What is Prime Minister’s Questions? PMQs explained

What are Prime Minister’s Questions and why is everyone bobbing up and down?


What are the Prime Minister’s Questions?

PMQs are held every Wednesday for half an hour. It is the opportunity for MPs to put questions to the Prime Minister and to hold the government to account over their actions. MPs use PMQs to ask questions about national issues and often use it as an opportunity to mention issues affecting their constituency.


How Do You Ask A Question?

Prime Minister David Cameron at the dispatch box, taking Prime Minister's Questions

David Cameron takes Prime Minister’s Questions Via BBC Parliament

MPs wishing to ask a question must enter it into a ballot system.

Entries are selected at random and put at random onto the Order Paper which the Speaker of the House calls out. The question is asked; the Prime Minister gives an answer.

Tradition dictates that PMQs starts with a question about the Prime Minister’s engagements. This is called Question Number One.



British House of Commons Order paper for Prime Minister's questions

Order of the day: the Order Paper lists who asks Prime Minister’s Questions

The Prime Minister will usually reply;

“This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.”

The first MP to ask a question will ask “Question Number One” then follow that with their own query.

This question is usually followed by the leader of the opposition. The opposition leader (currently Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party) is allowed six questions in total. The opposition leader is the only person allowed to come back with further questions.

Those not selected for the Order Paper can attempt to “catch the eye” of the speaker to ask an extra question. This is achieved by standing and sitting immediately before the Prime Minister makes his answer. This is known as “bobbing”. There was us thinking they’d just had an electric shock.



Is Prime Minister’s Questions out of touch?

The format of Prime Minister’s Questions has changed over the years. In 1881 a time-limit for questions was set. Then in 1961 PMQs were made permanent as two 15 minute slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister he changed the format again to the 30 minute slot on a Wednesday which we have today.

Prime Minister’ Questions has been criticised as being childish. MPs from both sides cheer their leaders and bray at the opposing side. The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition usually trade thinly veiled insults.

The speaker of the House John Bercow has called PMQs “embarrassing”. The “histrionics and cacophony of noise” meant several MPs had said they would not attend Prime Minister’s Questions.

In the past the behaviour was much more civilised. In a speech to the House John Bercow notes that “while exchanges could be lively, contemporary accounts do not record them being remotely raucous.” Former speaker Selwyn Lloyd blamed the rise in bad behaviour personal animosity between Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.

New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to change Prime Minister’s questions. He wants it to be less “theatrical” and for a real debate to take place.

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Royal Family: should we get rid or are we just too used to them?

Queen Elizabeth II becomes the UK’s longest serving monarch. Earlier this year a report was released detailing how much the Royal Family costs. Are they really good value for money or should we get rid? Scenes of Reason broke down the debate so you can get the info.

The Basics: What is the Royal Family for?

The Royal Family and Queen Elizabeth II

Technically, the Queen approves rules made by government. #royalfact

In the UK:  At present we have a monarch, Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. She is now the UK’s longest serving royal. Well done, Liz!

Though the Queen is meant to stay out of politics and remain impartial, as head of state she has several duties. These include overseeing the opening of parliament and signing acts of parliament. Important stuff.

The Queen and the Royal Family also look after visiting royals and officials, and make visits to other countries. This strengthens diplomatic and economic bonds between the UK and other countries. Getting chummy; so we get their money.

The official royal website also describes the role of head of nation as “providing a focus for national identity”. Whatever the hell that means.

Explore: who rules the United Kingdom?

The Big Question: Who pays for the Royal Family?

Is the Royal Family unfair?

Royal Family; is it unfair that we have to pay?

The Queen gets money from the government each year to pay for the running of her official duties.

This is done through the Sovereign Grant. In 1760, the Crown Estate (lands owned by the Royal Family) was handed over to the state. These lands owned by the state include farms, mines and public land. In return the Royal Family receives a payment each year to live on.

Currently: Each year the Queen gets the equivalent of 15% of the Crown Estate’s profits. Last year profits were £252.6 million, so the Sovereign Grant given to the Royal Family was = £37.9 million. Cor Blimey.

The Scottish Question

Earlier this year newspapers reported that Scotland will be reducing the amount of money given to the Queen.

Myth: With some of the Crown Estate being handed over to the Scottish government, the Scots will be keeping the profit money for themselves and won’t give any to the Queen.

This is untrue. As seen above, and reported on Buzzfeed the money comes directly from the treasury. Not actually from the profits of the estate. Sorry newspapers, you got it wrong.

The Alternative: What would happen if we got rid of the Royal Family?

Only 43 countries in the world are ruled by a monarchy.

Anti-Monarchy groups like Republic want to get rid of Queenie and the Royal Family. If this happened, the UK would likely become a Republic. The people and their elected representatives would nominate the head of state rather than a monarch.

“We call for an elected head of state to perform an important constitutional and ceremonial role. This is like the way it’s done in Ireland. This would give us an effective and independent head of state who can play a real role in national life.” – Republic

Who would become head of state?

The Prime Minister is one alternative. Another option, favoured by Republic, is an elected head of state independent from the government. So, someone who is chosen by the people to represent the country, but not govern it. In theory, anyone should be able to put themselves forward for the position, just like MPs.

The Debate

Pro-Royals Say:

US President Barack Obama meets Prince Charles, heir to the throne

The Royal Family increases tourism in the UK

The Royal Family isn’t that expensive when you think about it. According to Buckingham Palace the Royal Family costs each person 56p a year. Bargain!

The Royal Family is good news for:

Tourism. Money brought in by tourism each year by the Royal Family is estimated at £500 million a year.

Charity. Around 3000 charities have a royal as their patron, boosting their profile and giving credibility to the cause.

Making connections. The Royal Family attend 2,000 official events each year in the UK and abroad.

Supporters of the Royal Family also say that we should sympathise with the Royals. They don’t get a choice in what they do and are expected to behave and live in a certain way. Life is so unfair.

And last time we got rid of the monarchy, in the English Civil War, it was only 11 years before we re-instated a King.

The Anti-Monarchists say:

£500 million may sound good but according to the i100 Bees actually bring in more money than the Royal Family. That’s gotta sting.

David Tennant - in Doctor Who, working out a mystery in the Royal Family

The Royalty debate has been around for ages

You can’t sack the Royal Family. Having an elected head of state would hold them to account. If you do something you shouldn’t – you’re out!

Having a republic works for Ireland. Enough said.

As well as the day-to-day costs, we’re also going to have to fork out for a £150 million redecoration of Buckingham Palace. Lots of people are suggesting the Palace should be opened to the public, which would pay for the work.

And lastly, we really can’t call ourselves a democracy, when the head of state isn’t elected. Is it fair that a Royal is paid for by us, just because of who they are?

What the people think:

Royal Family Debate on Twitter


Royal Learnings: the debate about the Royal Family is likely to go on and on, but no-ones actually doing anything about it?

What do you think? Should we get rid of the Royal Family?

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“My Turf, My Rules”; 5 things to know about English Votes for English Laws

More powers are being given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As they get greater control over their own affairs does this mean English MPs should have English Votes for English Laws (EVEL)?


1) The process of making laws is already fairly complicated

How UK Laws are made

Laws are made in the Houses of Parliament

Though the system means it takes an age to get anything done, there are plenty of opportunities for MPs to raise concerns if they don’t agree with the bill.


2) Now it’s about to get even more complex

The Conservative government is trying to make a change called English Votes for English Laws. It’s a simple idea; only English MPs should have a say over matters which affect England only.

How English Votes for English Laws would work

English Votes for English Laws; a scene from Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers (You have no power here)

English MPs only please.

When a bill is announced, the Speaker will decide if the bill has sections which relate to England only, or England and Wales only. The first stages will go ahead as usual.

At Committee Stage, Bills are examined by small groups of MPs. The number of MPs who go on the Committee depends on how many MPs that party has in the country. So at the moment expect to see lots of Conservatives.

In the new system Bills which affect England would only be looked at by a Committee made up of MPs from English Constituencies. So MPs in Scotland wouldn’t get on the panel. See you later Scotland.

After this point English MPs (and Welsh MPs depending on the bill) will have two opportunities to veto or block the bill.

When the Bill goes to the House of Lords they may make changes. Any changes would need a “Double Majority” to pass into law. This means a majority of ALL MPs would have to vote YES to the changes; a majority of English and Welsh MPs would also have to vote YES.

Complicated? You have no idea.


3) It’s all about something called “Devolution”

Devolution; transferring powers from a higher authority (think: national government in Westminster) to a lower authority (think local government). The government gives away some of its power to local representatives.

At the moment most political power resides in Westminster, London. This is where the Houses of Parliament are, and where the decisions are made. After the Scottish Independence Referendum, where the Scots decided to stay in the UK, more powers were promised to Scotland.


England: We rule OK Scotland: OH HEY THERE

England: We rule OK
Scotland: OH HEY THERE

The Smith Commission (which explored the different ways power could be given to Scotland) recommended that the Scottish parliament be given more controls of taxation and welfare.

You may hear the term “West Lothian Question” being thrown around. This refers to the fact that as more powers are handed over from Westminster, English MPs will have less say over matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs do get a say over matters that affect England only. Sounds totally reasonable.

So to make the system a little fairer the government will introduce English Votes for English Laws.


4) Scotland is ragin’

Not surprisingly the Scottish National Party (they have ALL the power in Scotland) is pretty annoyed about this.

They see English Votes for English Laws as a way of cutting them out of the loop and a “cobbled together unworkable mess”. And of course this means everyone is talking about whether we will have another Scottish Independence Referendum. #IndyRef2 more like #tiredofthis?


5)  English Votes for English Laws; or Conservative Votes for English Laws.

English Votes for English Laws, an adult with a England flag over their head, slaps a child with a Scottish flag

How English Votes for English Laws will work according to the SNP

Depending on which political party you support, English Votes for English Laws will mean different things to you.

Traditionally the Conservatives always do better in England than in other parts of the UK. Labour used to have a lot of power in Scotland and Wales; after this year’s election things have changed a bit.

However that doesn’t mean things can’t change again in the future.

If in the future we had a Labour/SNP coalition in government, the Conservatives could potentially block new laws on the NHS and Schools in England. This is because these are devolved issues, and under the new system, English MPs would get a greater say in what happens. As the Conservatives are likely to have more English MPs, under the new English Votes for English Laws system, they could make it very difficult for a potential Labour/SNP coalition.

Possible outcome; the government in power would not be able to make changes in England. This doesn’t sound so democratic to me.

The Small Print; the next election is five years away, and a LOT can happen between then. We don’t know who will be in government next. It’s possible (but maybe unlikely) that another party could win lots of seats in England. But a system which favours a particular party is probably a bad idea.


English Learnings about English Laws; politics is usually complicated but this takes the p%$*

Should we have English Votes for English Laws? Are the Scots just being too greedy about the amount of power they get? Should we rename ourselves the Divided Kingdom of Great Britain?


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5 questions about the Queen’s Speech that need answering

No, it’s not the sequel to the Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech”. Today is the State Opening of the new Parliament and all eyes will be on Queen Elizabeth II. Here are five points which explain the Queen’s Speech:


1. So why is the Queen’s speech so important?

Today is the State Opening of Parliament.  This means a new parliamentary year begins, and why the Queen outlines the new laws the government will try to make official over the next five years. The tradition of the Queen making a speech at the beginning of Parliament goes back to the 16th century. If it ain’t broke… As we’ve just had an election, the speech is even more important as it outlines David Cameron’s priorities as Prime Minister of an all-Conservative government.

The Queen's Speech: Queen Elizabeth II looks bored

The Queen’s Speech sets out the Government’s plans for the next five years


2. I thought the Queen only made a speech at Christmas?

The Queen usually makes a speech every year at the opening of Parliament. There have been a few exceptions to this convention in the past – twice when the Queen was pregnant, and also in 2011 when the government at the time (the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition) decided they needed two years to put their plans into effect, and by that we mean writing.

3. So I guess there’s a lot of ceremony involved?

You betcha. First, the Queen travels from Buckingham Palace in an ornate horse drawn carriage followed by the Household Cavalry. Major points for style and also for being kind to the environment.

The Queen's Speech: a man dressed as a horse dances

The Queen’s Speech: The Queen travels by horse and carriage

When she arrives a House of Lords official goes to get the MPs but the door is closed in his face. This isn’t just banter; it’s meant to show the separation between the Head of State (queen), and the government.

At around 11.30AM the Queen, now wearing robes and the royal crown will be handed the speech, written on parchment (posh word for paper). Queenie sits on the throne in the House of Lords and the commoners, meaning members of the House of Commons, come to listen to the speech. Real life commoners, meaning members of the public, aren’t allowed to come to the State Opening. Invited guests only: So far, so regal. The Queen’s Speech is written by government officials, but is signed off by the Queen before the opening of Parliament.

The Queen's Speech: A scene from the movie Brave, the lead character slams the door

The Queen’s Speech: the door is slammed in the face of a House of Lords official to show the division between state government and the monarchy


4. What’s in the speech then?

At the moment all we know are rumours. Bills expected to be in the Queen’s Speech include a referendum (where we all get to vote) on the UK’s membership of the European Union, new laws to reduce the number of immigrants coming into the country,  and more powers to be given to Scotland and large English cities e.g. Manchester.

The Queen's Speech: Rapper Snoop Dogg turns .. into a dog

Expect the Snooper’s Charter to be in the The Queen’s Speech… hint: it’s nothing to do with the rapper..

The Tories also want to get rid of the Human Rights Act , create a 7 day NHS and to give MPs a chance to take away the Hunting Ban – foxes beware! You can also expect new powers for the security services with something called the Communications and Data Bill. This means officials will have more access to messages sent via social media and calls made over the internet. People are calling it the “Snooper’s Charter” and people can’t agree on whether it’s a good idea….


Queen's Speech - twitter screenshots showing responses to the speech

Not everyone is a fan of the “Snoopers Charter” expected to be in the Queen’s Speech


5. OK, speech over – what happens next?

The Queen goes back to Buckingham Palace and the MPs get lunch after their hard morning’s work sitting listening to a speech.

In the afternoon the Prime Minister then addresses the House of Commons and the MPs get to do what they do best – debate.

They vote on the speech – though the vote is mainly symbolic. In the past if MPs voted against the bill it could have been considered a vote of “no confidence” which basically meant “we don’t have confidence in the government – get out!” A vote of no confidence can trigger an early election and force the government to resign.

No Confidence Votes are still a thing, but the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 redefined how the vote has to be specifically worded. What this means for now: if the Queen’s Speech is voted down it will just be an embarrassing early defeat for the Conservatives.

The Queen's Speech: Animation of the Queen sticking up fingers at the camera

The Queen’s Speech: The Queen rules, OK




Queen's Speech - twitter screenshots showing responses to the speech

Will there be protests over the Queen’s Speech, or just lots of jokes on Twitter?


What we learned today: the Queen’s Speech = the Government’s Five Year Plan. Due to the Fixed Term Parliament Act losing a vote on the Speech doesn’t mean the Government have to resign.


Parliament Seats Explained: Labour and SNP fight it out.

You’d hope the first day of a new parliament would be about getting down to business and a fresh start. However the most important decision seemed to be a Labour SNP fight over who got to sit at the front.

Parliament: How it works:

There are 650 MPs in Parliament; however there is only space in the chamber for 427 people to sit down. Which makes total sense.


People who don’t get a seat have to stand at the back of the chamber to listen to the debate.

To reserve a seat MPs put a prayer card with their name on the seat they wish to sit in. Each sitting of the house begins with prayers – MPs don’t have to attend, but use this opportunity to reserve their seat. A bit like claiming your sun lounger with a towel when on holiday.

Labour SNP Fight - the green benches of the House of Commons Chamber

Places are reserved on the bench by a prayer card with your name on it


The front benches on either side are reserved for the head honchos of the government, and the opposition – in this case the Conservatives and Labour. Long-serving members of parliament usually don’t have to get in early to reserve their seat – these are left empty for them out of respect.


How the SNP said “sack that” to convention:

The Labour SNP fight started when the SNP decided it wasn’t enough to take nearly all the parliamentary seats away from Labour in Scotland; they wanted to also take away their actual Parliamentary seats as well.

Hours ahead of the Parliamentary session SNP MPs took turns sitting in the seat of veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner. Skinner has sat in that position since 1970, so the SNP trying to nick it was a bold move.


Labour SNP fight MP Dennis Skinner addresses the house

Creature of Habit: Dennis Skinner has sat in the same position since 1970


However when Mr. Skinner arrived to take his place, they moved and let him sit down. They really showed him.

Labour SNP fight - the SNP moved off pretty quick


Then nine SNP MPs sat directly behind the Labour front bench. These seats are usually occupied by Labour MPs. Incredible scenes.


Is this Labour SNP fight actually important?

The SNP say that they are the third largest party and therefore deserve a prominent position in parliament. Their argument is that before 2010 the Liberal Democrats (then the third largest party) were allowed that position.

Labour aren’t happy – if the SNP stay where they are, they will be visible in the background every time the Labour leader makes a speech.


Whoever said politics was out of touch with real issues?

Labour SNP Fight - Simon Cowell puts a hand over his face


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