HL Deb 26 January 1983 vol 438 cc255-7

3.2 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask the Leader of the House whether she considers that Standing Order 31, which states that Starred Questions are asked for information only, is being complied with by noble Lords who ask supplementary questions prefixed by "Is the noble Lord aware?" and other similarly devised prefixes in situations where the noble Lord asking the question is giving information to the Government rather than eliciting information from the Government.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, Standing Order 31 is supplemented by guidance in the Companion to Standing Orders on pages 69 and 82, where it is stated that the essential purpose of Starred Questions is to elicit information from the Government and that they should not incorporate statements of opinion or the demonstration of a point of view. As my noble friend may know, this whole matter was discussed at some length on the Floor of the House last Wednesday. I suggested then—and I believe I had the agreement of the House—that the Procedure Committee should consider the matter at its next meeting. I can now tell the House that the committee will meet on Tuesday next, 1st February. I understand that the point raised by my noble friend will be considered, and in the meantime I suggest we should await the report of the committee.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, and I may have to break my rule to tell her that I put my Question down long before our discussion last week. Does she think Ministers could help, when certain noble Lords are flagrantly out of order, by answering, "My Lords, that is not a question'"?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that he did table his Question before the discussion which took place on the Floor last week. It is of course open to Ministers to reply in the terms he suggested. It is always a matter of judgment as to the appropriate time to use such a reply.

Lord Shinwell

May I ask a question for information only. my Lords?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, as we have no Mr. Speaker in this House, may I ask who is to determine whether a Question indicates a desire for information or is seeking to convey information?

Lord Denham

The House.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is it not a fact that with a matter of public interest which should be brought to the notice of Ministers, one direct way of dealing with it is to put down a Question? May I urge the Leader of the House to be very cautious before accepting the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is quite right in saying that we do not have a Speaker in this House, but he has been a Member long enough to know that it is the House itself which regulates these matters. It is the duty of every Member of the House to look at the Companion to Standing Orders, and the House places an obligation on each Member to consider and keep order.

On the particular point of substance in my noble friend's Question, this is a matter which I have suggested should be looked at by the Procedure Committee. It is not, I would say with repect, for me to give a ruling on that matter. In relation to all replies, it is a matter of judgment, and I think it is important that it should rest in that way, with the individuals replying.

Lord Alport

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the information which is given by Members through their Questions is sometimes far more interesting than that given by Ministers in their Answers?

Lord Glenamara

Would the noble Baroness care to say whether this Question asks a question or makes a point?

Lord Monson

My Lords, would the Leader of the House agree that any noble Lord who merely wants information can normally obtain it perfectly well by means of a Question for Written Answer, and that one of the main functions of an oral Question is to ensure that the Legislature can keep the Executive on their toes?

Baroness Young

It is true, my Lords, that we have in this House, as in another place, the opportunity to put down Questions for Written Answer, and I notice that noble Lords make great use of that facility, which I believe is of great benefit. But there are matters which should quite properly be asked by means of Starred Questions. Indeed, it is, as I have indicated, a matter of judgment as to whether or not the purpose of the Question is to elicit information or to make a point, and sometimes it is difficult to tell which it is. I believe it would be undesirable to have a general debate of the subject on the Floor of the House until the Procedure Committee has looked at it.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, when the committee considers this matter will they bear in mind that in order to seek information it is first necessary to give information about the information one is seeking?

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, is it not a truism that no politician ever asks a question to which he does not already know the answer?

Baroness Young

I think that is often true of politicians, my Lords, but there are some Members of your Lordships' House who put a special self-denying ordinance on themselves not to ask those sort of Questions and others who genuinely seek information.