Could The SNP Really Overturn 400 Years Of No Clapping Tradition In The Commons?

Commons Speaker John Bercow speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
Commons Speaker John Bercow speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
PA/PA Wire

The SNP's newest cohort of MPs could help push for the overturning of a centuries-old Westminster tradition, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has suggested.

In a speech at the Edinburgh Festival, Bercow suggested that the 56 new parliamentarians from north of the border could call for a lift on the Chamber's applause ban, something they have previously been strongly rebuked for breaking.

MPs currently register their support or disapproval of statements in Parliament by either shouting "hear, hear!" or braying.

New Scottish Members have received slapdowns from Bercow and his deputies for ignoring this rule and clapping instead, a common custom in the devolved Scottish Parliament of Holyrood.

Asked why MPs were not allowed to applaud, Bercow told his audience: "I think my attitude to that is if the House wants to change its procedures, it can, if they vote to do so."

"The House doesn't like applause as a method of approval," he added, insisting that changes should not be made to rules hundreds of years old "on the hoof".

Nicola Sturgeon's 56 new MPs have caused a stir in Westminster

Bercow made clear it was not up to him or the SNP to change the rules - but a decision for the entire house: "Could the House change the procedure and would I then be the servant of that new procedure? It could and I would."

Bercow also commended the new SNP MPs, calling them "very good parliamentarians".

"They turn up in large numbers, they turn up very regularly, they turn up to support each other and a lot of them are already proving to be very good parliamentarians," he said.

"I think the significant thing is that, whatever you think of the SNP, their parliamentary party has said something very significant by its behaviour since May about group solidarity.”

"It's not for me to support the SNP or oppose the SNP and I wouldn't dream of doing so, but I'm simply saying respect where it's due."

He went on to say there was an irony about the remarks, because SNP MPs were determined to secede from Britain.

But he added: "They are elected members of parliament and they have a duty to discharge on behalf of their constituents and in support of their principles and their party and that's what they're doing.

"They turn up very regularly and they turn up to powerful effect and I think that does deserve respect."

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