House of Commons speaker visits west Leeds school

John Bercow talking to pupils at Swallow Hill Community College in west Leeds.
John Bercow talking to pupils at Swallow Hill Community College in west Leeds.
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The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow went back to school on a visit to Leeds and faced questions from students.

“Mr Speaker” was a guest of Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves when they visited Swallow Hill Community College, which opened two years ago after Wortley and West Leeds High Schools amalgamated.

The merger created a college of 1,500 students, covering an inner-city area of Leeds which includes Armley, Bramley and Wortley.

Mr Bercow spoke to a class of a dozen students yesterday about his role as Speaker of the House, as well as his personal life.

With the News International phone hacking scandal still making headlines, he told the young people how he handled the Parliamentary debate by breaking with procedure and giving MPs as much time as they wanted to question Prime Minister David Cameron.

“I decided to try to ensure that everybody who wanted to ask a question of the Prime Minister could do so,” he said. “I decided to let it run on and on. If that meant he was there for two hours so be it. In two hours, the Prime Minister took questions from 138 Members of Parliament.”

He told the youngsters that if they thought politics was a “crashing bore” they should remember how it affected every aspect of their lives – the quality of school they attend and health care they receive, the environment, transport, their job prospects and homes and how poor people in Britain and around the world are provided for.

“All these things depend on laws passed, money spent and decisions made in Westminster,” he said. “That is what I mean by politics.”

He said that like them, he and Ms Reeves attended state schools, and urged the students to believe that they could achieve what they wanted to achieve.

The students quizzed Mr Bercow about the phone hacking scandal, and other issues including his life outside Parliament – he is a David Bowie fan, reads a lot, swims, follows Arsenal at football, watches tennis, and plays with his children.

And one of his proudest achievements was establishing childcare facilities in the Commons.

The Leeds visit was part of a Parliamentary “outreach” programme to schools and colleges.

The school staged a “no uniform” day during the visit, in which students donated £1 to a good cause. Yesterday they raised funds for victims of the famine in East Africa.

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