Moves to reform rowdy PM's Questions: Cross-party backing for procedural changes
The move to reform the twice-weekly 15-minute exchanges follows growing criticism that the Commons clashes have become so stage- managed and rowdy that they are bringing the House into disrepute.
Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, who has campaigned for change, was jeered yesterday - as usual - by both Tory and Labour MPs when he intervened at Prime Minister's Questions to support Mr Major's move for reform.
In future, Mr Major said, MPs should table questions on any topic 24 hours before the sessions to allow answers to be fully prepared. That would help to make it more relevant, he said. But his proposals will have to be agreed by the cross-party Commons select committee on procedure, chaired by the Tory MP Sir Peter Emery.
Mr Blair said he supported the Prime Minister's idea of making Question Time more relevant, but he insisted that the Prime Minister must remain accountable.
Labour MPs were divided last night. One leading Labour MP said: 'It has become a complete farce and it should be changed. Otherwise, we might as well give up the questions and just cheer for our own side. We could come in with spears and banners.'
But Dennis Skinner, the 'beast of Bolsover' who has received fan mail from America for his interventions at Prime Minister's Questions, said: 'I think the Prime Minister is running away because he cannot handle the House of Commons as well as Wilson or Margaret Thatcher.'
Lady Thatcher changed the style of Prime Minister's Questions by allowing the so- called 'open question' on her engagements for the day to be used by MPs to question her about any issue.
The veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell said he believed those gradual changes played into her hands because she could not be pinned down on a single issue. Labour MPs failed to coordinate their questions, and Lady Thatcher was rarely caught off guard. She was highly briefed, and could 'swing the handbag' at Neil Kinnock when the briefing failed.
Mr Major attempted to introduce a more relaxed style, but under his leadership the anxiety to produce a successful sound bite for the evening news broadcast has increased for both sides.
Labour under John Smith and, since his death, Margaret Beckett, has adopted the habit of pressing three questions in the 15-minute session, leaving less time for backbenchers. Mr Major complained that it has now degenerated to point- scoring. But that is the nature of politics. MPs rarely ask questions at Question Time because they want to know the answer.
The opposing camps have increased the stage managing of PMQs by handing out prepared questions to their MPs. What may appear to be open questioning of a leader in a democracy has become a charade, but changing it may kill the spectacle.
World news in pictures
Far-right French historian, 78-year-old Dominique Venner, commits suicide in Notre Dame in protest against gay marriage
Plenty of Fish dating site founder pulls 'Intimate Encounters' option to ward off sleazy men
Oklahoma tornado latest: Rescue effort nears an end after President Obama pledges support for 'as long as it takes' to rebuild the suburb of Moore
Video emerges of Pope Francis reportedly performing an exorcism
- 1 Gay couple beaten in park urge MPs to moderate language on gay marriage
- 2 Swedes set up 'ultimate Viking movie'
- 3 After woman sells virginity for $780,000, here are the results of our prostitution survey
- 4 Far-right French historian, 78-year-old Dominique Venner, commits suicide in Notre Dame in protest against gay marriage
- 5 'It was just like the movie Twister': Man survives Oklahoma tornado by taking refuge in horse stall
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.
Excellent Salary Package - £60K to £120K: Austen Lloyd: We have an exciting op...
£200 - £250 per day: Progressive Recruitment: Java Developer - Urgent Requirem...
£70000 - £95000 per annum + Bonus, flexible working hours, remote work: Progre...
£50000 - £56000 per annum + Benefits package, flexible working hours: Progress...