UK Politics

Curb 'yobbish' MPs, Speaker Bercow tells party leaders

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Media captionJohn Bercow, the Commons Speaker, tells off Education Secretary Michael Gove

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.' "

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Media captionMr 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".

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Media captionMr Bercow tells Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop: "Take up yoga"
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Media captionMr Bercow tells the prime minister it would be a "good idea to try to remember the essence of the question that was put"
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Media captionMr 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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