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Speaker’s Statement

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 24 February 2022

Before we come to the business questions, I wish to say something about the conduct of Prime Minister’s questions. PMQs are an important opportunity for the House to hold the Prime Minister to account. It is important that they are conducted according to the rules of the House, that we have an opportunity for as many Members to question the Prime Minister as possible in the given time, and that the Prime Minister and those asking him questions can be heard. I want to address three issues that were raised yesterday and are relevant to that.

First, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) made criticisms of the conduct of the right hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer). Those types of criticisms may only be made if the House is considering a substantive motion that deals with them. They may not be made as sideswipes during questions or during debates on other matters. That is to avoid our question times and debates descending into partisan accusations and counter-accusations. I know that the hon. Member for Bradford East understands the issue and that he has apologised to the right hon. Member for Sherwood.

Secondly, I want to address the issue of the length of questions and answers. I wish to call as many Members as possible. Sometimes we have over-long answers, and I often have to interrupt Ministers when that is the case, but sometimes the questions themselves are far too long. They are meant to be questions, not statements followed by a question, and I hope that Members will consider others rather than themselves. We saw a little bit of that yesterday from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). Considering that a certain amount of time is made available to the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Scottish National party, the remaining time is limited and I have to make sure it is used as effectively and fairly as possible. If Members take too long with their questions, they take away the opportunity for other Members to ask questions. When a Member is asking an over-lengthy question, I try to give them an opportunity to come to an end before stopping them, as I did yesterday. There is nothing personal about that, and I routinely have to call Members on all sides to account for the length of questions. I plead with all Members to keep questions focused and brief.

Finally, I want to deal with a related issue. It is not always easy to ask short, snappy questions when other Members are shouting and barracking. There was far too much of that yesterday, with a disproportionate amount of it coming from the Government Benches, and particularly from those at the side of the Chair, which made it very hard to hear what was being said. I hope that those on the Government Benches will take this on board, and in particular that the Chief Whip will deal with some of his crowd at the side of the Chair. If Members persist in making excessive noise and barracking colleagues, they will be asked to leave the Chamber.

We want PMQs to be a showcase for this House and for our democracy, so I say to all hon. and right hon. Members: please respect the rules of the House about how we refer to each other; make questions and answers concise; and behave with dignity in a way that allows questions and answers to be heard.