“We’re not a group of Trappist Monks, It’s not an Oxford union debating society, we will always have angry exchanges… but if you asked me for one suggestion for improvement in Prime Minister’s Questions, I would say a more orderly and respectful atmosphere.”
John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, has stressed his views regarding Prime Minister’s Questions and how he feels the decibel level should be lowered in an exclusive interview with The London Economic.
The noise levels during PMQ’s has recurrently become a topic of conversation, with the debates even being described as lacking class and being viewed as a publicly hated aspect of British politics.
John Bercow has remained Speaker of the House of Commons since June of 2009, and described how he feels the heightened atmosphere could have negative effects on how parliament is viewed: “I think on the whole that if we shout at each other in a very calculated orchestrated way, almost designed to stop other people from speaking, we are spray painting our shop window.
“Prime Minister’s Questions is the feature of parliament that most people see or hear. So whatever other really good work parliamentarians are doing, select committees are doing or groups of MP’s are doing on particular issues, if the decibel level of Prime Minister’s Questions makes the damned sound like a sotto voce band, well I think that’s bad for the reputation of parliament.”
Even though this heated aspect within parliament may lead to political debates being viewed negatively, there is also argument to suggest it brings a level of interest to the public. The PMQ’s have been known to put increasing amounts of pressure on the Prime Minister and ultimately acts as an impromptus test. Questions asked are unknown to the Prime Minister and therefore answers are intended to be more honest and direct – even though the majority of times these PMQ’s prove more of a test of character .
However Bercow does not feel that lowering the tone would decrease this amount of interest surrounding the debates: “I think that the importance for the viewers is the robust expression of views and trading of different principles, if you like, between people who hold opinions that are very different from each other. So that’s where I think the interest lies.”
Levels of noise and passionate outbursts may well also be viewed as an entertaining aspect to the PMQ’s, and in fact encourage more viewers and listeners. There is a level of classroom antics to the debates however that cannot be ignored and often questions can be lost and misguided through the equivocal mud-slinging of MP’s out to catch opposing parties off guard.
“If you ask me on the whole, do I think that a more restrained atmosphere would spoil it as a viewer product? The answer is no. I think for every person that we lost because they said its now dull and un-interesting; I think we would gain people who say well what I want is a strong minded but polite exchange of views between people who differ honourably.” says John Bercow. Nevertheless the current state of PMQ’s seems likely to continue and the role of Speaker of the House of Commons will most likely have to continually face this challenge.