Friday, October 28, 2011

Prime Minister's Questions Still Great At 50

By Adam Kelly
TORBAY, England – Prime Minister’s Questions turns 50 this week.
The most recognized and popular session of parliament in the world celebrates its birthday with David Cameron at the dispatch box, half a century after Harold MacMillan first spoke at regular sessions.
Better known as PMQs and broadcast across the world and on the internet, every Wednesday the Prime Minister answers questions from MPs on anything they wish.
But PMQs has become important and special for the battles and duals between the man in power and the leader of the opposition, across the table, dispatch box to dispatch box as MPs on both sides of the house heckle and cheer, while the poor speaker tries to maintain some form of order.
In other countries, such as the United States, many complain that PMQs is pointless, half an hour a week for each side to try and ‘win’ something they cannot see. But PMQs is a British institution, an event and a place for the issues of the week to be discussed and debated, and to get some idea of which party is doing best.
In 1961, a committee of MPs recommended that the Prime Minister take questions in a formal setting at a set time each week. Before this, PMQs were treated just as any other minister in the government and asked whenever he or she appeared.
However, the committee found that set sessions worked better so PMQs was born, at first as two 15-minute sessions on Tuesday and Thursday.
This practice remained until former Prime Minister Tony Blair created one 30-minute session as an alternative in the late 1990s.
When PMQs began it was like any other question time, a place for backbenchers to ask questions and get responses,
Yet over time it formed into the thing it is today: a powerful, hard-hitting session where one side wins and the other doesn’t.
Although some hate it, calling the heckling and cheering child-like and insisting MPs should behave better, I love PMQs and I hope the majority of the public agrees.
Countries such as the United States have no formal way of questioning the president in Congress —and it never happens. Presidents are questioned, if at all, mostly by reporters.
When PMQs began, newspapers reported on it, but then radio joined in and after that, television began showing the sessions.
PMQs will stand forever as an example of British democracy and a transparent Parliament.
It is a great thing – and if it ever disappeared I would personally knock on the Prime Minister’s door and ask for serious answers to my questions.

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