British Parliament

Now I always enjoy watching the Prime Minister address the House of Commons, but one thing puzzles me. After an MP says his piece, something of a free-for-all ensues as his colleagues voice their opinions about what he just said. Often, one or more members remain silent, but stand up and then sit right back down. They don’t stand up and wave, yell, or jump up and down. They simply stand up, and then take their seats again.
Can anyone tell me what this is supposed to symbolize, or at least what it’s called?

The MP is seeking recognition from the Speaker to address the PM. By standing up, the Speaker notes that the MP wishes to speak, and may or may not call upon him depending on a variety of factors - but if the MP doesn’t stand up, he is guaranteed no chance to speak.

All of this is as a general rule, of course.

Yep, I concur. Excellent theatre, isn’t it ? And always good to test the PM mettle.

PMQ’s every Wednesday (while the House is sitting and the PM isn’t indisposed or abroad) for those who haven’t yet twigged … which is today :slight_smile:

I like watching all the dignified members of parliament grunt and grumble at each other during PMQ’s. I wish the US Congress would grunt more.

I have a question:

Occasionally during Prime Minister’s Questions, one of the opposition will occasionally call out a number (“Number 4, madame speaker”) and the PM wil say “I refer the honorable gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago”.

What’s that all about? Is the MP asking the same question that someone else just asked? If so, why? I’ve never heard a PM elaborate on an answer, so it seems kind of pointless to waste a question on something that’s been asked. Or is it for some kind of polling issue, where the opposition can register their displeasure with an answer??

This has been driving me batty for ages!

I wouldn’t say the U.S. Congress has always been so well-behaved.

Charles Sumner would have begged to differ.

I would highly recomend a trip to the houses of commons if you can get to London.
Best is to ask your local MP for a chance to visit. MP’s are allowed a certain number of guests every week, whom they either escort themselves, or have escorted by their helpers. This would allow you to watch proceedings from a special balcony, and if not in session walk arround the actual debating hall (proper name of which escapes me at moment) you should be able to learn many almost surreal facts about how voting actually takes place (very Victorian technology). It is possible to turn up unannounced (in fact it is your right) to watch proceedings from the visitors balcony, but I think you need an MP to get you a full tour.
Oh yes, if the MP can’t get a ticket for you to be a guest, you can blaim me if you want (I worked on the ticket allocation software, for the lovely couple who handle such things)
Cheers, Bippy


This is how it works:

An MP is allowed to ask the PM two questions - a main question and then a supplementary question. But the supplementary question has to be related to the main question and the main question has to be submitted to the PM’s office prior to question time.

So the PM knows what the main question is but he doesn’t know what the supplementary question will be. Opposition MPs don’t want the PM to know what their supplementary question is because then he will just read out a prepared answer.

So they ask him an inoffensive, all-embracing main question and then hit him with the unexpected supplementary.

Tradition has brought us to a point where the bland main question asked is usually:

“Could the PM list his engagements for the day?”

Since, in an average day, the PM will probably do something related to (for example) Iraq this means that the MP can then use his supplementary to hit the PM with any question he likes about the whole Iraq issue. And the PM won’t know what he’s going to ask him.

All the opposition MPs use the above question as their main question so there’s no point in the PM answering the same question again and again. So he just lists his engagements the first time he’s asked and then thereafter just refers the honourable member to the reply he gave some moments ago.

The honourable member can then put his real question, the secret supplementary one, to the PM.

Hope this clarifies - it’s basically just a way of trying to cathc the PM out.

ps it doesn’t really work because the PMs aides will have already considered just about any question he could be asked and will have a prepared answer anyway. But sometimes it works and when it does, it’s a good way of testing just how clever the PM really is.

As Question Time is going on there will be civil servants rushing around in the background bringing documents to the PM if they think he is about to be asked a particular question. It’s all very “real-time” and makes good tv.

oh and by the way, ordinary MPs only get two questions but the leader of the opposition gets three questions.

I sometimes watch PMQs almost unwillingly for up to an hour (I do not specifically seek it out, but when I am browsing channels it catches me and I end up transfixed) and I don’t remember ever hearing anyone ask the above question.

Maybe it is so common that it slips past my conscious awareness.

They don’t actually physically ask the question any more.

The MP stands up to get the Speaker’s attention and he gets chosen by the speaker as the next questioner. Tony Blair knows what his main question is because he’s got them all written down in front of him. So if Joe MP gets chosen to ask the next question then Blair just looks up what Joe’s question is.

Joe MP doesn’t actually bother to ask the question but Blair gives the standard answer to indicate to Joe MP that he’s up next.

If you read PMQs in Hansard you will see that they actually put in all the main questions so the question:

“Could the PM list his engagements for the day?”

appears all the time. Even though Joe MP didn’t actually say it. It’s kind of taken for granted that that’s what he said.

So no, you’re not hallucinating. They don’t actually ask the question. But Blair has to keep on answering it anyway.

That would explain some strange things the PM keeps saying, I can’t remember what it is that he says, but it’s as if he’s answering a question that hasn’t been asked.

I was just watching it, none of that stuff you describe was happening JoJo people were asking questions. He was answering them.