Questions for oral answer
22.3Each Member may table, to each Minister answering on any one day, notice of one substantive question for oral answer from themselves and one (if it is not signed by the Member asking the question) from another Member.1
In order to be admissible, an oral question should be so worded as to indicate, within broad terms, a particular subject matter.2
In addition, a Member may table a topical question to each Minister answering for a period of 30 minutes or more, other than those for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.3 Topical questions take a standard form, asking the Minister to make a statement on their departmental responsibilities.4 The time allotted to topical questions is 15 minutes for Ministers answering for a full hour in total, and less for Ministers answering for shorter periods.
The schedule under which Ministers and other Members answer oral questions is decided by the Government.5 A published list or questions rota, which sets out the days on which each department is answering on future dates up to the approximate time of the next periodic adjournment, is prepared by the Table Office on the instructions of the Secretary to the Government Chief Whip. The list also records the deadlines for tabling oral questions to particular departments.
Under Standing Order No 22, notice of a question for oral answer may be given at any time between the moment when the previous question session for that department has ended, but before the minimum notice period, which is at 12.30 pm three sitting days (excluding sitting Fridays) before the day for answer for all Ministers other than the Secretaries of State for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and the Advocate General for Scotland, who receive five sitting days' notice (excluding sitting Fridays). From the moment when the Leader of the House announces to the House the intention of the Government to adjourn the House for a specific period, the Table Office accepts notices of oral questions on the assumption that the House will stand adjourned for that period.6
Once the notice period has ended, at 12.30 pm on the last tabling day, a randomised digital ‘shuffle’ determines the order in which Members are called to ask their question. For those Ministers who answer topical questions, a separate shuffle is carried out to determine the order of Members' names for such questions.
A quota for the numbers of questions to be printed in the Notice Paper is determined, under the authority of the Speaker, by the length of the period allocated to the question session, and, where applicable, the length of time allotted to substantive and topical orals in each session. Following the shuffles, notices in the names of the Members sufficiently highly placed to be in the quota are printed on the Notice Paper.7 Other notices which are insufficiently highly placed to be in the quota cease to be treated as valid notices after the shuffles are done.8
- 1. Select Committee on Procedure, First Report of Session 1989–90, HC 379, p vii, para 12. Any questions beyond these limits are ‘unstarred’, that is to say made into questions for written answer, if the Member requests it, or otherwise discarded. In the event of more than one substantive question for oral answer being tabled by a Member to the same Minister for the same day, the question which is tabled later is taken to replace the earlier instruction.
- 2. HC 687 (1992–93) paras 16–18; CJ (1992–93) 853.
- 3. This procedure came into effect in November 2007, HC Deb (12 November 2007) 467, cc 391–96.
- 4. CJ (2006–07) 608–09; Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, First Report of Session 2006–07, Revitalising the Chamber: the role of the back bench Member, HC 337.
- 5. HC Deb (1975–76) 898, c 1592; ibid (1997–98) 294, c 39; ibid (10 May 2006) 446, c 245W.
- 6. Select Committee on Procedure, Second Report of Session 1969–70, HC 198, p ix, para 13; the Report was approved by the House (CJ (1970–71) 380). The Speaker has ruled that if the intended dates of adjournment were not announced in the House, the day upon which the motion relating to the adjournment appeared on the Order Paper was the first day on which oral questions, anticipating the period of adjournment, could be accepted (HC Deb (1980–81) 9, c 510). Under SO No 22(6), when notice shall have been given of a motion for the adjournment of the House for more than three days, the Speaker may cause to have printed and circulated with the Vote a memorandum superseding the provisions of SO No 22(4) and (5) and specifying the arrangements for tabling questions during the adjournment.
- 7. The list of each of these notices as drawn in the shuffle, with the Members' names, is available in the Table Office and online a few hours after the shuffle.
- 8. Unless the Member gives a specific instruction to revive the notice for written answer.