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House of Lords: Questions to the Lord Speaker

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 20 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether Members of the House may table Questions to the Lord Speaker on those matters which lie within the Lord Speaker’s responsibilities.

My Lords, the Lord Speaker is not one of those Members to whom questions may be addressed, as laid down in the Companion. The Speakership Committee did not recommend any change of practice. If the noble Lord thinks that such questions should be allowed, the appropriate forum to raise it would be the Procedure Committee.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that Answer, which is, as always, very helpful. Is she aware that this Question was refused a place in the ballot for topical Questions just a few days after the noble Baroness took her seat on the Woolsack? Does she not think that it might be wise to remove from officials any risk of having to make controversial decisions in these areas, which sometimes might not have the universal acclaim of the Member concerned or the House?

My Lords, I am extraordinarily pleased that I am not responsible for deciding on questions of topicality. The fact that we are debating the Question today perhaps suggests that little has been lost by waiting an extra week. I remind the House that in 2004 the Procedure Committee endorsed the Leader’s Group recommendation that,

“the clerks should discourage members from tabling questions which are clearly not topical”.

My Lords, the Minister may not be aware that the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker served in another place in a constituency close to the one in which I served. In her present position she would gladly, I am sure, accept any further responsibility that we place on her.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, although I am not entirely sure how the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker will take it. We have had a Lord Speaker for only two weeks, so it is important that we give the post a little time to bed down. I am aware that the noble Baroness is very conscious of the need to report back to the House on what she is doing and has undertaken to consult Members of the House on these issues when we return after the Recess.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not think that as a self-regulating House we might regulate ourselves not to ask Questions like this, which can be embarrassing? In any case the matter could be left for another four or five years and then a judgment can be made. So far, I believe that the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker is doing a thoroughly good job.

My Lords, I think that it is important that we review the post. Noble Lords will know that I am sometimes frustrated at the pace of change in this House, but on this issue we should see what happens in practice. I remind the House of two things that came out very clearly in our discussions about the post. First, the House was absolute that it did not want a Lord Speaker ruling on points of order; and, secondly, there was a very clear reluctance to give the Lord Speaker a prominent role in the Chamber. We need to weigh all these issues up while recognising that, in areas of the Lord Speaker’s responsibility such as the outreach role, we may have to think about how activities are reported back to the House, but we can do it in ways that do not infringe on the core principles the House agreed.

My Lords, although my noble friend Lord Renton is undoubtedly right in what he said about the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker, does the Minister recall, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, just indicated, that some of us went to some trouble to ensure in the arrangements made that the Lord Speaker was not drawn into exchanges in the House, both to retain the self-regulation which all noble Lords prize very much and to avoid the opportunities for misplaced ingenuity which arise in another place in asking questions of Mr Speaker?

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that my Question found its way on to the Order Paper today not because there was a slot available, but because I sacrificed another Question, for which I shall have to find another slot later in the year?

My Lords, I was not aware of that, but I am sure that the noble Lord’s ingenuity will ensure that he finds another slot to ask his Question.