Question Time

Commons chamber

Question Time is an opportunity for MPs and Members of the House of Lords to question government ministers about matters for which they are responsible.

These questions are asked at the start of business in both chambers and are known as 'oral questions'. The Prime Minister answers questions in the Commons every Wednesday.

House of Commons

Question Time takes place for an hour, Monday to Thursday, after prayers. Each government department answers questions according to a rota called the Order of Oral Questions. The questions asked must relate to the responsibilities of the government department concerned.

House of Lords

Question Time (Oral Questions) takes place at the beginning of the day's business for up to 30 minutes on Mondays to Thursdays. Lords questions are to the Government as a whole, not to particular government departments (as they are in the Commons).

Notice of questions in the Commons

Commons oral questions are tabled by MPs at least three days in advance of Question Time. The questions are then printed in the Commons Questions Book. The order in which the questions are asked is determined randomly by a computer.

MPs who are called by the Speaker to ask their question do not read it out, but simply call out its number. When the government minister has replied, the MP can ask another question (known as a supplementary) and other MPs may also be called to ask supplementary questions. The Minister must reply to each in turn. Supplementary questions must be on the same subject as the original question.

The last 15 minutes (for those departments with a 60 minute question time) or 10 minutes (for those departments with a 40 minute question time) of question time is reserved for 'topical questions'.

During the 'topical questions' slot, MPs can ask supplementary questions on any subject relating to the department's responsibilities.

Notice of questions in the Lords

Lords Oral Questions can be tabled anywhere between 1 month and 24 hours in advance. The questions are printed in the Lords Order Paper. Slots are reserved for 'topical questions', tabled two days in advance.

Prime Minister's Question Time

The Prime Minister answers questions from MPs in the Commons for half an hour every Wednesday from Midday.

The session normally starts with a routine question from an MP about the Prime Minister's engagements. This is known as an 'open question' and means that the MP can then ask a supplementary question on any subject.

Following the answer, the MP then raises a particular issue, often one of current political significance. The Leader of the Opposition then follows up on this or another topic, they are permitted to ask a total of six questions. The Leader of the Opposition is the only MP who is allowed to come back with further questions. 

Most MPs will table the same question about engagements and if they do, only their names will appear on the question book. After the first engagements question has been asked, any other MPs who have tabled the same question are simply called to ask an untabled, supplementary question. This means, in theory, that the Prime Minister will not know what questions will be asked of him. However, the Prime Minister will be extensively briefed by government departments in anticipation of likely subjects he could be asked about.

Related information

Table or Tabling: When MPs or Members of the Lords hand in questions, amendments to Bills or notices of motions, or when a document is formally placed before either House.

    Parliament in depth

    Want to know more? Read our detailed publications on Parliament's work and history.

    Watch Prime Minister's Question Time

    Watch the latest Prime Minister's Questions on Parliament TV and YouTube

    Further information

    House of Commons Library standard notes

    Related internet links

    Parliament is not responsible for the content of external websites.