§ Baroness Burton of Coventry
asked the Leader of the House:
What is the authority for the convention enunciated by the Lord Brabazon of Tara in answer to her Starred Question on 17th March, that ministerial replies "should not be longer than 100 words".
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)
TheCompanion to Standing Orders provides that Question Time should normally be concluded in 20 minutes. In order to comply with the wishes of the House in this regard, the Government have taken the view that ministerial replies should be as succinct as possible. Some years ago, therefore, the Whip's Office instituted a convention that Ministers' replies to questions should not normally exceed 100 words. In addition, the Companion to Standing Orders provides that, where the Minister's answer contains material which is too lengthy or too complicated to be given orally in the House, this may be published in Hansard.
Any Member of the House requiring further information at Question Time can, of course, ask supplementary questions. And any Question requiring a long or complicated answer can always be tabled for written, rather than oral, Answer.
The convention that Question Time should normally be concluded in 20 minutes has recently been endorsed by the Group on the Working of the House, which also recommended that "to achieve this target both supplementary questions and ministerial replies must be more succinct" (HL Paper 9, p. 13). The recommendations of the group were subsequently endorsed by the Procedure Committee 175WA and agreed to by the House on 22nd February. In view of this, I feel sure that the House would wish the Government to continue to be vigilant as regards the length of the initial replies that Ministers give.