Bercow silences Cameron at PMQs

By Ian Dunt

John Bercow has silenced David Cameron at PMQs by preventing him from reading sections from a Labour memoir.

Mr Cameron brought out Alistair Campbell’s book during a colourful exchange with Harriet Harman with the clear intention of mocking the Labour front benches.

The Speaker was quick to prevent the prime minister from following through however by instructing him to stop.

“No, we won’t bother with that,” Mr Bercow said, to loud shouts from across the chamber.

Mr Cameron, who appeared embarrassed when stopped by the Speaker, joked that he “was only trying to boost sales”.

A little later Mr Bercow was considerably kinder to the prime minister, telling MPs to make less noise during his responses.

The incident came hot on the heels of a speech in which Mr Bercow voiced concern that PMQs was too loud and rude for his tastes and those of the public.

He suggested that the session should be conducted over an hour to allow backbenchers more time to speak, and questioned whether the leader of the opposition really needed six questions to “land a blow” on the prime minister.

Mr Bercow branded PMQs – easily the most popular session of the parliamentary week – “scrutiny by screech” in a talk to the Centre for Parliamentary Studies.

“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 PMQs has been and is leaving on the electorate,” he said.

Mr Bercow denied the spectacle offers “splendid theatre”.

“On the basis of its logic, bear-baiting and cock-fighting would still be legal activities,” he argued.

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

The Speaker, who was selected again after the general election despite mumblings of discontent from the Tory benches, has made no secret of his dislike of the culture around PMQs.

He regularly reminds MPs that the public do not appreciate their jeering behaviour in the session.

But the former Tory remains deeply unpopular among many parliamentarians, who resent his constant interruptions and lengthy statements.

Health minister Simon Burns recently apologised after calling him a “stupid, sanctimonious dwarf”.