In Parliamentary systems of government, time in the legislature is set aside in which opposition political parties may ask government members – usually ministers from the cabinet and/or the prime minister – questions about their ministerial portfolios and the activities and plans of the government.
Different places call this different things:
- Canada – Oral Question Period
- United Kingdom – Prime Minister’s Questions
- Australia – Question Time
These sessions are an essential tool of government accountability. A minister must answer for their decisions. Apart from other legislative business, question periods get paid attention to more, by the media covering politics and the public interest in how they are being represented.
Despite this transparency, much show-boating occurs during these regular events that is not directly connected to constructive debate of the important issues of the day. Partisanship is high. Politicians on the make may wish to ask a fiery question. Ministers then routinely deflect and bridge to boilerplate “talking points” or may even change the subject. The electorate may not get the education in politics they signed up for.
Thus it is a common joke that this routine business of legislatures is about questions, and not answers.
Progressive, orchestral rockers The Moody Blues sang back in 1970:
Why do we never get an answer, when we’re knocking at the door
With a thousand million questions about hate and death and war?