UK Politics

John Bercow defends plans to axe Commons clerks' wigs

Media captionSpeaker Bercow said it would make things 'less stuffy'

John Bercow has defended the decision that Commons clerks will no longer have to wear wigs, after one MP likened the move to an "executive order".

The Speaker announced the clerks, who advise him on conduct and constitutional issues, would also no longer wear wing collars and white tie.

Conservative Sir Gerald Howarth said the tradition of wearing wigs went back "several centuries".

But Mr Bercow said there was an even older tradition of not wearing wigs.

He announced the changes on Monday, but added that clerks would keep part of their garb - black gowns, to signify they are experts on procedure and constitutional issues.

'Marginally less stuffy'

Mr Bercow said changes to clothing and headgear represented the "overwhelming view" of clerks themselves.

They would "convey to the public a marginally less stuffy and forbidding image of this chamber at work".

But Sir Gerald, MP for Aldershot, raised a point of order, telling the Commons: "I was surprised by [the] statement, which had the sort of appearance of an executive order."

He added that traditional clerks' dress was "key to the dignity of the House" and had been so "for several centuries", adding that MPs "should discuss this".

Mr Bercow replied that it was "a matter that can properly be decided by the Speaker", adding that the House of Commons Commission had approved the changes, which clerks themselves had suggested.

He said that, if one went back more than a "couple of hundred years", the situation was different from that presented by Sir Gerald, and that "several centuries ago", clerks "did not wear wigs".

Mr Bercow has refrained from wearing a wig himself in the Commons since becoming Speaker in 2009, as did his predecessors Michael Martin and Betty Boothroyd.

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