The Speaker of the House of Commons has said he would back talks between party leaders to improve the behaviour of members of parliament during prime minister’s questions.
Speaking on Tuesday, John Bercow said he would “smile on” all-party discussions regarding public disapproval of behaviour in the weekly clash between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in parliament.
Responding to a point of order raised by Labour’s Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport West, Bercow said the start of the new parliament could be “an auspicious time to try to bring about meaningful change” and that it would be “to the advantage of this House if members were to take account of, and accord weight to, the very widespread public disapproval of the way in which the proceedings are conducted”.
“One method to proceed would be for all-party talks to be convened, but that’s not for me to do – I would smile on it, but it’s not for me to lead,” said the Speaker.
In his point of order, Flynn said PMQs had become “an exchange of crude insults and non-answers” that damaged the reputation of parliamentary politics. During last week’s PMQs, the first of this parliament, the prime minister asked Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, four questions, “almost more than she asked him”, Flynn complained.
“Just before the break, in the last parliament, the prime minister answered a question by raising nine issues – none of which were the subject of the question asked,” the MP said.
Flynn added: “Would it not be a good idea perhaps to change the name of prime minister’s questions to prime minister’s answer so at least the prime minister will get the point?”
Flynn, a long-term critic of the spectacle of prime minister’s questions, wrote to David Cameron last week suggesting that the opposition should be allowed to ask follow-up questions and that the event could be held in Westminster Hall to produce a less confrontational atmosphere.
Cameron responded by saying PMQs was “an important part of our modern, democratic process – a way for members of parliament to hold the prime minister to account on a range of issues and an opportunity for them to raise constituency matters”.
He added: “Ultimately, PMQs has a long tradition of robust exchanges and debate and, while we all have a responsibility to ensure that the session is conducted in a respectful manner, the behaviour of members must remain a matter for the Speaker.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th June 2015 16.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010