Business of the House - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 28th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 1:30 pm, 28th July 2020

My Lords, my first point is this: I wish we could make a clearer rule as to what the arrangements are here. I have got in thanks to the kindness of the Deputy Speaker, but I was told that we had to put our names down to ask questions. I was not clear about it; if that is the system, I think we need a note of guidance.

I agree totally with what was said by my good and noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I agree with a lot of what other people said, but in particular with those two noble Lords.

I have two questions. First, the order will have effect from 2 September until a further order is made. Can the Chief Whip give us some indication as to when this procedure will be reviewed—in other words, when a further order might come up? Secondly, I want to put on record that one of the great difficulties I find when dealing with SIs, and with amendments to Bills, is the inability to get up when the Minister is answering and say, “I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t think you’ve understood my point”, or to intervene at the point where it is absolutely relevant. You cannot then send an email to the clerk to ask to get up afterwards. I therefore ask that this be looked at.

I will not speak again, but on the next Motion the Chief Whip is going to tell us why Topical Questions are no longer to be tabled, and I can well understand why that is. However, I ask that attention be given to the quality of Answers and to the length of time that we are kept waiting, not only for Answers to Written Questions but for answers to letters. Perhaps I can remind Ministers that a letter from a Member of this House to a Minister should not normally, as has happened to me, be replied to by a civil servant who tells me that the Minister is busy. It does not take very long to scribble a signature, and one of the few advantages we have in this House is to be able to call Ministers to account. I was even more annoyed that the answer was totally irrelevant to the letter that I had written in the first place. That did not help; had it been a relevant letter, I might have excused it, but it almost totally missed the point of the questions I had asked. I thank the House for indulging me.