David Cameron speaks during PMQs

Clarifying PMQs

Dale Smith has an interesting post dissecting proposals for reform of Question Period in the Canadian House of Commons as put forward by the Liberal Party. He raises some valid points, but also makes a notable error, which I will endeavour to correct here. Smith writes: Part of what’s been the beauty of our QP as we have structured it is that the PM can be called upon to answer any question on any day, with no advance notice. That’s not the way it works in Westminster, where the PM is given questions in advance. This isn’t 100% accurate. Most of the time, the UK Prime Minister does not know in advance what questions will be put to him or […]


ICYMI 16 September 2015

The National Assembly of Quebec adopted a motion to put an end to clapping in the Chamber by MNAs during the daily Oral Questions. This is, in my opinion, a very good thing, and I hope other Canadian legislatures move in a similar direction. Regular readers will remember that I am not a fan of clapping in the Chamber. New Labour Party leader and Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn was front and centre for his first-ever Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Corbyn took a very different approach to PMQs. He put out a call to the general public asking them to submit questions he could ask of the Prime Minister and received over 40,000 responses. The Leader of the Opposition […]

David Cameron speaks during PMQs

Job-sharing PMQs

As expected, Jeremy Corbyn easily won the Labour leadership vote. As part of his plan to “shake up politics”, we also learned that Corbyn plans to step aside during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) and let other MPs question the PM. I have written frequently about how oral Questions work in the UK House of Commons. PMQs differs from the other departmental questions in one important way: it is the only oral questions session where two specific Members are allotted a fixed quota of questions. The two members in question are the Leader of the Opposition, who gets to ask six questions of the Prime Minister, and, since 1997, the leader of the next largest party, who is allocated two questions. In […]

Yesterday, however, PMQs started somewhat differently. The first question was not the usual open question asking the PM to list his plans for the day, it was a very specific question.

Closed questions and PMQs

The first question directed to the Prime Minister during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), is typically what is called an “open question”. We never hear the actual question, because these are printed on the Order Paper, not asked aloud by the MP. In fact, the only thing the MP who gets to ask the first question will say when the Speaker calls on him or her is “Question number one, Mr. Speaker!” The question is always the same: “If he will list his official engagements for [that day’s date].” The PM’s reply is also standard: “This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings […]

In the UK, while 2-3 supplementaries is the norm, if the subject of a question is one on which the government is vulnerable, the Speaker is free to decide to allow several more supplementary questions, including often hostile ones from the government’s own side – which would never happen in Canada.

Question or Answer Period?

Recently in the Canadian House of Commons, the Leader of the Official Opposition vented his frustration over the repeated non-answers to questions he was receiving from the Government side during Question Period on the Speaker. After first pleading for the Speaker to enforce the House’s rules on relevancy and repetition, he then openly questioned the Speaker’s impartiality. This caused the Speaker to deny the Leader of the Opposition his final two questions in the rotation. The next day, before Question Period began, the Speaker delivered a statement to the House in which he explained that the rules on relevancy and repetition did not apply to Question Period, and that the numerous rulings in the past had clearly established that it […]

The vast majority of British voters have zero interest in Prime Minister’s Questions. Nor, once the initial novelty had worn off, would they have any more interest in watching People’s Questions. It’s only politicians who think the weekly interrogation of politicians is of major national significance.

Dan Hodge

Do we need a Peoples’ PMQs?

UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband recently floated the idea of a weekly “public question time” where an audience representative of the country would question the prime minister on any issue of the day. Miliband was a bit short on details regarding how this would work. Apart from stating that the audience should be representative of the country, the only other details he provided was that the public PMQs should be held in parliament at least every two weeks, but preferably weekly. On the surface, it’s an interesting idea, but it also raises a number of questions. First of all, how would these people – representative of the country – be selected? Would it be a completely random process, you […]