is not an MP) regularly makes his statements while standing firmly across the line; see for example the image below (taken from the Press and Journal; purely the first random image from Google Images on which the line and his feet could be seen) which shows both feet inside the line.

Ian Blackford speaking in the Commons

This is not a coincidence; in fact, I want to recall Mr Blackford taking this position every time he speaks. Given that a great number of things in the UK parliament are based on tradition and seem weird or unnecessary nowadays, it strikes me as odd that Mr Blackford is allowed what I perceive as a breach of this tradition.

Is there any reason be it written or traditional that would permit Mr Blackford to stand across the line or is it simply permitted because nobody objects?

  • I think the title needs editing: for everyone unfamiliar with the quirks of Westminster, "crossed the line" doesn't mean inappropriate behaviour like "called for racewar", it merely means "stepped across the red line in the UK House of Commons".
    – smci
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 0:41
  • 1
    Disagree; it’s accurate (and maybe phrased to draw in additional traffic from the curious).
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 17:43

2 Answers 2


Is there any reason be it written or traditional that would permit Mr Blackford to stand across the line or is it simply permitted because nobody objects?

There is a rule is that members cannot speak from the Aisle, which is delimited by the two red lines, and so presumably it's allowed simply because nobody is objecting. However, Blackford's intent here is obviously benign. He hasn't just entered the chamber and made no effort to find a seat, and nor is he aggressively crossing with a view to physically confronting someone on the other side. Rather he has simply crossed the line to give himself room whilst he speaks, so I can't see a reason why someone would object. It would be too obviously petty.

  • 6
    I suspect the reason he is doing it is that from his location at the far end of the chamber from the Speaker, if he were not to step forward he would be invisible to the majority of MPs, and would find it hard to make eye contact with the Speaker, who he is supposed to be addressing, or the Prime Minister, who he is usually antagonizing.
    – Flyto
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 4:22
  • @Flyto Moving forward such a small difference has very little effect on his visibility. I suspect it's mostly just that it's a more comfortable place to stand, where he doesn't have to be absolutely still to avoid bumping in to the people next to him. Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 9:23

As he is not carrying a sword it is less of a concern I suppose:

"Traditions in the Chamber: MPs are not allowed to speak in the space between two red lines running along the length of the Chamber. It has been claimed these lines are traditionally two swords’ lengths apart to prevent MPs duelling although there is no evidence to support this." (House of Commons Information Office)

(it is sad that the HoC can't confirm this widely-believed fact!)

More prosaically, the SNP sit towards the far end of the chamber so if they faced forward they would not be looking towards the Speaker or the Dispatch Box (or even most MPs).

There is precious little room for someone to stand sideways without putting a foot over the line.


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