Ex-Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd says Prime Minister's Questions has deteriorated as Boris Johnson isn't answering MPs

Yorkshire-born former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd has accused Boris Johnson of allowing his weekly questions session with MPs to deteriorate by refusing to answer questions.

By Rob Parsons
Friday, 16th July 2021, 11:56 am

Baroness Boothroyd, who was born in Dewsbury and presided over the Commons between 1992 and 2000, said Mr Johnson was not even making an attempt to answer some MPs during Prime Minister's Questions

The country's only ever female Speaker of the Commons said that Mr Johnson’s obfuscation amounted to contempt of parliament. And in an interview with Times Radio she also took aim at backbenchers asking “fluff” questions about do-gooders in their constituency instead of holding the government to account.

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Picture James Hardisty. Former speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Betty Boothroyd, in her office at Westminster, London.

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the first formal session of prime minister’s questions (PMQs) in July 1961, when Harold Macmillan agreed to a dedicated session where he would be held to account by MPs.

The 91-year former Dewsbury College of Commerce and Art student warns that PMQs has “deteriorated a great deal in the last few years . . . it’s not the quality that it used to be”.

She noted that the present Speaker, Lancastrian Sir Lindsay Hoyle, had “had to call the Prime Minister to account here to say look, it’s contempt of parliament. You’re not answering the question, not even attempting to answer the questions. I’m afraid that it has deteriorated.

“The Prime Minister is there to answer questions about what the Government is doing, why it is not doing it. I don’t say Prime Ministers have got the answer to every question. Of course they haven’t. But at least they’ve got to have a stab at it and make an attempt and it is not [happening] these days.”

She added: “I get goosepimles when a backbencher gets up and says, ‘Will the prime minister congratulate Bill Smith in my constituency, because he’s got the best pigeons development in the country, or he plays darts better than anybody else’. It really is an abuse of the system.”

This week at PMQs, Sir Keir Starmer pressed Mr Johnson on his failure in June to condemn fans who booed England players taking the knee, with the Prime Minister replying: "Nobody defends booing the England side."

The Labour leader added that Home Secretary Priti Patel has been fighting racism "all her life" while also seeking to take "practical steps to advance the cause of black and minority ethnic groups".

Mr Johnson asked Sir Keir to retract a leaflet from the Batley and Spen by-election, noting it was condemned as "dog whistle racism".