The main business in the Keys and Tynwald Court always begins with Questions, and sometimes the Legislative Council has Questions on its agenda too. The importance of both Tynwald and Keys Questions is now recognised by the media, with Manx Radio broadcasting them live each week.
There are two types of Question, those for oral answer in the particular chamber and those for written answer.
Oral Questions in Tynwald Court normally occupy the chamber until 1pm on the first day of its sitting each month. Members can table questions to ministers on almost anything concerned with the work of their department, but there are precise rules for framing them. For example, a Question may not be asked about more than one subject.
Questions have to be tabled at least seven days in advance of the sitting, to allow the relevant Department to research the answer for their Minister. They are then printed in a Question Paper which follows the Order Paper for each sitting.
When the Question is asked the President calls upon the Member who tabled it to ask his or her Question and the Member stands and says "I Beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name." When the Minister has answered the Question, the President will normally allow one or more supplementary questions to be asked.
The popularity of Question Time as a means of seeking to scrutinise the work of Government is increasing amongst Members, and the ability to ask such Questions is an important aid to effective scrutiny of government.
House of Keys
The House of Keys also has a Question Time at the commencement of business, and rules governing the framing of Questions are broadly similar to those for Tynwald Court.
Keys Questions are also increasingly used by Members and there are occasions when the Keys Standing Orders are suspended to enable Questions not reached by 11am (the official cut off point for Question Time under Standing Orders) to be answered. If any Question is not answered, the Member must receive a written reply from the Minister within 48 hours. A similar practice operates in Tynwald Court for Questions not answered by the official cut off time of 1pm.
Members may table Motions for debate to call upon the government to do something or to cease from doing something. The length of these debates is unpredictable, as any Member who wishes to speak is permitted to do so, and there is no 'guillotine' after a certain amount of time.
In Tynwald, debates occur on government policy and finance - the Chief Minister produces an annual Policy Document, which is debated at the October sitting. Members have a chance to speak their mind on the direction in which policy is going, and they must approve the Policy Document in a vote.
Whilst it is unlikely that Members will reject it outright given the strong tradition of consensus government, serious scrutiny through this debate does take place.
The annual Budget, setting out the Government's taxation and expenditure plans for the forthcoming financial year, is also subject to Tynwald debate. As in the UK, the Manx Treasury Minister presents the Budget to the Court and a debate then follows.
The Court may approve or defeat the various financial Motions which are based upon the Budget, and the opportunity to debate them gives Members a chance to air their feelings, suggest alternatives for the future and influence the Government's policy.
Debate also takes place at each sitting of Tynwald Court when there will be various Government Motions for consideration. The likelihood of orders and regulations being challenged successfully is markedly higher in the Manx Parliament than it is, for example, in the House of Commons.