Roz Currie

Chief of Staff

The Wonder of PMQs

The Wonder of PMQs

So every Wednesday, at 12pm sharp, David Cameron arrives in the chamber for the event that is Prime Minister's Questions (or PMQs). The weekly session has been described as a pantomime, charade and worse.  For those who have tried to sit through it, it's not always clear how the event is meant to work and why they are shouting all the time.

So here I will try to explain, if not exactly why it is like it is, at least how it is meant to work.

First - who gets to ask questions?

  • Leader of the Opposition (currently Jeremy Corbyn) - always gets to ask 6 questions
  • Leader of the 3rd biggest party (currently Angus Robertson of the SNP) - always gets to ask 2 questions
  • Back Bench MPs. This is drawn at random.  MPs need to 'table a question' in advance which is done either online or by visiting the Table Office.

What can they ask about?

  • The first question is always about the PM's engagements from a backbench MP. This then allows the MP to ask a supplementary question which can be about anything they want.
  • So in theory, an MP can ask anything they want. However, in practice, MPs will try to use their question wisely.  For back benchers in particular, they may try to give their question a local twist to speak for their constituents. This works best when they can link a local question to an issue of national significance at the time.

Does Cameron know what he will be asked in advance?

  • No he doesn't. However, the topics are unlikely to be a big surprise for the PM and he is extensively briefed by Government departments in advance.

Does he have to answer the question?

  • He has to say something... But you might notice that he often fails to answer the question directly.  The person asking the question can't challenge this. The leader of the opposition is the only MP who can come back with further questions.

Why all the shouting and jeering?

  • MPs are not allowed to applaud in the chamber so have to find other ways to vocally support their colleagues. While this might explain the calls of 'here here' it doesn't help with understanding the wall of noise that is experienced in PMQs. I'm afraid I have no explanation beyond playground politics (though the children I know behave much better!)

Is PMQs fit for purpose?

  • I'll have to leave that up to you to decide.  Corbyn has made it clear that he wishes to change the way PMQs is conducted.  Only time will tell if he can succeed.
Syria Vote: Reflections from the Team
Electoral Integrity and Absent Voters

Related Posts

 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Guest
Monday, 17 June 2019

Tommy's Blog Articles

Tommy Sheppard
25 April 2019
Tommy's Blog
Media
Forty years ago in the sweltering summer of 1979 I got myself arrested at Torness. I was one of hundreds protesting against the construction of the nuclear power station. For my efforts I got to spend a night in the cells at Dunbar nick.As the then Thatcher government was keen to point out - we didn't stop Torness. But as I'm keen to point out it was a tipping point. The time when nuclear energy l...
Tommy Sheppard
29 March 2019
Tommy's Blog
Media
For many months the government has wielded a number of sticks to beat MPs into supporting its Withdrawal Agreement. It might be bad, they argue, but the alternative is worse. Remainers have been threatened with no deal. Leavers with no Brexit.The latest big stick is the threat of having to participate in the European parliamentary elections. To avoid this the Government (and the EU’s) new deadline...
Tommy Sheppard
28 March 2019
Tommy's Blog
Media
So we’re not leaving the European Union tomorrow after all. As the Brexiters cancel their street parties and put away the bunting the rest of us should think carefully about what to do with the reprieve.This week started with parliament voting to take control of the process from government. A move without precedent. In truth, we were forced into it. What else can you do when faced with a governmen...
Tommy Sheppard
28 February 2019
Tommy's Blog
Media

Four weeks ago I was worried about writing this column on the eve of the last major parliamentary debate on Brexit. Anything could have happened, rendering my speculation obsolete by the time you read it. I shouldn’t have fretted. Anything could have happened but nothing did.

Here I am again. Groundhog day. It’s Tuesday. There’s a big debate tomorrow.

Tommy Sheppard
31 January 2019
Tommy's Blog

Tuesday. Another day spent discussing Brexit. Another day of my life I’m not getting back.

We are no further forward. As the clock ticks down to exit it’s only fair to ask: What the hell is Theresa May playing at?