Commons leader David Lidington to take on PMQs for the first time

The traditional heavyweight political clash of prime minister’s questions is set to be replaced with an undercard bout later this month when David Lidington, the relatively little-known leader of the House of Commons, will stand in for Theresa May for the first time.

With the prime minister away on an official trip, Lidington will, by convention, face up to an equivalent more junior Labour figure rather than the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.

Some reports have suggested that choosing Lidington to deputise for May marks a snub for her chancellor, Philip Hammond. The role is traditionally seen as a way to boost the profile of leading ministers and a sign of political allegiances within the cabinet. George Osborne was chosen to stand in for former prime minister David Cameron, fuelling speculation in the previous parliament that he was being shaped as a future leader.

However, Downing Street said it was traditional for leaders of the Commons to fill in at prime minister’s questions. A spokesman said: “This is the most important Commons event of the week and as such the PM believes it is right the leader of the house stands in for her.”

Harriet Harman, leader of the house of Commons under Gordon Brown, would regularly deputise forhim when he was prime minister. However, at the time she was also the deputy party leader, a role for which there is no equivalent under May.

A Labour spokesman said it was not yet known who would fill in for Corbyn. However, some reports have suggested it could be the party’s similarly low-profile leader in the Commons, Valerie Vaz.

The Walsall South MP, the elder sister of fellow Labour MP Keith Vaz, is a newcomer to the front bench, having only been appointed shadow leader of the house last month.