THE headlines for Mr Speaker Bercow's debut in the chair for Prime Minister's Questions yesterday were about his call for less noise - The public doesn't like it. Neither do I. - but far more important was his brief statement on two changes he wants to see implemented. The first proposed that back-benchers putting questions to the Prime Minister should be allowed a brief supplementary question after the answer has been given. This is more important than it might seem. At the moment the prime minister, and other ministers being questioned on the floor of the House, can more or less ignore the substance of the question put to them because their answer is in effect a full stop. The chance to ask a supplementary question would enable MPs to express their dissatisfaction with the initial answer and press home the point they want to make.
The second change John Bercow wants is nothing new. He told the prime minister that key policy statements should be made first in the House of Commons. It sounds a reasonable request but the fact is that under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown what was once a firm principle of government procedure is now more honoured in the breach than the observance - the BBC's Today programme or a favoured parliamentary correspondent or just an unashamed leak are the preferred channels. If the new Speaker succeeds on this one, he will have won his spurs very quickly.