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

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 the temporary arrangements which were in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic all MPs were able to participate remotely in oral questions.

There are two types of oral questions that MPs can 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 deadline for submitting oral questions is 12.30pm on the same day one week in advance of the date that the relevant question time is due to take place.

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 produced a call list based on the result of the shuffle to reflect an overall party balance, remaining random within each party.

MPs who were successful in the shuffle, and who had been added to the call list were notified and their attendance marked as either physical or virtual. 

Participation in question time

MPs who were on the call list for question time were expected to be in attendance from the start of the proceeding. For MPs participating virtually, this meant that they should join the conference call in good time before question time started.

The Speaker called on MPs to ask their questions. MPs who were physically in the Chamber would wait until called and then rose in their place to ask their question. If an MP was participating virtually, the Speaker would call the question and direct it to the minister. The MP would then be called to ask their supplementary question and broadcasting staff unmuted their microphone for the duration of the question.

If there were technological problems that prevented an MP from participating, the MP affected could be called later in proceedings.  

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