Question Time

Question Time

Question Time in a parliament occurs when backbenchers (members of the parliament who are not Ministers) ask questions of the Prime Minister which he or she is obliged to answer. It usually occurs daily while parliament is sitting, though it can be cancelled in exceptional circumstances. Question Time originated in the Westminster system of the United Kingdom, but occurs in several other countries as well.

In practice, the questions asked in Question Time are usually pre-arranged by the organisers of each party; although the questions are usually without notice.Questions from government backbenchers (termed "patsies" in the United Kingdom and "Dorothy Dixers" in Australia) are either intended to allow the Minister to discuss the virtues of government policy, or to attack the opposition. A typical format of such a government backbencher's question might be "Could the Minister discuss the benefits of the government's initiative on , and is the Minister aware of any alternative policies in this area?"

Ministers may attempt to avoid opposition questions, but lying or intentionally providing misleading answers to Parliament is not permitted by the standing orders. The resulting political outcry could, and often does, result in that Minister being relieved of their position, and possibly suspended from the House. Skilled Ministers will often attempt to turn around the opposition's questions, rather than answering the question asked using them to further attack the opposition. However the oration must be rather precise, as the opposition member can raise the issue to the Speaker as to the wavering relevance of the response.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Question time lasts for an hour each day from Monday to Thursday (2:30 to 3:30 on Mondays and Tuesdays, 11:30 to 12:30 on Wednesdays, and 10:30 to 12:30 on Thursdays). Each Government department has their place in a rota which repeats every fortnight. The exception to this sequence are the Business Questions (Questions to the Leader of House of Commons), in which questions are submitted about Parliamentary procedure, as well as any issue that MPs might want to raise to the government. Also, Questions to the Prime Minister takes place each Wednesday from 12 noon to 12:30.

In addition to government departments, there are also questions regarding the Church, House of Commons reform and Law Rulings.

Additionally, each Member of Parliament is entitled to file a limited number of written questions. Usually a Private Member directs a question to a Secretary of State, but it usually answered by a Minister of State or Parliamentary Under Secretary of State. Written Questions are submitted to the Clerks of the Table Office, either on paper or electronically, and are recorded in "The Official Report (Hansard)" so as to be widely available and accessible. [cite web
author=House of Commons Information Office
title=Parliamentary Questions: House of Commons Information Office Factsheet P1
month=June | year=2005

In the House of Lords an Hour is put aside each afternoon at the start of the days proceedings for 'Lords Questions'. A peer submits a query in advance, which then appears on the 'Order Paper' for the day's proceedings. The Lord shall say

"My Lords, I beg to move the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper"

The Minister responsible then answers the query. Afterwards, for around ten minutes any Lord can ask the Minister questions on the theme of the original put down on the order paper. (For instance, if the question regards immigration, Lords can ask the Minister any question related to immigration during the allowed period).


In Australia, the first question is usually asked by the Leader of the Opposition, usually of the Prime Minister. The Leader is sometimes given indulgence by the Speaker to ask the majority of questions. Other questions are asked, in turn, by government and opposition backbenchers. Shadow ministers tend to ask questions of their Ministerial counterparts. Similar arrangements apply in the Senate. [ [ "First report of 2008Restructuring question time; Reference of bills to committees; Questions to chairs of committees; Deputy chairs of committees and Leave to make statements," 16 September 2008.© Commonwealth of Australia 2008. ISBN 978-0-642-71982-9] ]

The Australian Parliament's Standing Orders and practices allow the Prime Minister to terminate Question Time by moving that "further questions be placed on the Notice Paper". It is possible for the Prime Minister to prematurely terminate Question Time, although this is never done due to the political implications it would have (and bad publicity it would create). During the Keating Government, the Prime Minister attempted to limit the number of questions asked in a way the Liberal Opposition disapproved of. To protest the change, the Opposition made random quorum calls through the afternoon for every question they felt they had been denied that day.

Question time is generally scheduled from 2-3 pm on every sitting day. Apart from divisions, it is the only time where the chamber is likely to be filled.

Tactically, it is considered an important defining characteristic for an Opposition Leader to be able ask a pertinent question of the Prime Minister or Premier, or to single out perceived weak performers in the Ministry.

Question Time usually starts with a question being asked by an Opposition frontbencher (usually the Leader of the Opposition), which is answered by a Government frontbencher, after which the Opposition may then ask another question.

Question Time in the Australian House of Representatives can become rather rowdy at times, with numerous interjections. When the level of interference becomes unacceptable, the Speaker asks the Member who is speaking to resume his/her seat so that the Speaker can deal with the matter. As such, Question Time is popular among television watchers, particularly university students and others watching television in the early afternoon on weekdays (or some time after midnight when Question Time is often re-broadcast).

There is no time limit for answers in the House of Representatives, but a time limit applies in the Senate. However, a Senator may immediately ask a supplementary question, related to their initial question, if the answer they were seeking was not forthcoming.

It is very common for points of order to be raised during Question Time on the issue of relevance. However, as long as the Minister is talking on the general subject of the matter raised in the question, it is usually considered relevant to the question, even if it does not address the specific issue raised in the question at all.

The Victorian Parliament allows for a set number of "questions without notice" to be asked of Ministers, proportionally from each Party represented in the House, and traditionally starting with the Opposition. So, for example, in the current Parliament, the Liberal Party has one question, then Labor (the governing party), then the Nationals (a minority party) and on occasion a question from the independent Member for East Gippsland, Craig Ingram.


Hong Kong

The questions in the Legislative Council are aimed at seeking information on government actions on specific problems or incidents and on government policies, for the purpose of monitoring the effectiveness of the government.

Questions may be asked at any council meeting except the first meeting of a session, a meeting at which the President (the speaker) of the council is elected, or the Chief Executive delivers the annual policy address to the Council.

No more than 20 questions, excluding urgent questions that may be permitted by the President, may be asked at any one meeting. Replies to questions may be given by designated public officers, usually secretaries, orally or in written form. For questions seeking oral replies, supplementary questions may be put by any member when called upon by the president of the council for the purpose of elucidating that answer. Where there is no debate on a motion with no legislative effect at a meeting, no more than ten questions requiring oral replies may be asked; otherwise, no more than six questions may require an oral reply.

The Chief Executive, who is the head of the region and head of government, attends Question and Answer Session of the council which are held several times in a legislative year.



The Diet of Japan held its first nihongo|question time|党首討論|tōshu tōron on November 10, 1999: the first question asked to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi was "Prime Minister, what did you have for breakfast this morning?" Japan's question time was closely modeled after that of the UK, and many Diet members traveled to the House of Commons to study the British application of the concept. [cite web
title=Report on my visit to the UK
publisher=Embassy of Japan in the UK

Question time is 45 minutes long and questions are limited to the leaders of parliamentary caucuses (which must consist of at least ten members of either house). Although it is generally held every week while the Diet is in session, it may be cancelled with the agreement of the opposition: this often happens during the budgeting period and at other times when the Prime Minister must sit in the Diet.

United States

The United States, which has a presidential system of government, does not have a Question Time for the President.

Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution states: [The President] "shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." The exact contours of this clause have never been worked out.

In 2008, John McCain (presumptive Republican Party nominee for President of the United States in the 2008 presidential election) stated his intention, if elected, to created a Presidential equivalent of the British conditional convention of Prime Minister's Questions. [cite news |authors= |title=If Presidents Faced Question Time |url= |work=New York Times | |date=2008-06-01 |accessdate=2008-06-01 ] In a policy speech on May 15, 2008, which outlined a number of ideas, McCain said, "I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons." [cite news |author=John McCain |title=Text of McCain's Speech on First-Term Goals |url= |work= |publisher= |date=2008-05-15 |accessdate=2008-06-01| quote= "I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons".]

George F. Will of the "The Washington Post" criticized the proposal in an Op-Ed piece, saying that a Presidential Question Time would endanger separation of powers as the President of the United States, unlike the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is not a member of the legislature. Will ended the piece by saying, "Congress should remind a President McCain that the 16 blocks separating the Capitol from the White House nicely express the nation's constitutional geography." [cite news |author= George F. Will |title= McCain's Question Time|url= |work=The Washington Post |publisher= |date=2008-05-28 |accessdate=2008-06-01 ] However, critics of Will's review, such as Steven Spadijer point out that Question Time would be a check and balance in and of itself:

New Zealand

Oral questions

Questions asked to Ministers must be concise and related to the area of the Minister's responsibility. Questions require that all facts be authenticated. Before a question is asked it is checked that it meets the requirements of the House's Standing orders, before being transmitted to the relevant ministers.

In New Zealand oral questions are asked at 2pm on each sitting day. Twelve principal oral questions are asked, with supplementary questions also given, but that must relate to the initial subject matter. The opportunity to ask questions is equally shared amongst the members of the house, excluding ministers. Urgent Questions while possible are uncommon.

The Question is addressed to the portfolio of the Minister receiving the question, and the questioner must ask the question as written. Once a question is asked, supplementary questions can be asked.

SKY News New Zealand broadcasts this session from 2pm to the conclusion of questioning. Also, New Zealand's free-to-air digital television channel, Freeview, provides live coverage of the debating chamber when it is in session on Parliament TV.

Written questions

There is no limit to the written questions that any MP can ask and can be submitted each working day before 10.30am. Submission and publication of the question is an electronic process with no hard copy record. Ministers have 6 days to respond to a question.

External links

* [ Parliamentary business - Questions for written or oral answer, New Zealand Parliament]


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