Speaker tells MPs to stop cheering leaders

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In a clear sign that the Commons is becoming increasingly embarrassed about its "bear garden" image, the Speaker Betty Boothroyd yesterday ordered MPs to end the practice of cheering the entry to the chamber of John Major and Tony Blair for Question Time.

Ten years ago backbenchers only cheered their leader's entry in the wake of an election victory or a successful summit meeting.

But in recent years the cheer has become part of Question Time's gladiatorial ritual. Yesterday the Tories shouted their greeting to Mr Major as he entered, only one minute before the exchanges, and then, seconds later, Labour MPs roared for Mr Blair.

A feeble cheer would be read by the opposing side as a sign of dissatisfaction with the respective leader. So synthetic has the exercise become that Tory MPs have, on occasions, tried forced laughter for Mr Blair's entry.

Raising the behaviour issue on a point of order, Hugh Dykes, Conservative MP for Harrow East, asked if Ms Boothroyd had seen the "excellent piece in the Independent on Friday and other newspapers referring the excessive screaming and shouting at Question Time". Ms Boothroyd told MPs: "I would certainly like to see a much calmer Question Time."

The Speaker is also worriedabout lengthy answers from ministers wanting to make party political points and sycophantic questions from backbenchers.