Speaker calls order on House bleepers

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Indy Politics
The Speaker of the Commons, Betty Boothroyd, yesterday acted to stop the intrusion of message pagers in the chamber of the House.

She intervened to stop Labour MPs jumping to the messages sent them from outside the Chamber by the party's spin doctors.

Miss Boothroyd told MPs that she could not object to "an instrument that vibrates" but she did not want the curse of modern living, the bleeper, going off in the middle of Prime Minister's questions.

She warned MPs that anyone reading a message from one of the gadgets would be told to resume their seat immediately. Although her ruling falls short of a complete ban on MPs' pagers in the Commons, it is intended to draw a line under their use during debates.

It follows the outrage caused when Brian Wilson, a Labour MP and a senior member of Peter Mandelson's campaign team, appeared to be reading a pager message at the Despatch Box, when he intervened on Tuesday to protest against a Tory MP for failing to declare an interest at Prime Minister's questions.

Conservative MPs accused Mr Wilson of responding to the message from Labour's spin doctors, who were watching the parliamentary session on television, and spotted an opportunity to embarrass the Government.

With MPs on both sides being tightly controlled by the spin doctors, the use of the pager raised the prospect of MPs using the electronic devices to improve their verbal jousting abilities across the chamber.

Miss Boothroyd's ruling means that in future, MPs will have to return to the tried and trusted system of sending and receiving messages on paper, if they wish to read them in public.

But Members of Parliament may be well advised to play safe by leaving their pagers where they are supposed to hang their hats, and their swords, in the members' cloakroom.