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Arrangement of Business

Volume 816: debated on Monday 6 December 2021


My Lords, as agreed by the House last week, from today Oral Questions will no longer have speakers’ lists. As it is over 18 months since we conducted Questions without a list, the arrangements may be unfamiliar to newer Members of your Lordships’ House. There are also new arrangements for the calling of those Members who are eligible to participate remotely in the work of the House. The Leader of the House will now outline briefly how Question Time will operate.

I thank the Lord Speaker. As he rightly said, from today Oral Questions will no longer have a speakers’ list. I will briefly set out on behalf of the usual channels how Question Time will work.

With no lists there will be no agreed speaking order, so supplementary questions will rotate around the parties and groups in the Chamber. Those noble Lords who are permitted to take part virtually may do so in Questions provided that they give notice. Like Members in the Chamber, they are not guaranteed a chance to speak; whether they are invited to do so will be agreed in advance with their parties and groups. During Questions, at an appropriate point I will indicate that the House will hear virtually from a Peer belonging to the party or group whose turn it is.

As noble Lords observed in last week’s debate, the spontaneity of Question Time plays an important part in the House holding Ministers to account. However, some Peers have said that they did not feel as comfortable joining in with Questions. Therefore, as the Senior Deputy Speaker observed, it will be incumbent on all Members to respect the House’s tradition of self-regulation, mutual respect and courtesy. As part of that tradition, it is important that during Question Time the House hears a range of views and from as many Members as possible in the time allowed. Rather than return to the previous seven minutes for each Question, we are now allowing 10 minutes. That should mean that at least 10 supplementary questions can be asked and answered, which I hope will ensure that the House can hear from Members on all sides of any issue.

As noble Lords are aware, the Companion sets out that Ministers’ initial replies should be brief and no more than 75 words and that subsequent replies should also be concise. The Companion also states:

“Supplementary questions should be short and confined to not more than two points.”

It goes on to say that supplementaries should be

“confined to the subject of the original question, and ministers should not answer irrelevant questions. The essential purpose of supplementaries is to elicit information, and they should not incorporate statements of opinion. They should not be read.”

In brief, that means that all supplementaries should take about 30 seconds and ministerial replies should be correspondingly short. I hope that noble Lords will observe these courtesies to ensure that Question Time works for the whole House.