Speaker wants end to 'scrutiny by screech'

The Speaker of the House of Commons has suggested that the length of Prime Minister's Questions could be doubled to an hour.

John Bercow called for wide-ranging reform of David Cameron's weekly Commons question time to move away from the current "scrutiny by screech".

He said that MPs should be more civil with each other and praised the ban on cheering and heckling by the audience during the general election leaders' debates.

Mr Bercow also questioned whether the Leader of the Opposition needed six questions, saying that backbench MPs should be able to have more involvement.

In a speech to the Centre for Parliamentary Studies last night, Mr Bercow said major changes to PMQs were essential to improve the public perception of the Commons.

"If we are serious about enhancing the standing of the House in the eyes of those whom we serve then we cannot ignore the seriously impaired impression which PMQ's has been and is leaving on the electorate," he said.

The Speaker dismissed those who defend the format as "splendid theatre" loved by viewers and "therapeutic for parliamentarians to let their lungs loose".

"On the basis of its logic, bear-baiting and cock-fighting would still be legal activities," Mr Bercow said.

He said that the next Labour leader, if PMQs remained 30 minutes long, should ask themselves whether "he or she truly needed as many as six questions of the Prime Minister in order to land a blow".

"Arguably, however, a 45-minute or even 60-minute session conducted with mutual respect would be a huge and welcome advance on the status quo," he went on.

"In such circumstances, the current number of questions allocated to the Leader of the Opposition would be more appropriate."

He also raised the idea of a "compact" between the party leaders enabling Speakers to enforce order "far more vigorously" than he is able to at the moment.

"The ideal result for the House in my view would be more scrutiny, more civility, less noise and less abuse masquerading as inquiry," he said.