Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Prime Minister's Questions
Prime Minister's Questions is a Parliamentary practice in the United Kingdom where every Wednesday when the House of Commons is sitting, the Prime Minister spends half an hour answering questions from MPs. In Canada this constitutional convention is known as Question Period and occurs both in the federal Parliament and in the provincial legislatures. In Australia and New Zealand the period is called Question Time. In the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales this practice is called First Minister's Questions.
Backbench MPs wishing to ask a question must enter their names on the Order Paper. The names of entrants are then shuffled in a ballot to produce a random order in which they will be called by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The formal question on the Order Paper is to ask the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for the day, after which the MP may ask a supplementary question about any subject which might occupy the Prime Minister's time. The Leader of the Opposition is allowed six supplementary questions (which he will normally use as two groups of three), and the leader of the third largest party (currently the Liberal Democrats) has two. The Speaker tries to alternate between government and opposition questioners, and MPs who have drawn a low number or did not enter the ballot can get called in order to provide this balance.
If the Prime Minister is away on official business then a substitute, usually the Deputy Prime Minister, will answer questions. It is customary on these occasions for the Leader of the Opposition also to send a substitute.
Since the televising of Parliament "PMQs" have formed an important part of British political culture. Because of the natural drama of this confrontation it is the most well known piece of Parliamentary business. Tickets to the public gallery for Wednesday are the most sought after Parliamentary tickets. One of Tony Blair's first acts as Prime Minister was to replace the two 15 minute sessions, held on a Tuesday and Thursday, with a single 30 minute session on a Wednesday, a move for which he was criticised.
- Website of 10 Downing Street Archive of videos and transcripts of PMQs
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