My Lords, the guidance in the Companion on supplementary questions is crystal clear. We all of us in this House have a shared responsibility to follow it. I have written to the Leader of the Opposition, the Convenor and my noble friend the Deputy Leader to ask for their support in reminding Members of that guidance. I have also encouraged Members on my Front Bench to provide succinct answers so that more supplementary questions can be asked.
My Lords, exhortations by the Front Bench to be brief simply do not work. Members ignore them. Some thoughtless people hog Question Time, bully the House and ego-trip with long, garrulous statements—all in breach of the Companion. If both Front Benches are unable, due to wishing to be courteous, actually to enforce the Companion, why cannot someone else take on that responsibility? I suggest the Lord Speaker.
I have a number of points, my Lords. First, on the question of having a Lord Speaker, I know that the House looked at it in the previous Session and concluded by a considerable margin that it would prefer to keep things as they were. As for regulating the House, it is the responsibility of all those on the Front Benches not to speak too long and not to hog questions and take them away from the Back Benches, but it is also the responsibility of the whole House to make its views known if it thinks that Members are going on for too long or are asking too many questions.
As is often the case, my Lords, I do think that less is more. The Companion is extremely clear. It says that supplementary questions should be,
“short and confined to not more than two points … they should not incorporate statements of opinion. They should not be read”.
I think all of us will want to remember that.
If the noble Lord had been able to count the number of words that I gave in my Answer, he would see that it was spot on 75. The noble Lord has just forgotten his own self-injunction about pointing. I have spoken to my Front Bench, and I agree very much about the need for those initial Answers to be succinct. I also think that the shorter the questions, the tendency will be the shorter the answers. Long questions tend to lead to long answers.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it becomes an embarrassment for people like me and the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, when we try to correct Members of the House, to be criticised by other Members for what we are doing when we are supposed to be self-regulating? It would be much easier if the Front Benches did a bit more.
My Lords, I think there are a number of reasons why supplementary questions are asked. I looked at some figures that took a snapshot of the first six weeks of this year. They showed, somewhat to my surprise, that nearly 230 Members of your Lordships’ House had either asked Questions or supplementary questions in that period, which I thought was rather an encouraging figure and higher than I expected. There is, however, a point which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raised: not all those 230 Members asked one question.
My Lords, I welcome all that the Leader has said. I just wish to place on record that I think that all Members would wish to ensure that those of us who feel a little nervous about asking supplementary questions should be encouraged to do so, and that we should have a much more accepting view in this House of those who feel somewhat reluctant to ask questions.
I agree with the noble Baroness entirely. One thing that Members of this House can do, particularly those who contribute more frequently in Oral Questions, is to observe our courtesies and give way to some Members who perhaps do not ask questions so often. I urge all Members to do so.