How PMQs works

I promised someone on Twitter last week that I would explain how the ballot for PMQs works, and who else gets to speak, so here goes, using tomorrow’s session as an example.

Backbenchers (which includes all the Lib Dems except Clegg and all the Tories except the Shadow Cabinet) have to submit their question for PMQs by 12.30pm the Thursday before. They don’t have to actually specify what question they want to ask, other than ‘what engagements the PM has today’. Then it’s down to pure luck, whether your question comes up in the shuffle conducted by the Table Office. I don’t know how they do the shuffle but it is entirely random. This week, for example, there are five Lib Dems on the order paper as well as Stephen Pound, who was called by the Speaker at last week’s PMQs, and Karen Buck, who has been down the bottom of the order paper twice in the three weeks that Parliament has been back. Maybe they’ll get round to her this week; she just missed out last time.

The draw for tomorrow’s session is as follows:

1. Jamie Reed (Labour)
2. Tom Brake (Lib Dem)
3. Dr. Brian Iddon (Lab)
4. Andrew Turner (Con)
5. Ronnie Campbell (Lab)
6. Sir Alan Beith (Lib Dem)
7. Dr Phyllis Starkey (Lab)
8. Bob Russell (Lib Dem)
9. David TC Davies (Con)
10. Liz Blackman (Lab)
11. Stephen Pound (Lab)
12. Willie Rennie (Lib Dem)
13. seems to have disappeared
14. Karen Buck (Lab)
15. Paul Rowen (Lib Dem)

The Speaker will also call Cameron (who gets six questions), Clegg (who gets two) and then various backbenchers who bob up and down to get his attention, to ensure political balance – i.e. it has to alternate between Government and Oppostion benches.

1. Jamie Reed (Lab) – Jamie will actually ask the PM what his engagements are today, by just saying “Question Number One, Mr Speaker”, and will then get a supplementary question

David Cameron (Some Tory leaders have used their six questions in two bursts of three, but Cameron always does his six together, even if he changes subject halfway through).

A Labour backbencher
Nick Clegg
A Labour backbencher

2. Tom Brake (Lib Dem)
3. Dr. Brian Iddon (Lab)
4. Andrew Turner (Con)
5. Ronnie Campbell (Lab)
6. Sir Alan Beith (Lib Dem)
7. Dr Phyllis Starkey (Lab)
8. Bob Russell (Lib Dem)

A Labour backbencher

9. David TC Davies (Con)
10. Liz Blackman (Lab)

An Opposition backbencher – could be Tory, Lib Dem, Nats

11. Stephen Pound (Lab)
12. Willie Rennie (Lib Dem)
13. seems to have disappeared from order paper
14. Karen Buck (Lab)
15. Paul Rowen (Lib Dem)

Occasionally the Speaker will depart from this order, if for example there is an issue which is all over the national media and one MP has a particular constituency interest (in which case the MP will normally drop a note to the Speaker beforehand). Or he might call one of the Unionists/ SDLP when there’s been a significant development in the peace process.

So… that’s it. As you will see from tomorrow’s draw, it’s not a good week for the Conservatives. They only have two MPs on the order paper – and one of those is TC – and only one opportunity for someone else to be called (and the Speaker could well choose a Nat instead). Usually there are more opportunities for MPs to ‘bob’, but the draw this week is unusually evenly spread. It’s still worth bobbing though, because the Speaker will note who has been trying week after week, and it may up your chances of getting called.

PMQs this week is preceded by Northern Ireland questions and because I’m Northern Ireland whip I get to be on the front bench. This happens when it’s DFID questions too.

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