Curb 'yobbish' MPs, Speaker Bercow tells party leaders


John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, tells off Education Secretary Michael Gove

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House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has written to party leaders, urging them to clamp down on "yobbery and public school twittishness" at Prime Minister's Questions.

He told David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg that the tone of debate was putting off the public, the Independent newspaper reported.

Mr Bercow frequently has to intervene to prevent barracking by MPs.

But he said he did not want to appear "prissy" about the issue.

During the weekly half-hour Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) session, Mr Cameron is quizzed by Labour leader Mr Miliband on whatever issues the opposition leader chooses before taking questions from backbench MPs.

It has always been a noisy event, with government and opposition MPs bellowing across the Commons chamber at each other and shouting insults.


The party leaders also trade barbs that can add to the decibel levels, although Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband have both said at various times they want to calm the sessions down as they do not present a positive image of politics to the public.

Welcoming Mr Bercow's letter, Mr Miliband told the BBC: "I do think that the issue of Prime Minister's Questions is one that needs to be looked at.

"I've said in the past that I don't think it's a great advert for politics or Parliament, and I think most people would agree with that. And I'm very happy and welcome any initiative by the Speaker or others to look at these issues."

In recent months, Mr Bercow has appeared to grow increasingly impatient at co-ordinated heckling on both sides and has singled out those who he feels have misbehaved.

This month, Education Secretary Michael Gove was told: "You need to write out a thousand times, 'I will behave myself at Prime Minister's Questions.' "

Mr Bercow tells a noisy MP: "The lion must get back in its den"

Mr Bercow also told Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop: "Be quiet. Calm yourself. Take up yoga."

Research by the Hansard Society, which campaigns for parliamentary reform, has found the most common descriptions by the public of PMQs are "noisy", "childish", "over-the-top" and "pointless".

Focus groups were asked whether there was "too much party political point-scoring instead of answering the question" and two-thirds of those taking part agreed.

Almost half said PMQs were "too noisy and aggressive" and just 12% said weekly events made them "proud of our Parliament".

Mr Bercow tells Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop: "Take up yoga"

Mr Bercow tells the prime minister it would be a "good idea to try to remember the essence of the question that was put"

Mr Bercow: "His role is to nod his head in the appropriate places, and to fetch and carry notes - no noise required"

Mr Bercow told the Independent: "There are people who think culturally the atmosphere is very male, very testosterone-fuelled and, in the worst cases, of yobbery and public school twittishness.

"I don't think we should be prissy about this, but I am not sure we're setting a good example to the next generation of voters."

Mr Bercow, who has described the chamber during PMQs as louder than a performance by rock band Deep Purple, promised to listen to the party leaders' views before considering whether to set up a commission to look into behaviour in the Commons.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell criticised the "football-supporting antics" of many MPs.

He added: "I think it's very difficult to alter this type of behaviour during this parliament, but it may be possible to do so at the beginning of a fresh parliament, provided the prime minister and the leader of the opposition are sufficiently disciplined and exercise discipline."

Ruth Fox, director and head of research at the Hansard Society, said: "The public think the conduct of MPs is childish and wouldn't be tolerated in other workplaces."

She added: "Reform is overdue if PMQs is to move from being an inward-looking and self-referential event towards its proper role of scrutiny and accountability."

The Hansard Society has recommended setting up a "sin bin" for errant MPs and that PMQs be moved from midday on Wednesdays to a peak-time television slot to encourage more interest.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 954.

    It would make me and many of my contemporaries (I'm in my early 20s) much more interested in politics if they behaved in a manner that we should aspire to. I thought they were supposed to represent us? Not entertain us! Can they not put in place a system where MPs can be thrown out of the Chamber for bad behaviour? If they act like children, treat them as such!

  • rate this

    Comment number 953.

    I seem to remember that character from a certain TV show, Tim nice but dim. We have a house full of his aggressive brothers and sisters who aren't nice but retain the other familial trait.

  • rate this

    Comment number 952.

    Good one John Bercow, stick to your guns and keep making demands on these people.

    The last thing the government wants is to have to give proper answers to questions. Giving "clever" answers to appear witty and make others look silly isn't good for the country, it is a good way of avoiding too close an examination of any nefarious goings on though.

    Making the Govt uncomfortable is a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 951.

    This website attracts many comments from many people.
    Have yet to see any Poltician of any Party getting involved in any subject open for Public Discussion.
    All of them far too busy thinking what they want..
    Joe Public is only important once every five years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 950.

    If we behaved like this in school, we'd be told off, if we continued, we'd be sent out of the class to cool off, or better, given detention
    It's ironic the supposedly educated, mature individuals who run this country, never learnt, or ignored that lesson.
    Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing indeed, if these people sat down, quietly and fixed the problems in the country, rather than acting like kids?

  • rate this

    Comment number 949.

    Just another manifestation of how out of touch politicians are with the real world and the real issues people face.

    Maybe if politicians on all sides stopped their petty squabbles and tried to make the country as good as it can be then they might be onto something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 948.

    The present government are not fit for purpose and currently neither are the oppposition. The worst house of commons in history and an appalling, totally heartless Prime Minister with a ruthless cabinet totally against the poor and pensioners whilst giving money to hopeless overseas causes. No wonder we are all going to vote UKIP. Politics is not theatre, it is serious life. I state my case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 947.

    Shut the bars and create a dunce's corner. Yellow card and yer 'Dunced'.'Red csrd offence and you are sent to clean Big Ben's bells.

    That should fo it, until Mourinho takes over.

    Why can't men make pancakes?
    Because they are all a bunch of (create your own word)

  • rate this

    Comment number 946.

    Who has the best joke, that's what it is all about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 945.

    We should all tune into the next PMQ broadcast to witness the transformation in our MPs behaviour.
    Look forward to each of having total respect for each other.
    And that they can all debate without being interrupted and shouted at.
    Why do they have to offend anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 944.

    PMQ credibility on a par with Jermy Hunt wearing a nursey outfit.

  • Comment number 943.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 942.


    The behaviour and level of "discussion" in parliament in general rarely gets that mature. It is too childish for that.
    Playground taunting and jibes. Predictable party-line formulaic responses.

    And that's before the exaggerated version of the above which is PMQs.
    Fortunately I don't have any confidence in politicians to lose, or I would. They can't see what's wrong? They are blind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 941.

    I have more respect for the tramps in the park drinking all day than the wretches in Parliament nowadays .

    And thats a real shame

  • rate this

    Comment number 940.

    Some Politicians seem to make a habit of behaving badly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 939.

    It is embarrassing to watch these grown up people behaving like immature children.
    We get the same old trash churned out every day. It's like a bad dream.
    I wonder how the rest of the world view our best politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 938.

    The politicians in Westminster talk about engaging the need to engage the public but the punch and judy show they call Prime Ministers Questions show they think otherwise. It's out of date, it is a mystery to Joe or Jane Q average and is only of interest to the careerist politicians which attend it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 937.

    The laugh is that they stand there and moan about people on jobseekers allowance and they are the country's biggest scroungers of the state.

  • Comment number 936.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 935.

    PMQs gets so badly reported on r5live you'd think the BBC were partisan red (shock horror) The only soundbites ever replayed in the news are of milliband rebuking the given headline of the day along the lines of Cameron looking after his rich mates. If you listen to the actual event, Cameron usually gives milliband a good hiding


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