The longest-serving MP in the House of Commons, Labour’s Sir Gerald Kaufman, has described prime minister’s questions as “an exchange of pointless and useless declamations”, condemning the weekly session as a “load of rubbish”.
Kaufman, who has the honorary title of father of the house, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “For years now prime minister’s questions has been an exchange of pointless and useless declamations with the prime minister preparing what he’s going to say regardless of the questions that are put.”
He said Cameron used PMQs as an “opportunity – I don’t blame him, waste of space though he is – to make certain points which he wants to do, which he believes will reverberate around the country. They won’t. Nobody’s interested. Nobody cares any more.”
Kaufman, 84, has been MP for Manchester Gorton since 1983 and before that was MP for Manchester Ardwick from 1970. He has been a member of parliament for 45 years this month and was made father of the house – an honorary title given to the longest-serving MP – after the retirement of Peter Tapsell, 85, who had been the MP for Louth and Horncastle since 1966.
On Tuesday, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said he would “smile on” talks between party leaders to improve the behaviour of MPs during prime minister’s questions.
Responding to a point of order raised by the Labour MP Paul Flynn, a longstanding critic of PMQs, Bercow said the start of the new parliament could be “an auspicious time to try to bring about meaningful change” and 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”.
He added: “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.”
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, Cameron asked Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, four questions, “almost more than she asked him”, Flynn complained.
“Would it not be a good idea perhaps to change the name of prime minister’s questions to prime minister’s answers so at least the prime minister will get the point?” he said
Sir Robert Rogers, a former clerk of the Commons, told Today: “Over 43 years now I’ve seen the character of parliamentary questions – not just prime minister’s questions but all oral questions – change from being a fairly inquisitorial session to being exchanges of assertions, and that is a cultural change over some time.”
Rogers, who first started working in parliament in 1972 and now sits in the Lords as Baron Lisvane, added:“If the answer to crowd violence is an all-seater stadium, then I think what I would look at is the possibility of having every other prime minister’s questions in a committee room where you draw the members by ballot, just as you do now, but you can actually have a question and answer session in a more measured and constructive atmosphere.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 10th June 2015 10.10 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010