Page last updated at 14:20 GMT, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 15:20 UK

New Speaker rebukes 'noisy' MPs

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John Bercow appeals for "calm, reasoned debate" in the Commons

New Speaker John Bercow has ticked off MPs for making too much noise during prime minister's questions.

Mr Bercow, who was chairing the half-hour session for the first time, told braying MPs: "The public doesn't like it and neither do I."

It was among the first of a number of interventions by Mr Bercow during what was a fairly quiet session by the standards of PM's questions.

He also cut a Labour MP short and rebuked a Tory MP for being too loud.

He told Michael Fabricant, one of the few Tory MPs to applaud when he was made Speaker, to calm down as "it is not good for your health".

When ministers have key policy statements to make, the House must be the first to hear them and they should not be released beforehand
John Bercow, Commons speaker

Mr Bercow has said he wants MPs to be more brief in their questions and replies, and one of his early interventions was to tell Labour MP Patrick Hall that the prime minister had "got the gist" of his question on housing.

In all he made three attempts to quieten MPs down, attempts which apparently met with success as they watched the latter stages of the session in relative quiet, although there were few questions to provoke uproar.

'Brief questions'

After the half-hour session, which was judged by politicians on all sides to be a confident and capable debut, he made a short statement on his plans for the Speaker role, including a demand for ministers to make important statements in the house first before the media.

Mr Bercow told MPs: "When ministers have key policy statements to make, the House must be the first to hear them and they should not be released beforehand.

"Secondly, in the statements I ask that frontbenchers stick to their allotted times.

"I ask also that the backbench members taking part each confine themselves to one, brief, supplementary question.

"In the same vein, I hope that ministers' replies will be kept to a reasonable length.

"Finally, I always expect that those speaking in this chamber will be heard, so that an atmosphere of calm, reasoned debate will be maintained."

Peers to be grilled?

He also hinted that peers, such as Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Transport Secretary Lord Adonis could be grilled by MPs in the Commons, which would be a break with historic convention.

Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, a leading advocate for reform, raised the issue of the high number of ministers currently in the Lords.

He said: "Following the last reshuffle, an increasing number of ministers of the Crown now find themselves in the other place rather than in here, including two secretaries of state."

Mr Baker then asked Mr Bercow: "Given your welcome determination to have reform in this House, I wonder what consideration you might be able to give to holding those ministers, and particularly secretaries of state, to account in this House, perhaps by giving statements in this House?"

The Speaker said: "It would certainly require a change in the rules of the House but it is something which the Procedure Committee might wish to consider."

Mr Bercow promised to try to reduce the "Punch and Judy" element of prime minister's questions when he was campaigning for the Speaker's job.

'Honourably'

But the Buckingham MP received a relatively gentle introduction to the job of Speaker on Tuesday, when he presided over health questions.

Shunning the Speaker's traditional garb, in favour of a business suit and what he described as a "smart but unfussy" gown, he began by urging quick answers from ministers and one question only per MP.

To "hear hears" he added: "I am determined we make good progress through the order paper."

SPEAKERS MUST REMEMBER
What MPs who have tabled questions look like - so he can call them to speak
He also needs to know the names, faces and constituencies of all 646 MPs in case any of them ask supplementary questions
How many questions the party leaders are entitled to - David Cameron gets six, Nick Clegg gets two
Whether MPs are honourable or right honourable members
The rules of debate - these include a ban on un-Parliamentary language and accusing another MP of lying to the House

The Buckingham MP got 322 votes to fellow Tory MP Sir George Young's 271 in the final round of secret voting to decide who would take on the role.

He replaces Michael Martin who quit after nine years amid the furore over MPs' expenses.

His election was welcomed by party leaders but faced a mixed reception from Conservative MPs, who feel he is too close to New Labour.

He has also faced questions about his expenses, after he repaid more than £6,000 he did not pay in capital gains tax on property sales.

In an interview with the BBC, Speaker Bercow defended his expense claims, insisting that he had paid money back voluntarily to cover the tax he had saved after he was accused of "flipping" his home. He said he had "behaved honourably".

He said he feels a "great responsibility" as he begins his job as House of Commons Speaker.

He also promised he would not claim second home allowances while serving in his new post.



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