In a statement to the House of Commons on the 13th December 2021, the Speaker expressed frustration at the Prime Minister's failure to appear in the chamber, following a televised statement the previous day. He appeared to threaten to "play hardball".

What measures might he plausibly use to do so?

  • 1
    This seems a bit opinion-based. Members who violate the rules of the chamber can be "named" and suspended but this requires the consent of the governing party, and is unlikely to be done. I'd guess that Hoyle can't do much other than make a few stern remarks or allow the opposition to call debates on the Prime Minister's actions, as often happens anyway.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 22:28
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    @StuartF possibilities exist or not; this isn't asking about which possibilities Hoyle will choose but about what available options exist. There isn't much room for opinion there.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 22:55
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    See also everything that Bercow did to frustrate the government re. Brexit
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 13:59
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    @OrangeDog Mr. Bercow could do most of those things only because he was able to carry a majority of the House for doing them (in particular for repeatedly suspending standing order 14(1) to enable the House to debate legislation hostile to the Government). Now the Government commands a majority in the House, the possibilities are narrower. Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 22:24
  • The Government has recently taken a liking to implementing controversial new policies by tabling late-stage amendments to its own bills in the House of Lords. I did wonder whether the return of those Lords amendments to the Commons might give the Speaker some opportunities to make trouble for the Government - but the Government seems to have that process quite thoroughly locked down through standing order 83F, so perhaps not. Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


The Speaker can grant ‘urgent questions’ to MPs on a subject - a mechanism which forces the relevant Government minister to appear in the House of Commons to respond to said question. As the Parliament.Uk website explains:

If the Speaker is satisfied that the question is urgent and of public importance it is then granted; the Speaker does not have to explain decisions behind granting an Urgent Question or not. Urgent Questions are asked straight after Question Time on Monday to Thursday, or at 11am on a sitting Friday and may be repeated in the House of Lords.

The relevant Government Minister has to come to the Chamber to explain what the Government is doing on the issue raised. The Minister will then usually take questions on the subject from MPs. The Department is also asked to provide a background briefing on the issue for the Speaker and declare any relevant interests.

Hoyle has threatened to use this mechanism in the past to ensure the Government can be held to account - in September 2020 he responded to allegations that changes to lockdown restrictions were “all over Twitter” before being announced in the Commons:

Let me say that if this Minister wants to run this Chamber ragged, I can assure you now that I am sure an urgent question every day might just begin to run him ragged.

This warning was repeated a year later, when a policy announcement by the Transport Secretary was briefed to the media before being presented to MPs:

In any event, there should be no doubt that, if the media continue to hear about important policy announcements before this House, I will ensure that hon. and right hon. Members will have every opportunity to hold Ministers to account.

I do not want to have to do this, but if we have to grant an urgent question on the areas of those Departments that continue to make statements outside this House, I will have to come to a view that something must be coming before we are told. That is a silly position in which to get ourselves.

A month later, he followed up on this threat, granting an urgent question after an announcement was made by the Health Secretary outside of the Commons:

The Government decide whether to make a statement; I decide whether to grant an urgent question. I have repeatedly made it clear that the Government should make important announcements in this House first. Once again, however, an important announcement was made by the Department of Health and Social Care to the media yesterday before being made to this House. This is not acceptable.

As I have warned the Government, in those circumstances I will allow the House the earliest opportunity to hear from a Minister, in this case via an urgent question. If they want to avoid a similar situation in future, all the Government have to do is make sure that announcements are made here first, not to the media.

He continued:

It will not happen; if it does, we will see more urgent questions, and Government business will get blocked.

This highlights another effect that the Speaker’s granting of urgent questions can have on the Government - it takes up Parliamentary time that could be used to hold debates or votes on Government business, holding up its agenda.


One bit of "playing hardball" that's already happened: on 30th November 2021, the Deputy Speaker allowed at least two opposition MPs to use the word "liar" of the Prime Minister - the Speaker having first allowed one of those opposition MPs to table a motion in an unusual form that made it possible to construct a reasoned argument as to why the usual convention forbidding the word "liar" as "unparliamentary language" did not apply to that particular debate.

Hansard record of the debate is here: the Deputy Speaker's reasoned argument for why language that would normally be forbidden is allowed is right at the start; the first use of the word "liar" is at column 840, the second at column 849. In fact, two different deputy speakers confirmed that the use of the word was allowed on the two occasions.

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    It would be useful to provide a reference to these exchanges.
    – mikado
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 23:13
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    @mikado Good idea; done. Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 11:30

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