Exclusive: Commons Speaker John Bercow attacks ‘sexist, snobbish, yobbish’ PMQs and says he favours radical reform
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt.
Tuesday 18 February 2014
Commons Speaker John Bercow has written to David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg seeking talks on how Prime Ministers’ Questions (PMQs) can be improved in the wake of mounting concern that its boisterous barracking and partisan exchanges are seriously alienating the public.
His private letter to the three main party leaders asks specifically for their comments on a recent Hansard Society report showing widespread public discontent at the weekly half-hour clashes and it seeks to open a public debate on whether PMQs can be reformed.
The report, based on focus-group findings, says that 67 per cent of respondents felt “there is too much party political point scoring instead of answering the question” and only 12 per cent agreed that “PMQs makes me proud of Parliament”.
In an interview with The Independent, Mr Bercow said he is not expecting MPs to behave like “Trappist monks” and he understood that frequently “passions will be aroused” in the Commons. But he added: “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”.
He said he regretted that “some very good female members of Parliament on both sides” are leaving the Commons at the next election, and added that women are generally “less inclined to screech and shout”.
Pointing out that the Prime Minister has said he wants less “Punch and Judy” politics and Mr Miliband has said he wants a “more rational” PMQs, he added: “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.”
Asked about the possibility of a full-scale review by a Speaker’s Committee on PMQs, he said: “First I’d like to hear the views of the party leaders. At this stage I’m not making that suggestion.”
The Speaker also complained that the Government has not yet fulfilled the promise in the Coalition Agreement to bring in a government business committee that would allow backbenchers a say in how debates are allocated in government time.
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