Coronavirus: As PMQs goes virtual, here’s a look back at some other notable sessions
Today’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions makes history by being the first to include questions by MPs appearing via video link.
As part of social distancing measures due to the coronavirus pandemic, large TV screens have been installed in the House of Commons to allow MPs to join debates via video conferencing app Zoom.
Meanwhile, a maximum of only 50 MPs will be permitted entry to the House of Commons itself – and they will all be seated at least two metres apart.
Among those present in the chamber will be Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who will deputise for Boris Johnson as the prime minister continues his recovery from COVID-19, as well as Sir Keir Starmer, who will be appearing in his first PMQs as Labour leader.
So, how does today’s Prime Minister’s Questions compare to other notable sessions?
18 July 1961 – The first ever PMQs
Prime minister Harold Macmillan answered questions for 15 minutes between 3.15pm and 3.30pm as an experiment.
This was the first formal, fixed session of PMQs, with former leaders having previously answered questions in the House of Commons on a more informal basis.
The experiment was made permanent on 24 October 1961.
20 January 1972 – PMQs suspended for 11 minutes as Edward Heath feels the heat
With unemployment having risen above one million, prime minister Edward Heath faced prolonged barracking from Labour MPs on the opposition benches.
The Speaker, Selwyn Lloyd, was forced to suspend the session for 11 minutes.
April 1978 – The first radio broadcast
Regular radio broadcasts from the House of Commons, including PMQs, only began in April 1978, despite microphones being installed in the new chamber since it was reopened in 1950.
Commenting on the introduction of radio broadcasts, George Thomas – the Speaker at the time – recalled: “Members who had been silent since I had been elected Speaker suddenly came to life.
“It was as though the dead had been restored to life and had found a new aggressiveness.”
1989 – The first televised PMQs
On 28 November 1989, TV cameras were allowed to film PMQs for the first time – although there were strict rules about which shots broadcasters were able to show.
Prime minister Margaret Thatcher made no mention of the presence of TV cameras in the Commons as she fielded questions.
She was the only female MP to speak during the session, with all questions asked by men.
1994 – PMQs suspended due to sudden death of Labour leader
PMQs was suspended on 12 May 1994 following the unexpected death of Labour leader John Smith, aged 55, from a heart attack earlier that day.
MPs instead gathered in the Commons to pay tributes to Mr Smith.
19 May 2004 – Tony Blair hit by purple flour
On 19 May, 2004, prime minister Tony Blair was hit between the shoulders by purple flour-filled condoms during PMQs.
The session was immediately suspended, while it later emerged the missiles had been thrown from the visitors’ gallery by a member of the campaign group Fathers 4 Justice.
25 February 2009 – PMQs suspended following death of David Cameron’s son
Prime minister Gordon Brown cancelled PMQs on 25 February 2009 following the death of opposition leader David Cameron’s son Ivan.
Mr Brown, whose first daughter, Jennifer, died shortly after her birth, described the death of a child as “an unbearable sorrow that no parent should have to endure”.
In place of PMQs, leading MPs and the Speaker delivered short statements of condolence.
30 October 2019 – the longest ever PMQs
The last session of PMQs to be presided over by John Bercow as Speaker also became the longest on record.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn both paid tribute to the departing Speaker in a session that lasted one hour and 11 minutes.
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