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Procedure of the House (Proposal 2)

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2011

Motion to Resolve

Moved By

To move to resolve that the procedure adopted in early 2010, whereby Secretaries of State sitting in the House should answer three oral questions, on one Thursday each month, directed to them in their ministerial capacity, should be made permanent, with a view to its revival as appropriate.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

As an amendment to the above Motion, at end insert “, except that the time allocated for the three oral questions should be up to 20 minutes in total instead of up to 15 minutes”.

My Lords, this amendment was originally put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, but as he is unable to be present today, I have put it forward in my name. I should like first to stress that I am strongly in favour of the proposal on the Order Paper today to make permanent an arrangement by which Secretaries of State answer questions in this House. The only issue raised by my amendment is whether 15 minutes are sufficient or whether the time should be increased to 20 minutes. We are speaking about a maximum time limit. We have plenty of experience in the House, for example, on the time limit for questions following a public Statement, when sometimes the full time is not used, but more frequently, questions are cut off by the time limit. In the case of a Secretary of State’s questions now being proposed, some part of the time would normally be taken by a question from the opposition Front Bench, and there would probably be a question from the Liberal Democrats, thus the time for Back-Bench questions would be very short indeed. I hope therefore that the House will look favourably on another five minutes, a fairly modest proposal in my view, so that a Secretary of State could answer questions for a maximum of 20 minutes, not 15 minutes, as was the case in early 2010. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is a very modest amendment, but an important one for the reasons set out by my noble friend Lord Williamson. I hope very much that the House will endorse it without a Division.

My Lords, we should not be taking this issue at this time because we have no Secretary of State. There is no real probability that there will be a Secretary of State in this House before the next general election. It seems to me that it would make more sense to leave this for what is likely to be some years, then bring it back and consider it in the light of events as they then are.

My Lords, I disagree with my noble friend. This is an appropriate time because we do not have a Secretary of State. I have one other thing to add: I totally support the Motion and the amendment, but I wonder whether it should not be 20 minutes rather than 15 minutes. We can perhaps come back to that in the next Parliament.

Amendment to the Motion agreed.

Motion, as amended, agreed.