COVID-19 proceedings: Departmental questions and Prime Minister's Questions

Prime Minister Johnson at the despatch box during socially distanced PMQs.

Oral questions are an opportunity for MPs to scrutinise the work of the government by questioning government ministers about matters for which they are responsible.

Under the temporary arrangements agreed by the House of Commons on 4 June 2020, MPs who have self-certified as being unable to attend Westminster for medical or public health reasons related to the pandemic are able to participate remotely in some proceedings.

There are two types of oral questions that MPs are able to participate in. These are oral questions to government departments and Prime Minister's Questions.

Each government department answers questions according to a rota, and Prime Minister's Questions occur every Wednesday at 12 noon.

Submission and selection of oral questions

Any MP who wishes to ask a departmental question, or a question to the Prime Minister, must submit their question in advance using an online system called MemberHub.

The deadlines for submitting oral questions are available on the Dates and Deadlines for Oral Questions timetable.

A shuffle will take place in the Table Office as soon as possible after the deadline for submissions. Only MPs who have submitted an oral question and are successful in the shuffle will be able to participate in question time.

The shuffle is a ballot run on a computer programme shortly after the submission deadline. It decides which questions are to be asked and in what order.

The Speaker's Office will produce a call list based on the result of the shuffle to reflect an overall party balance, remaining random within parties. The call list will also include a list of MPs who may be invited by the Speaker's Office to ask supplementary questions.

MPs who are successful in the shuffle, and who have been added to the call list will be notified and their attendance marked as either physical or virtual depending upon whether they have self-certified as unable to attend, or not.

Participation in question time

MPs who are on the call list for question time should be in attendance from the start of the proceeding. For MPs participating virtually, this means that they should join the conference call in good time before question time starts.

The Speaker will call on MPs to ask their questions. MPs who are physically in the Chamber will wait until called and then rise in their place to ask their question. If an MP is participating virtually, the Speaker will call the question and direct it to the minister. The MP will then be called to ask their supplementary question and broadcasting will unmute their microphone for the duration of the question.

If there are technological problems which prevent MPs from participating, the MPs affected can be called later in proceedings.  

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