Quite a lot has been made of Liz Truss not attending the House of Commons to answer an urgent question from the Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer on her decision to replace the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For example, Starmer accused her of "hiding away, scared of her own shadow", while Penny Mordaunt, who actually answered the question for the PM, told MPs that "the Prime Minister is not under a desk, as the hon. Lady suggests". Media reports are fairly damning as well - Metro accuses Truss of "refusing to answer", while the Independent says that she "dodged MP's questions".

As the Parliament.uk website explains:

If an urgent or important matter arises which an MP believes requires an immediate answer from a government minister, they may apply to ask an urgent question.
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.

However, I can't actually remember Boris Johnson ever answering an urgent question addressed to him while he was Prime Minister - as far as I remember they were usually answered by his ministers. Is that right? Is it actually that uncommon for a Prime Minister not to answer urgent questions addressed to them directly? When was the last time this happened?


1 Answer 1


Since Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, there have been twenty-eight urgent questions directed to the PM; one to Blair, seven to David Cameron, nine to Theresa May, ten to Boris Johnson, and (so far) just this most recent one to Liz Truss. Gordon Brown wasn't asked any urgent questions.

Of these twenty-eight, only two actually got a response from the Prime Minister themselves; Tony Blair responded to an urgent question from Iain Duncan Smith on the 2002 firefighter dispute, and David Cameron responded to an urgent question from Ed Miliband on the conduct of Jeremy Hunt in respect of his dealings with News Corporation. It's perhaps notable that in both cases, the urgent questions came from the leaders of the opposition at that time.

Below is a table of the urgent questions to Prime Ministers since 1997; a Prime Minister has not responded to an urgent question addressed to them in over a decade - even the five questions addressed to Cameron and May by Jeremy Corbyn during his tenure as leader of the opposition were handed off to ministers.

Date Questioner Respondent
17/10/2022 Keir Starmer Penny Mordaunt
--------------- TRUSS ---------------
26/04/2022 Ian Blackford Vicky Ford
11/01/2022 Angela Rayner Michael Ellis
30/06/2020 David Lammy Alex Chalk
29/06/2020 Iain Duncan Smith Nigel Adams
15/06/2020 Greg Clark Edward Argar
02/03/2020 Jeremy Corbyn Michael Gove
05/11/2019 Dominic Grieve Christopher Pincher
21/10/2019 Jeremy Corbyn Stephen Barclay
26/09/2019 Ian Murray James Duddridge
26/09/2019 Jess Phillips Kevin Foster
--------------- JOHNSON ---------------
15/07/2019 Kenneth Clarke David Lidington
02/05/2019 Tom Watson David Lidington
22/03/2019 Louise Haugh Victoria Atkins
20/03/2019 John Baron Chris Heaton-Harris
11/03/2019 Jeremy Corbyn Robin Walker
20/02/2019 Ian Blackford Mel Stride
07/01/2019 Jeremy Corbyn Stephen Barclay
30/04/2018 Diane Abbott Sajid Javid
20/03/2017 Andrew Gwynne Ben Gummer
--------------- MAY ---------------
28/04/2016 Bernard Jenkin Nick Boles
09/03/2016 John Redwood David Lidington
29/02/2016 Bernard Jenkin Matthew Hancock
02/02/2016 Jeremy Corbyn David Lidington
21/07/2015 Debbie Abrahams Priti Patel
07/01/2014 Gisela Stuart David Lidington
30/04/2012 Edward Miliband David Cameron
--------------- CAMERON ---------------
--------------- BROWN ---------------
25/11/2002 Iain Duncan Smith Tony Blair
--------------- BLAIR ---------------
  • Is it worth including something about why Urgent Questions have increased? TB and DC responded personally because these were almost unique events. They've since become a regular part of the non-government benches toolkit.
    – Jontia
    Oct 19, 2022 at 9:46
  • @Jontia I don't know the answer to that, unfortunately - if I had to guess, I'd say John Bercow's speakership led to a lot more UQs being granted, but as there's no data on rejected UQs I can't be sure. That's probably something that could be FOI'd though.
    – CDJB
    Oct 19, 2022 at 9:54

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