The august chambers of the British Parliament looked more like a high school classroom during a debate yesterday (May 4), thanks to some juvenile behavior by high-ranking MPs.
When parliament gets rowdy, it’s down to the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, to lay down the law to boisterous MPs who speak out of turn. Often a few shouts of “Order! Order!” do the trick.
But during a debate about cuts to nursing services, Bercow took time to scold his fellow parliamentarians for texting while someone was talking.
The speaker reprimanded Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative Party’s health secretary, for “fiddling ostentatiously” with his mobile phone when he should have been listening to Labour’s Heidi Alexander raise concerns about funding for the services under his control. Thérèse Coffey, the Conservatives’ deputy leader of the Commons, was also rebuked for tapping on her phone.
By not taking an active role in the debate, Hunt and Coffey were shirking their duties, Bercow said. This isn’t some obscure committee meeting, where MPs can play Candy Crush on their tablets, but a meeting in the hallowed House of Commons. There is decorum to uphold.
“Such devices should be used… without impairing parliamentary decorum,” Bercow said. To impair decorum is to be “rank discourteous,” he added. “It’s a point so blindingly obvious, that only an extraordinarily clever and sophisticated person could fail to grasp it,” he finished with great sarcasm.
Bercow is at his best when rebuking rude MPs during parliamentary sessions. “Be quiet. Calm yourself. Take up yoga,” he told one during a particularly heated debate. In general, he has tried to stamp out “yobbery” and “twittishness” in the chamber, he said a few years ago. This latest episode shows that he has more work to do.