Strategies for holding the floor

Holding the floor in the House of Commons during PMQs is not easy. With noise, shouting and barracking from members of the chamber, it can be quite easy for the current speaker at the dispatch box to become ruffled. This could potentially lead to a loss of face and sometimes the floor if The Speaker decides to intervene.

The preferred practice in the House of Commons is to hesitate using false starts, repetitions and reformulations until the noise subsides. Theresa May however sometimes choses a more risky strategy of saying nothing as she waits for the noise to subside. In the following extract she waits a whole 13 seconds (line 05) as noise in the House interrupts her delivery.

Thirteen second is quite a long time in the context of a noisy and rowdy PMQs. May deliberately looks at the opposition bench for most of this time as she holds the floor.

Theresa May:
01 can I say to the right honourable gentleman
02 that he needs to er
03 stop casting his mind back to the nineteen fifties
04    ((general noise))
05        (13.0)
06 what er
      ((general noise continues))
07 what we will be-
08 what we will be doing
09 what we will be doing
10 is ensuring
11 that we are able to provide
12 good school places
       ((general noise subsides))
13 for the one and a quarter million (.) children
14 who are in school
...

External link to clip

Later on in the delivery (lines 07-09), rather than staying silent, she holds the floor through hesitation devices (repetition in this case).

The practice of staying quiet while holding the floor is shared by May’s opposition partner, Jeremy Corbyn, who often stares and stays quite during PMQs when the noise of the chamber interrupts his delivery. Examples of this are here.

Rather than staying quiet, Ed Miliband often used hesitation devices to hold the floor in the face of barracking during his exchanges in PMQs. Here are some examples

Here is an example where the floor is wrestled from the current speaker (Margaret Ferrier) by the chamber as The Speaker intervenes.


PMQs, House of Commons, 14th September 2016
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