What is Prime Minister’s Questions?
Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs for short) is a half hour session in The House of Commons in which Members of Parliament (MPs for short) are able to question the Prime Minister on Government policy and relevant political issues.
PMQs is every Wednesday from 12pm to 12:30pm.
It is recorded and sent out live via BBC Parliament, and the recordings are released on the Parliament YouTube channel.[i]
At the bottom of the page are some particularly tasty examples of PMQs sessions and moments from them.
The session begins with a grandiose announcement from the Speaker of the House “Questions to the Prime Minister!”. The room then erupts briefly into a flurry of jeers before subsiding to give way to a generic open question from an MP regarding the Prime Minister’s engagements.
Following the open question, MPs from all sides and parties have an opportunity to ask a question to the Prime Minister.[ii]
The Leader of the Opposition can follow up on their own questions and those asked by other MPs. The Leader of the Opposition is the only Member allowed six questions to the Prime Minister, and to come back with follow ups.
If the Prime Minister is unavailable the Deputy Prime Minister will answer questions.[iii]
Always packed to the rafters with people jeering, booing, shouting, and in a hot, enclosed, crowded room; the House in which PMQs takes place is known to be nerve shattering. A Prime Minister once admitted the thought of PMQs made him physically sick.[iv]
In theory, the Prime Minister does not know what questions will be asked of them, but in reality they are well briefed by people on what questions will probably come up.
PMQs is one of the ways Parliament keep the Government accountable. But, there are some who say that the process is only a shallow affair of accountability, and needs to be reformed to become more effective.[v]
Prime Minister’s Questions is often a noisy political point scoring affair that is described as marmite, some love it some hate it. Detractors say it is childish and feeds into the public’s anti-politics mood; where advocates say if it was not so garish then the public would be even more disinterested and detached from Parliament, and is a fantastic way to keep Government accountable.[vi]
[iv] Editorial, “If Presidents faced Question Time”, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/opinion/01sun3.html
[v] The Committee Office, House of Commons, “House of Commons – Role and Powers of the Prime Minister – Political and Constitutional Reform”, June 24 2014, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpolcon/351/35109.htm
[vi] Hansard Society, “Tuned in or Turned Off? Public Attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions”, 2016, https://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/projects/tuned-in-or-turned-off-public-attitudes-to-prime-minister-s-questions