Diane Abbott, MP has been in the news recently following a racist verbal attack against her by a leading Conservative donor.

At Prime Minister's Questions on 13 March 2024, the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, asked about the issue directly, but Abbott herself was not given a chance to speak, despite apparently indicating a wish to do so.

Does some parliamentary convention prevent Abbott from speaking at this time? Or is there another known (rather than speculated) reason why she was not called upon?

  • Who is Diane Abbott and what position does she hold?
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 13 at 14:00
  • 3
    @JoeW She is a member of parliament and this refers to a discussion in parliament.
    – quarague
    Commented Mar 13 at 14:13
  • 2
    That is information that would be good to include in the question
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 13 at 14:17
  • 3
    Just for context, Diane Abbott stood up to speak 46 times in 35 minutes but was not called Commented Mar 13 at 21:08
  • Relevant BBC article: bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-68564637 Commented Mar 15 at 11:22

1 Answer 1


There was no parliamentary convention preventing Abbott from being called to ask a supplementary question by the Speaker.

While Abbott was not successful in the week's ballot to be placed on the order paper for PMQs - guaranteeing that she would have priority in asking a question - the Speaker may, and in this case, did, call MPs who 'catch the Speaker's eye' and who were not on the order paper. For example, Sir Christopher Chope, Sir Edward Leigh and Mark Francois were all called to ask a supplementary question despite their names not appearing on the order paper.

The Speaker's office released the following statement in explanation:

During Prime Minister's Questions, the Speaker must select MPs from either side of the House on an alternating basis for fairness.

This takes place within a limited timeframe, with the chair prioritising Members who are already listed on the Order Paper. This week – as is often the case – there was not enough time to call all Members who wanted to ask a question.

This explanation does seem to bear some scrutiny, as no MPs were called from the opposition benches who were not on the order paper. There were eleven opposition MPs on the order paper, and four Conservatives, so to alternate between sides of the Commons only Conservative MPs were chosen to ask supplementary questions.

However, the Speaker could have allowed PMQs to last slightly longer on this occasion to accommodate more questions - as his predecessor John Bercow regularly did.

  • 5
    Just to add: the Speaker has wide discretion on who to call to ask a question. Generally the Speaker aims to achieve some kind of "balance" - for example, by alternating between MPs from the government and opposition sides of the house. He may also make a point of calling on MPs who have a link to recent events - which Abbott certainly did. However, time is limited, especially at PMQs, so it's never possible to call everyone who might want to ask something, even in circumstances like this. Commented Mar 13 at 14:30
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    Wow, I can only imagine how "gentlemanly" rules like 'catch the Speaker's eye' would play out in the US House of Representatives. Commented Mar 13 at 16:58
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica The US House of Representatives system of yielding time wastes time with unproductive set phrases, and essentially gives control of speaking to the party leaders and whips rather than to a non-partisan chair.
    – Henry
    Commented Mar 14 at 11:28

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