Prime Minister’s Question time

It is fashionable to say that PMQ s has become an over the top shouting match which the nation no longer likes.

I would believe that entirely if my constituents when they asked to come to see the Commons asked for any debate or question time other than PMQs, but they still often prefer PMQs to anything else. I would also believe it more if PMQs received less media attention, and some of the other better debates and question times we hold were reported more widely.

Prime Minister’s Questions used to be held twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 15 minutes each. That gave the Leader of the Opposition the chance to lead the news twice a week, though he was much more limited in the number of questions than today. It also meant the PM was more engaged with the Commons on a regular basis, and kept Parliament more topical as you can ask the PM about anything whereas at Departmental questions on the other days you have to stick to that department’s subject.

Mr Blair changed all that. He thought he was too busy to go twice a week. Or maybe he did not want the Leader of the Opposition having a platform twice a week. He did allow 30 minutes instead of two lots of 15 minutes and allowed more questions to the Leader of the Opposition. The media, however, do not normally give the Opposition two stories out of the one PMQs.

In the age of Blair/Brown media management certain bad practice which had been around in the past was taken to new lengths. The PM liked MPs on his own side to share with him before PMQs what they were going to ask, or would through his friends and staff let it be known what the PM would like to be asked. The government wanted to hone the show, control the soundbites and help arrange the news.

Much of the exchange became scripted. Mr Blair would have pre arranged soundbites and killer facts. The Leader of the Opposition would script his questions with advisers, with someone acting out how the PM might answer or behave so the supplementaries could be written in advance.

The issue today is what if anything should be done to improve PMQs? Is it too noisy? Is it too scripted? If so, how could you change that? Does it at least let the nation see the emotions of the exchanges over the big issues of the day, or is it a kind of political theatre that does not satisfy the voters?

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69 Comments

  1. Jez
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    It’s a staged pantomime with little relevance to ordinary citizens.

    If they had to take direct questions from the public in real time without any form of screening or prior warning, now that would be worth watching. Even 1 or 2 queries per session would be an improvement.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      You don’t imagine that, if they were asked direct questions from the public, they would answer them.

      Look at they way they evade answering direct questions during PMQs. Instead they say ‘what’s important is ….’

      • Lifelogic
        Posted February 22, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        Or if you are asking bla bla bla ( which you are not)

        Or is the right hon gentleman suggesting ………

        Or that is why we have set up the xyz commission ……..

        Or we cannot comment until the report from xyz is in, for legal reasons it would not be right ….lessons will be learnt …..the system is very different now….

        Or the classic – it is too early to speculate (is that not what speculation is?
        How can it be too early to speculate? Perhaps to come to a certain conclusion maybe.

        Or the absurd money is no object!

      • APL
        Posted February 22, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

        Mike Wilson: “Look at they way they evade answering direct questions during PMQs. ”

        Yep, the whole thing is a farce. You never, never hear a straight answer to a direct question.

      • Jez
        Posted February 22, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        At least the answer would be unrehearsed & questioner should have right to reply or ask question again if not adequately addressed. Look what happened when Brown met one of his own – ‘that bigoted woman’.

        Politicians/the executive are increasingly detached from their electorate.

      • Hope
        Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        The Government has become an expensive quango for the EU that serves no useful purpose for the people of this country. Self interest appears to be the pervasive purpose of its continuance.

    • Jennifer A
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      Jez – The pantomime is irrelevant. The whole thing is a charade to give nothing more than an impression that we are self governing. Everything important is decided in the EU.

      Incidentally. Isn’t it interesting how pro EU people behave when they don’t get their referendum ? Disorder, violence and murder in Ukraine ?

      And they call anti EU people ‘swivel eyed loons’ ?

  2. Mark B
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    There is a reason why the Government and Official Opposition benches are ‘two swords apart’. Today, despite all the noise and the clearly stage managed pantomime it has become, it still a bit more civilized than it once was.

    I do not know if this is allowed but, questions from Members constituencies on matters that effect them to the PM would be a good idea. I know we have other means but, in this day and age where Parliament are loosing relevancy to our lives, if you are not seen as part of the solution, you regarded as part of the problem.

    Once again, Parliament has given away so many powers as to become almost meaningless. We have today, Quango’s that take their orders from our Supra-National Government and, can happily bypass Parliament and its parent Department. They can use EU Directives (Laws) as the basis of their power and insure their independence from elected Ministerial and committee oversight.

    We are, or have, entered a new political age were, we the people are reduced to nothing more than a audience whose only other function, is to provide cash (tax) and a thin veneer of legitimacy. That’s all.

    • Hope
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      Booker highlights today how the flooding of Somerset was a deliberate act by the Labour government in 2009 implementing EU policy through the EA. When will all home owners and businesses receive compensation from the Govenrment? £100, 000,000 is not enough. Cameron indicated an open cheque book, perhaps he could start writing a few and buy the water pumping station required at Dunball at the end of the King Sedgemoore Drain to help rectify the disaster the government made following EU directives. Another question for Farage to ask Clegg at the EU debate perhaps?

      • HY
        Posted February 23, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps they should sue the EU for compensation although it would still be our money paying for it…

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Prime minister’s questions is a symptom of the powerlessness and the decay of our parliament. It is disliked (certainly by me) because it offers us a pretence instead of real activity.
    Take the floods. The wading about in wellies looking embarrassed (Mr Miliband, Chris Smith), the purposeful stare into the middle distance (Guess who?). All the main statements were made outside parliament. They nearly always are.
    When I was in Australia during the fall of Julia Gillard (a really big event out there), the matter was actually thrashed out in parliament.
    We are really saying, I suppose, give us back our representation.

    • forthurst
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      “(…the purposeful stare into the middle distance (Guess who?).”

      Joseph Stalin? The PM has a lot of duties to perform which require discretion so cannot be staged under the limelight, such as assisting the Head of the Anglican Church with the selection of Her Bishops, ensuring that the CofE remains a tepid affair but with some nice buildings inherited from Rome, useful for some public occasions. This discretion also enables him both to attempt to initiate our involvement in further neocon bloodshed in the ME, one of whose subsidiary objectives is the destruction of ancient Christian communities, whilst purporting to be an Anglican for the purposes of his childrens’ education; you see it all makes sense.

      • Hope
        Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        Smith should be sacked without further ado. Miliband should start pleading forgiveness to the people of Somerset and elsewhere for his party’s policy to deliberately allow flooding by following EU policy.

  4. Richard1
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    As the years go by, the extent and scope of the terrible damage done by the Blair-Brown Labour Government becomes clearer. The Iraq war was an unmitigated disaster. The Afghanistan campaign was launched and conducted with exceptional hubris and incompetence by the political leadership. A huge debt was run up with deficits every year in the 2000s when there should have been surpluses. The gold was sold at a 30 year low. Huge swathes of sovereignty were ceded to the EU. Nationalism in Scotland was stoked up by devolution. And government bacame a process of mendacious media management, with the changes in PMQs an example.

    Let’s hope we never have another Labour government.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      A huge debt was run up with deficits every year in the 2000s when there should have been surpluses.

      Given that until 2008 the national debt was lower than when Labour were elected in 1997 it’s clear that Labour wasn’t running up a huge debt for most of the 2000s.

      The Conservatives have also been running up a huge debt since 2010 but unlike Labour they didn’t manage to generate high levels of growth.

      Nationalism in Scotland was stoked up by devolution.

      Nationalism in Scotland would still have been present without devolution. As long as Westminster isn’t seen by the Scots as acting in their best interests the Scots will want more powers.

      And government bacame a process of mendacious media management, with the changes in PMQs an example.

      Something the Conservatives haven’t changed.

      • Richard1
        Posted February 23, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        Well that shows you don’t have much understanding of what you’re on about, debt rises whenever there is a budget deficit. There were deficits every year in the 2000s due to Labour’s profligate spending, so debt rose jnder Labour, including up to 2007. We see where it went whenever a quango such as the Environment Agency is exposed to scrutiny, or now as a result of welfare reform we hear there were people receiving a multiple of average earnings in benefits. labour’s official debt statistics were also meaningless as they disguised much of it off balance sheet.

        You are right that debt has continued to rise, though at a slower rate than it would have under Labour. That is inevitable following the great Labour recession. We would be better off had there been faster control of public spending.

      • Mark B
        Posted February 23, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        You are forgetting the Private Finance Initiatives.

        From investopedia – the link below:
        “PFIs were first implemented there in 1992 and become popular after 1997. They were used to fund major public works projects such as schools, prisons, hospitals and infrastructure. Instead of funding these projects up front from tax receipts, private firms construct them and then make their money back through long-term (25+ years) repayments, plus interest, from the government.”

        Please note that they became ‘popular’ after 1997.

        http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/privatefinanceinitiative.asp

        • Mark B
          Posted February 23, 2014 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, forgot to add. These PFI’s were off-balance sheet and gave a false picture of overall Government Spending. It also committed the UK, and future Governments, to pay for these items of expenditure whether we used them or not.

    • Posted February 22, 2014 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      “deficits every year in the 2000s when there should have been surpluses”

      A surplus means that the government removes in taxes from the population more than it issues back in. That means the private sector get poorer. Is that what you really want?

      The only legitimate reason for running a surplus is if the private sector is gaining money from net export receipts. Like in Germany. Then surplus money does have to be removed to prevent inflation and is used to buy Treasury securities from the net importers like the USA and the UK .

      • APL
        Posted February 23, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        petermartin2001: “A surplus means that the government removes in taxes from the population more than it issues back in. ”

        Then take less taxes! Zimples.

        petermartin2001: ” That means the private sector get poorer.”

        The private sector gets poorer, because (a) the government moves into areas that it used to occupy, and as any schoolboy economist will know, you can’t compete with free[3]. The result is, the government drives out innovation and industry, often under the guise of regulation or ‘saving'[4] the world and rarely vacates the activity, having destroyed the private sector activity in that particular industry, it never vacates the space.

        (b) The government never takes less taxes!

        perermartin2001: “Then surplus money does have to be removed to prevent inflation ”

        Firstly, in a growing economy, in order to preserve the value of the currency, it may be necessary to inflate the currency, if you don’t wish it to increase in value relative to other goods and services in the economy.

        On the other hand, gentle deflation is a good thing, when for example was the last time you complained at the falling cost of a computer item, which very likely has higher performance?

        However, since the first world war, the government has inflated the money supply such that, and according to the Bank of England’s own figures[2]; in order to get the same value of one nineteen eighteen pound today, you’d have to spend £48 twenty thirteen pounds. The government has not managed the currency, it has destroyed it.

        petermartin2001: “The only legitimate reason for running a surplus”

        The government shouldn’t be a significant participant in the economy.

        [1.] —
        [2.] http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/pages/inflation/calculator/flash/default.aspx
        [3.] It’s never really free, it just appears to be so. Everyone pays for whatever inefficient service the government attempts to provide.
        [4] RBS, HBOS, etc.

      • Richard1
        Posted February 23, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

        The question is largely academic in the UK as we are so far from any surplus. But given the state has run up huge debts there would be justification at times of very buoyant tax revenues to run a surplus and retire debt. The point is with tax receipts at the level they were in the 2000s given global economic circumstances at the time there was no justification for running large deficits as Labour did. Even Keynes would have said that.

        • Edward2
          Posted February 23, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          I agree Richard with all you say.
          In addition the level of growth achieved in the 13 years of disastrous economic management by Brown and Balls was pathetic compared to the amount of stimulous injected.
          Another puzzle for neo Keynians like Uni.

          • Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

            That’s a puzzle that’s easily solved. The deficit was spent in to cover import payments, and the desire of the population to net save, not stimulate the economy.

        • Posted February 23, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          The usual interpretation of Keynes’s view is that he favoured budget neutrality over the whole of the trade cycle. So, a surplus in the bad times is needed to counteract a deficit in slump times.

          That’s fair enough if the external deficit is also neutral. (Current account). But it isn’t for the UK which is a net importer. Rightly or wrongly, it’s a long time since any Governments has placed any real emphasis on the trade gap.

          The payments for those net imports drain money from the economy. The government gets that back from the sale of Treasury securities, on the international market, and spends it back into the economy by deficit spending. Even in the good times there’s rarely a natural surplus.

          There may be an unnatural surplus though if Governments try hard enough. But, if money is extracted by the Government as a surplus at the same time as net import payments are also draining money from the economy, the end result be be further and deeper recession.

  5. Cheshire girl
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I used to be a regular watcher of PMQs, now I never watch it. Why? Because of all the name calling, shouting, and general loud and obnoxious behavior. I find it an embarrassment, even more so when I know it is being watched around the world.
    Instead i watch some of the debates where it is proven that it is perfectly possible to get ones point across without shouting. This is evidenced by people like our host and Jacob Rees -Mogg, who are so often listened to in respectful silence, as they put their point across quietly but forcefully, and in the case of Jacob Rees-Mogg, give a informative and interesting history lesson to boot!

    • Aunty Estab
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      PMQ`s would be o.k. if we had an unbiased speaker instead of the present laughingstock, there was noise in Betty Boothroyd`s day but she could control it as she commanded respect. What better example of the abysmal standard of people becoming M.P.s that they voted in someone who was so obviously unsuitable to preside over Parliament

      Reply John Bercow is neither biased nor unsuitable to be Speaker. He allows many to ask questions, ensures the government has to answer difficult questions and issues, and shows balance between the varying opinions and parties.

    • margaret brandreth-j
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      He just has to be in front of the camera and I can’t help laughing

  6. Lifelogic
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Cameron is quite good and polished as a performer at PMQs, certainly better than Milliband. But I would far prefer him to have a working compass, take real action, get government cut down to size and actually working in the interest of voters for a change. So many politicians think that if they have said something clever on PMQs or in a speech they have done their work. In fact they have achieved nothing in reality what so ever.

    Saying a few good soundbites at PMQs changes nothing. Saying my priority in three letters is N. H. S. achieves nothing to make the dysfunctional NHS actually work. In Cameron’s case one also knows that what he says on EU, green crap, the NHS, IHT, the deficit, education, energy ….. will almost certainly be not what he does anyway.

    • Hope
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Burnham should be asked some very hard questions about the NHS scandals when he was in charge. If it were a business corporate manslaughter charges would be called for by politicians, why not with the NHS? Time for ministers to have personal responsibility of their post and consequences for failing the country.

  7. Old Albion
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    PMQ’s is a meaningless comedy show within an ever more irrelevant parody of a Government, out of touch with the citizens it’s supposed to govern.

  8. Andyvan
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    PMQ’s is the weekly show that tops the bill in the theatre of democracy. It is designed to give the illusion that the people have a real choice of political parties. As the electorate become more sophisticated and understand that it is all an act the show has to become more aggressive, more over the top just to keep it’s viewers watching. I wonder what they would do if everyone stopped believing in the sham elections? Lions and Christians maybe?

  9. James Winfield
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    PMQ’s is a showpiece. When I show it to friends from other European countries (and also those in this country that barely recognise the existence of politics as a subject), they are surprised and intrigued, usually comparing it in a positive way to staid political discussion in their own country.

    As much as I would love to spend hours watching political debates, I am busy – PMQ’s gives me a vital 30 minute snapshot of the main discussion points in parliament.

    I don’t want it to turn staid like an hour-long corporate earnings report – it should show the life, passion and character that is in our parliament.

  10. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    The public can watch any of the debates if they want to . The truth is that MP’s do not attend, in any number to make any of the other debates worthwhile.Most MP’s do not have the ability to prepare their argument succinctly and drone on for far too long.They allow interventions when they have strayed from the argument and um and arr . When they can get back on focus they continue looking down at a piece of paper speaking in a mono tone which again seems to circumvent the point.
    PMQ’s on the other hand are too showy and seem to be designed for satire and telling all sides that when they were power things were ‘so and so’. Most of it is aggressive nonsense.

  11. Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    There is a Labour/BBC campaign running with the theme that PMQs are a shouting match etc.

    The problem they have is that Ed Milliband has not been able to match David Cameron on most of the PMQ exchanges.

    The adversarial system in the Commons is a good way to get to the crux of a debate and to flush out weak arguments. It also allows political opponents to let of steam in a controlled way.

    It is also very entertaining. The party leader debates prior to the last general election were widely promoted and achieved high viewing figures but they were frankly quite boring. By contrast, PMQs are quite entertaining.

    Rather than try to change the PMQ session, I would rather see it broadcast every Wednesday night in its entirety on BBC1 at 9pm and given the kind of promotion the party leader debates enjoyed.

    At the moment the tv editors decide which parts of PMQs we should be allowed to see at peak viewing time. I don’t think that is very democratic. I also don’t think it is very democratic for the BBC to ignore PMQs but instead have the main regular national debate, Question Time, chaired by the BBC, with an audience and speakers invited by the BBC, with a venue decided by the BBC and, crucially, with questions picked by the BBC. I would prefer to see people that we elected debating rather than those chosen by the BBC.

    Of course there is no prospect of PMQs being on prime time tv as this would threaten the BBC’s dominance of our government and would expose Ed Milliband’s poor performance and the Labour Party’s poor arguments.

    That said it was ironic (and very sad) when it emerged on Question Time last week that the flooding in Lincolnshire had not been dealt with by the government and quango environment agency because the BBC dropped its coverage due to the death of Nelson Mandela. Such is the grip the BBC has on our democracy.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      The grip of the BBC is absurd they even has several false starts on BBC Saint Mandela. They whole debate is skewed by them.

      Apart from perhaps Andrew Neil do they employ anyone sensible in current affairs, business programs or indeed anywhere else?

      Any debate on the BBC is always about 5-1. With 5 plus the chairman on the “BBC think” (pro EU, more tax, big government, quack greenery side of the debate).

      They can always fill the gaps with “comedians” Jo or Russell Brand, “Musicians” Billy Bragg types, Jeanette Winterson types, lefty actors (they all are), lefty tv lawyers (most are), charity leaders (all on TV are), the 60% of lefty Tories (Ken Clarke, Greg Clarke, Major, Yeo, Heseltine types….), green loons, Libdems, the token lefty woman, MPs, government “scientists”, token and other religious leaders, lefty journalists, daft lefty (just dig holes and fill them in again, magic money tree) economist types, Will Hutton. If this does not cover it they they have an the endless list of lefty BBC progamme presenters and editors to fall back on.

      Even business leaders cannon say what they really think as they have to sound “nice and caring”.

      Why do non of the BBC “scientists” other than David Bellamy point out that Catastrophic AGW is a huge exaggeration scare scam? Surely they do not all believe in it do they? Even the physicist and mathematicians surely they cannot this it is easier to predict for 100 years than for 10 days can they?

    • uanime5
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      Of course there is no prospect of PMQs being on prime time tv as this would threaten the BBC’s dominance of our government and would expose Ed Milliband’s poor performance and the Labour Party’s poor arguments.

      Given that PMQ is already broadcast live by the BBC and repeated on BBC Parliament why exactly does it need to be on prime time TV? Make sure you explain in your answer why something that few people would be interested in should be on prime time TV.

      • Edward2
        Posted February 23, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        The clue for you Uni is in the words “prime time”.
        Unlike you, many of us are out earning a living to pay taxes to help fund all those public services you go on about when the full version of PMQ’s is broadcast.

      • Posted February 23, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        Few people?

        The party leader debates before the last general election were held in prime viewing time and were given a lot of promotion. They achieved high audience ratings.

        All I am asking for is the same treatment for PMQs.

  12. alan jutson
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I think PMQ’s is now far too scripted to be of any real use anymore.

    Far too many people tied up for a short period of time, when rather more productive use could be made of that time.

  13. acorn
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Do away with PMQs, they serve no purpose, they are pure Punch and Judy theatre. If you watch excerpts of them on TV in foreign hotels, it is frankly embarrassing. The locals think it is faked for TV, because if the passion was real, they would be throwing punches, like in their own parliaments.

    The simplest way to get rid of it would be to get the “executive” out of the “legislature” and elect the PM/ Cabinet separately. Most people I mention this to, haven’t got a clue what I am talking about and couldn’t care less. So nothing will change. Obama was elected president with a vote of 66 million; Cameron was enabled to be Prime Minister, courtesy of a mere 34 thousand (0.055% of population) in a place called Witney.

  14. The Prangwizard
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    We should go back to two PMQs a week.

  15. David Murfin
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    My understanding is that the aim of PMQs was twofold: to enable the PM to be questioned on government policy about topical issues, and to allow backbenchers to raise issues of concern to their constituents. In that scenario there is no place for ‘questions the PM would like’. The questioners should control the agenda. The other undesirable feature of the preset format is the failure of the PM to actually answer many of the questions put to him by the Leader of the Opposition, However, when those questions demand a detailed knowledge of some fairly arcane and perhaps disputable statistic, that is not surprising. The LO’s questions often seem designed to allow the follow-up “Mr Speaker, he has not answered the question. I will tell him”. Such questions do little to probe government policy on behalf of the public, giving the PM an opportunity to make irrelevant remarks.
    I would suggest a return to two sessions per week, but one for the Leader of the Opposition, and one exclusively for backbenchers. Sycophantic questions from the latter could be discouraged by the Speaker and perhaps even by pressure from colleagues that their available time for searching questions was being wasted.
    It would then interesting to see which session your visitors chose to see.

    • Colin
      Posted February 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      “My understanding is that the aim of PMQs was twofold: to enable the PM to be questioned on government policy about topical issues, and to allow backbenchers to raise issues of concern to their constituents.”

      Exactly as it should be. I think the problem now is that it’s become a theatrical set piece, of no interest to anyone outside the Westminster village except the media who like to report on politics as a mixture of sporting contest and soap opera.

      Back in Mr Gladstone’s day the first hour of Parliamentary business each day was Question Time, and all ministers attended. Questions could be asked of any minister including the PM, but if they related to departmental business, the PM could ask the relevant departmental minister to answer for him. There was no weekly Punch and Judy show. I understand it still works this way in Australia, although they’ve managed to turn even this into a shouting match, largely because the Speaker is simply ignored when he calls for order.

      What we need is for Mr Speaker to enforce some rules:

      1. Questions will be questions, not speeches. Anyone making a speech, including the Leader of the Opposition, will be ruled out of order and not answered.

      2. Questions must relate to matters which are within ministerial responsibilities, so for example questions about whether the Conservative party has “a problem with women” will be ruled out of order and not answered.

      3. Questions must be answered with the information requested, not with a speech. If the minister fails to answer Mr Speaker must require him to provide the information requested, or promise to obtain it by a specified deadline. If the minister refuses to do so he will be out of order, and may be “named” possibly leading to disciplinary action such as suspension from the House (and therefore his ministerial position!).

      4. Any honourable Members shouting abuse or otherwise behaving in a disorderly fashioned will similarly be named and face suspension. When Mr Speaker stands and calls for order, there will be silence. Or else.

      If we had a Speaker who actually carried some authority we might be able to enforce this, and stop our so-called elected representatives behaving like children. Not much hope at present.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted February 22, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        “Back in Mr Gladstone’s day the first hour of Parliamentary business each day was Question Time, and all ministers attended.”

        Didn’t know that; learn something every day (but often forget it the next).

  16. yulwaymartyn
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    “or is it a political theatre that does not satisfy the voters”?

    yes exactly that.

    especially when you are walking your children back from school in the rain, and when you are hanging on the phone for a doctor’s appointment, or trying to find a pound coin for the supermarket trolley, or ringing the plumber for the tenth time, or picking up your wheelie bin from half way down the street where the wind has taken it, or picking up the rubbish swirling around your house in the wind, etc etc

  17. Iain Gill
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    It needs to change.
    The only way it will change is to get better quality MP’s, by which I mean a much higher proportion who have done proper jobs, not straight from college to political researcher to MP, not PPE grads, not public sector, not lawyers, proper real jobs that brings wealth into the country. More MP’s with working class and regional accents and far fewer public school dross too.

  18. Sebastian Weetabix
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Personally I enjoy PMQs as a piece of entertaining theatre, but it strikes me the speaker is not in command of the house. He seems partial and no-one pays him the slightest attention. PMQs was never so rowdy or ridiculous under Bernard Weatherill or Betty Boothroyd.

    It also seems to me that the House now allows members to read out speeches rather than questions – we used to hear shouts of “reading” when some egregious thicko read out a question.

  19. Alan Wheatley
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I like the idea that there should be questions to the Prime Minister. It probably does not matter overly much whether it is twice 15 minutes or once 30 minutes. But these days I never bother with PMQs as I consider it has become irrelevant and a waste of my time.

    If I was to visit Parliament and it happened to be at a time of PMQs I would likely ask to see for myself so as to be able to contrast the event as experienced in the Chamber from its presentation on the television. And also because it is short.

    I would be more interested in a six-hour debate on HS2, or the future of the BBC, but I doubt I could stick sitting through a whole six hours. Does anybody?

    If the subject is of interest then the Select Committees can be worth several hours of one’s time, but there are only so many hours in the day, and you have to know it is on in the first place.

    As to PMQs, perhaps the way to change it for the better would be to restrict the questions to those from back benchers. And if the Speaker wants to improve the quality of the questions he likely would know who best to call. But the Speaker can not do much about the quality of the answers!

  20. Denis Cooper
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    PMQ’s now matches the worst predictions of those who originally opposed televising proceedings in Parliament. But what they didn’t predict was the other far more useful consequence that we now know just how few MPs are normally present in the chamber for important debates, rather than for PMQ’s when it is packed out. I guess that’s why your constituents are mainly interested in tickets for the gladiatorial contest, rather than for watching a sluggish debate in an almost empty chamber.

  21. Bill
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I think the concept of PMQs is good. The notion that the Prime Minister is held to account weekly is commendable. Does this sort of thing happen elsewhere in the world? Would some of the less good American presidents have got away with their policies if this model operated in Washington? I doubt it.

    But the practice of PMQs does seem unsatisfactory. So keep the concept but somehow change the practice.

  22. Atlas
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I watch PMQs almost without exception. It reminds me of the old BBC TV “Top of the Pops” programme in that 9 out of 10 questions/acts are duff, but occasionally one is good enough to make up for the rest. As others have said, planted questions, orchestrated braying noises, questions not answered do detract; but I don’t know how else you could robustly arrange matters to be otherwise.

  23. John E
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Raucous is good. Head to head debate is good. Seeing leaders tested and kept on their toes is good. Real emotion and passion is good.
    Stage management, spin, pre-defined messages, advance briefings etc are what everyone is sick of. It’s not as if we are at all deceived. Having the BBC 08:00 news being taken up entirely with what politicians are “expected to say today” is a total turn off.

  24. oldtimer
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    The change from twice weekly PMQ sessions to just one was a change for the worse. It suffers from planted questions, from obviously pre-prepared sound bite answers and an excess of unedifying noise. There are better chances of getting useful exchanges with the PM from his sessions with the Chairs of the parliamentary select committees, but these are relatively infrequent. PMQs may impress a visitor, but to me they serve little useful purpose apart from giving constituency MPs a chance to impress their electorates with a witty and/or penetrating question. Unfortunately these are in the minority of questions to the PM.

  25. Bob
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Nigel Farage has accepted an invitation from Nick Clegg to debate on LBC radio their relative positions on our relationship with the EU.

    Nigel Farage has suggested that David Cameron and Ed Miliband should join them.
    I’m guessing that they will keep their heads down and allow Mr Clegg to speak for them.

  26. Antisthenes
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    It is sad that parliament once a week has to descend to theatre and be more Punch and Judy and pantomime than serious discussion and debate. It highlights one of many flaws in the representative democracy that is practiced in the UK. It also highlights the fact that MPs along with the bulk of the population are on the evolutionary scale no further along than the adolescent stage. Until we become more grown up then we are stuck with such display and will continue to judge one another and those who govern us not on the substance of their arguments and beliefs but on the cleverness of their antics and verbal gymnastics .

  27. Mark
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I attended PMQs many years ago, when there were no broadcasts of Parliament, and reports of proceedings depended on the Press Gallery – or Hansard for the dedicated. Questions were printed on the Order Paper, although questioners were permitted a supplementary. As it happens, the session I attended was the subject of banner headlines the following day – but that was unusual. Parliamentary reporting, mediated by seasoned correspondents, was spread more evenly across sittings, although it tended not to include much on Select Committee hearings.

    The present regime is a consequence of the invasion of TV. Perhaps we should put it back in its box.

  28. bigneil
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    John, you say it is a shouting match that the public don’t like. I think the public don’t like parliament full stop. What with all the expenses fiddles and the lies. Include the stupid political games played by all. As I am not able to walk very far and the weather has been terrible my TV viewing has gone up. I even started to watch BBC Parliament (yes it got that bad). Dismayed wasn’t the word with some of it ( ok vast majority). The constant waffle and time wasting is incredible – how the hell do some of you stay awake.
    Rhetorical question – -how much time is wasted by the constant repetition of “my learned friend” and ” my right honourable friend” – while talking to a member of the other party – -when everyone knows you want to kick each other on the shins ??

    • Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      So you would prefer Parliament to be more like the Chinese Assembly where every leader’s speech is received in polite silence except for a round of applause every few minutes and a standing ovation at the end?

      And you would prefer journalists who are too scared to expose corruption and wrong-doing when they find it?

      The alternative to all that is the system we have in the UK and I know which I prefer.

  29. ian wragg
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Question John, we learn that tax receipts are down again in January. Now we are told there are 2 million more employed and we have the highest growth in Europe so how does that stack up.
    Could it be that the vast majority of the 2 million jobs (1.6 million foreigners) are paying no tax and are drawing in work benefits. Explain to me again how immigration is good for us and is required to pay my pension.
    I only have an HNC in Engineering so am unable to comprehend.

    Reply Tax receipts have not risen as much as hoped – remember the whole plan was based on large increases in tax revenue. Probably the results of more high earners going abroad.

    • ian wragg
      Posted February 23, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      So net immigration consists of exporting talented Brits and rich pensioners and replacing them with Cheap unskilled foreign labour.
      That’s a winner if ever I heard one…not…

  30. Chris Rose
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I think it was inevitable the at PMQs would become a showcase and theatrical event once the television cameras arrived. No doubt it was a more constructive occasion before then, but I don’t see that as a reason to remove the cameras, were that possible, or to abolish the event. It is fundamental to our constitution that the PM is answerable to Parliament.

    As for Blair changing the twice weekly sessions to one, didn’t John Major advise him to do so?

    Reply Major always faced 2 sessions a week. It was Blair’s decision to go to one.

  31. Vanessa
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    A staged pantomime is just about it as stated in a comment above. It is completely scripted and does not sound as if anyone is genuine. This PM and all around him are just virtual sound-bites. It is not a government working for the people but a manager with his team jumping up and down for the cameras.

    When will we get back to proper debate and discussion about WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT as it is OUR MONEY you are spending.

    Stop kowtowing to the European Union Directives. Tear them all up and let’s have proper DEMOCRATIC government for a change.

  32. Bert Young
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I think PMQ time is a disgrace . Trying to score Brownie points with the bantering that goes on is an insult to intelligence . Planted questions to the PM are equally insulting ;for once I agreed with the Speaker who made a plea for this sort of behaviour to stop . The nodding of heads , the smiles of support , the pointing of accusing fingers are symptomatic of a form of insecurity ; I wish our elected representatives would grow up and show proper statesmanship !!

  33. Paul
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Just watching PMQs with Cameron and Miliband for a few minutes gives you a good idea why this country is in decline. It’s like watching two posh, slightly disappointing public school A-Level students with no experience of the outside world pretending to hate each others politics when in actual fact they agree on 99 per cent of what they’re pretending to argue about, just to get a buzz out of what they’re doing. It looks like most of the MPs who sit in the HoC during PMQs are on steroids who need to be locked up. There are no real disagreements, they all laugh along together knowing that they can get away with fooling the public for a few more years at least. MPs like Caroline Lucas, Dennis Skinner and JR are the exceptions – they actually have principles.

  34. uanime5
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Personally I’d improve PMQ and debates by requiring the rest of the MPs to be quiet, when an MPs is asking or answering a question, so that the Speaker doesn’t need to keep telling them to be quiet.

    Also PMQ could be improved if only the opposition were allowed to ask questions; mainly because that MPs from the PM’s party tend to only ask questions the PM wants to answer, rather than holding him to account.

  35. lojolondon
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    John, You made the correct analysis in your second sentence – we like the adversarial debate, we like to see attack and counter-attack, and top debators thinking on their feet. Since the 1980’s, the Biased BBC has seen themselves as the true opposition to the Conservatives. They can’t criticise the messages, they are now criticising the way they are delivered.
    You will see the same effect countless times, when a Conservative does something bad, for the next week there will be headline articles starting ‘huge public outcry over …..’ In fact, mostly, the public don’t really care, it is just their way of justifying having the same boring headlines for a solid week.
    Best thing to do is to shut them down, the second best thing is to ignore them.

  36. Posted February 22, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood,

    If you are looking for a possible question for the next PMQ, I would like to suggest:

    Is the Prime Minister aware of the successful economic recovery policies pursued in America since the 2008 GFC.

    Whereas the UK ‘s GDP is still lower than the pre-GFC peak the USA’s GDP is now 8% higher. President Obama is reportedly calling for an end to austerity in his forthcoming budget.

    Does David Cameron have any plans to the kind of emulate economic policies which are seen to succeed and reject those which are seen seen not to?

    • Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      Error: Last sentence should be

      Does David Cameron have any plans to emulate economic policies which are seen to succeed, and reject those which are seen seen not to?

    • Edward2
      Posted February 23, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      One of the policies the USA has pursued is cheap energy in the form of fracking for gas and by large increases in exploration for domestic sources of oil.
      Apart from all the jobs this has created, their energy costs are now nearly half the UK’s.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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