50 years of Prime Minister's Questions

21 October 2011

The 24 October 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of Prime Minister's Question Time as a permanent parliamentary event.  

Prime Minister's Questions

Question Time is an opportunity for MPs to ask government ministers questions at the begining of the day's business. Before the 1880s oral questions to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons were treated the same as to any other minister.

In 1881 changes were made so that the 72 year old William Gladstone could answer questions at the end of question time.

Although some changes were made to oral questions at the begining of the 20th century, prime ministers rarely got to answer more than a few questions from MPs at the end of questions. In 1953 it was decided that the 79 year old Sir Winston Churchill would answer questions only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Successive prime ministers continued the convention of answering questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, the fact that the Prime Minister only answered a few questions led to the Procedure Committee recommending in 1959 that 15 minutes should be allocated to the Prime Minister to answer questions. The recommendation was not implemented until July 1961.

On Tuesday 18 July 1961, Harold Macmillan answered questions for 15 minutes between 3.15pm and 3.30pm as an experiment. The experiment was made permanent on Tuesday 24 October 1961. Prime ministers continued to answer questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 1997.

From 1997 to the start of 2003, the Prime Minister answered questions on Wednesdays at 3pm until 3.30pm. In 2003 the sittings of the House of Commons changed and presently the Prime Minister answers questions between midday and 12.30pm each sitting Wednesday.

Prime Minister's Questions archive

The first experimental Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) took place on Tuesday 18 July 1961 and was made permanent on 24 October 1961. Both can be read in Historic Hansard.

The broadcasting of televised proceedings in the House of Commons Chamber began in 1989. On 27 November 1990 Margaret Thatcher made her last appearance at PMQs.  

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair first answered questions from MPs on 21 May 1997.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown last answered questions from MPs on 7 April 2010 before the 2010 General Election.

House of Commons Library analysis

The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing note on the history of Prime Minister's Questions.

Image: PA/Harold Macmillan and Sir Winston Churchill

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