Contrasts in Question Periods

Today during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the UK House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron was asked a question by a Labour MP about his government’s plans to combat rising child poverty figures. Rather than explain his government’s policies, Cameron launched an attack on the previous Labour government’s financial record. This prompted the Speaker to cut Cameron off in mid-sentence and move on to another question. You can watch the incident in this clip: This is not the first time that Speaker Bercow has intervened in such a way, and while he is sometimes criticised in the British press for such actions, it was the right thing to do. The point of PMQs, and the daily questions to ministries, […]

The real problem is MP irrelevancy

Recently, Canada’s federal Official Opposition proposed measures for improving decorum in the House of Commons. These measures would require changes to the Standing Orders in order to increase the Speaker’s authority to discipline unruly MPs: who use harassment, threats, personal attacks, or extreme misrepresentation of facts or position in the House, particularly regarding Statements by Members and Oral Questions, including: i.  Revoking questions during Oral Questions from parties whose Members have been disruptive ii. Issuing a warning to Members for a first offense iii. Suspending Members from the service of the House for one sitting day for a second offense; five days for a third offense; and twenty days for a fourth offense iv. Suspending Members’ sessional allowance for the […]

Inside the New Zealand House of Representatives

Like its Australian counterpart, the New Zealand House of Representatives’ debating chamber is arranged in a horseshoe shape. The Chamber measures 19.3 by 13.12 metres, which is  smaller than the Canadian  and UK Houses of Commons. As in the other chambers, the Speaker sits at one end, on a dais, and the Clerk and other Table officers are seated at a Table in front of and below the Speaker’s Chair. The Members sit at desks arranged in three to five tiers. The MPs who are members of the Government side sit on the Speaker’s right, with the members of the executive nearest to the Speaker. The members of the Opposition parties sit on the left, with the members of the […]

Inside the Australian House of Representatives

The Australian House of Representatives Chamber differs from the British and Canadian Houses of Commons in that the seating arrangements for Members are in a horseshoe shape rather than the Government and Opposition sitting on opposite sides directly facing each other. The Speaker’s Chair faces the main entrance, and the Government is seated to the right of the Speaker, the opposition to the left. Like the Canadian House of Commons, Members have allotted seats. There are other notable differences in the Australian Chamber. There are two chairs on either side of the Table which are reserved for Prime Minister [#3] and Deputy Prime Minister on the Government side, and for the Leader of the Opposition [#4] and Deputy Leader of […]

Inside the UK House of Commons

In an earlier post, I described the interior of the Canadian House of Commons. In this post, I will provide readers with an overview of the layout of the British House of Commons. The Chamber of the House of Commons is at the northern end of the Palace of Westminster; it was opened in 1950 after the Victorian chamber had been destroyed in 1941 and re-built under the architect Giles Gilbert Scott. The Chamber measures 14 by 20.7 metres, which is smaller than the Canadian Chamber (16 by 21 metres). This is noteworthy because there are more than twice as many MPs elected to the UK House of Commons (650). It is impossible for all MPs to sit in the […]

Inside the Canadian House of Commons

(Note: If you’re looking for information about the British House of Commons, see Inside the UK House of Commons.) I have written a number of posts explaining the role and purpose of various persons and objects in the House of Commons, but some readers want to know how the House of Commons is arranged – who sits where, who are those people at the table in the centre, etc.  The Canadian and UK Houses of Commons follow a similar lay-out, with government and opposition facing off on either side of the Chamber, while the Australian and New Zealand chambers have members seated in more of “U” lay-out. I will begin with a description of the lay-out of the Canadian House […]