Commons in Review: Historic firsts in the 2017 – 2019 Parliament

Posted On: 
5th November 2019

In just two and a half years, the 2017 – 2019 Parliament made history with several firsts. From PMQs to parenting to periods, we remember some of the procedural and more personal firsts in the chamber

A recall petition sign is placed outside Bedford Hall in Thorney, Peterborough in March 2019
Credit: 
Joe Giddens/PA Archive/PA Images

Black history

32 years after making history as the first black female MP, Diane Abbott became the first BAME parliamentarian to represent their party at Prime Minister’s Questions when she stood in for Jeremy Corbyn on 2 October 2019.  Writing for The House at the time, Abbott said: “You are faced with a wall of sound, you know that people are watching you on their televisions, possibly even all over the world and there are also top-class hecklers in front of you, and sometimes behind you... In the end, once I hit my stride I rather enjoyed the experience”. 

Baby got back

After delaying her caesarean for a key Brexit vote, Tulip Siddiq then became the first MP to benefit from the proxy voting pilot after giving birth to baby Raphael in January 2019.

Her Labour colleague Vicky Foxcroft covered her voting duties for six months, and 13 other new parents have since taken advantage of proxy voting certificates.

This session also saw the first baby present for a Commons debate.

While children have often accompanied their parents through the voting lobbies, Jo Swinson’s 11-week old son, Gabriel, was the first to join Members on the green benches as they debated the very issue of proxies last September.

New role model

In a Parliament where social media seemed to matter more than ever, Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s message of honesty and hope touched thousands. Speaking ahead of World Aids Day in late 2018, Russell-Moyle became the first MP to openly declare to the House of Commons that he was HIV-positive in a step to raise awareness and reduce HIV stigma at home and around the world.

Go with the flow

Even before Lady Astor first took her seat in 1919, it has been a monthly occurrence for many women across the country.

However, in June 2018 Danielle Rowley made history as the first MP to state that they were currently on their period (and that it had cost her £25 that week so far) during a debate on the cost of sanitary products.

Total recall

This Parliament saw the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act 2015 used for the very first time – and then again twice more. The distinction of being the first to face a recall petition fell to Ian Paisley Jr. in August 2018. This followed his suspension from the Commons for 30 days for not declaring hospitality from the Sri Lankan government and later advocating on their behalf.

Fortunately for Paisley, the recall petition fell 444 signatures short, with only 9.4% of the electorate signing rather than the 10% required to trigger a by-election.

Fiona Onasanya was less lucky – 27.6% of her Peterborough constituents signed her recall petition after she was convicted of perverting the course of justice in relation to two prior speeding incidents. Hence, in May 2019 she claimed the dubious accolade of being the first MP to lose their seat through recall, followed by Chris Davies a month later.  

Sign of the times

Although British Sign Language has been used in the Commons before, Penny Mordaunt, then international development secretary, became the first minister to do so from the frontbenches, when she announced a global disability conference was to be held in London via both speech and sign in July 2018.