Speaker delivers speech on Prime Minister's Questions

07 July 2010

The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow called for a wholesale review of the way Prime Minister’s Questions is conducted in a speech to the Centre for Parliamentary Studies on 6 July.

He described Prime Minister’s Questions as “scrutiny by screech” and pointed out that, while many of the other reputational issues faced by the House are now being addressed, this one is not.

He told the audience;

“If we are serious about enhancing the standing of the House in the eyes of those whom we serve then we cannot ignore the seriously impaired impression which PMQ’s has been and is leaving on the electorate. It is the elephant in the green room.”

Describing the weekly half hour session in the last Parliament, he said:

 “We reached the point where almost nothing was deemed beyond the personal responsibility of the Prime Minister of the day, where the party leaders were responsible for a third of all questions asked (and often more like 50 to 60 per cent of the total time consumed) all set against the background of noise which makes the vuvuzela trumpets of the South African World Cup appear but distant whispers by comparison.”

Speaker Bercow added that much could be learned from the way the leaders’ debates were conducted during the general election campaign, which had a prohibition on cheering or chanting from the audience.

He concluded by saying that that it should be possible to move to a system where there was;

“more scrutiny, more civility, less noise and less abuse masquerading as inquiry. A 45 or even 60 minute session conducted with mutual respect would be a huge and welcome advance on the status quo.”

Image: PA/ Stefan Rousseau 

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