Government Replies to Oral Questions
There are no explicit rules governing the form or content of replies to oral questions. According to practice, replies are to be as brief as possible, to deal with the subject matter raised and to be phrased in language that does not provoke disorder in the House.
- answer questions;
- defer their answers;
- explain briefly why an answer cannot be provided at that time; or
- say nothing.
Questions, although customarily addressed to specific Ministers, are directed to the Ministry as a whole. It is up to the Government to designate which Minister responds to which question. The Prime Minister (or a Minister acting on behalf of the Prime Minister) can respond to any or all questions posed during Question Period. Only one Minister may respond to each question, and it need not be the one to whom the question is addressed.
If a question is asked pertaining to the portfolio of a Minister who is absent from the House, it may be answered by the Prime Minister, by another Minister or by a Parliamentary Secretary.
A Member cannot insist on an answer, nor may a Member insist that a specific Minister respond to his or her question. The Speaker has no authority to compel a particular Minister to respond to a question. A Minister’s refusal to answer a question cannot be questioned or treated as the subject of a point of order or of a question of privilege.
The Speaker ensures that replies adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language. The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or the content of replies to questions.