LibLink | Paul Tyler: Lords’ Question Time is a “farcical free-for-all”

Lord Tyler writes over at e-Politix today about the way Question Time is conducted in the Lords:

As the House’s membership has increased in recent months, Question Time has become an ever more farcical free-for-all. There are a large number of Members who wish to contribute at any one time. Newcomers are rightly mystified by the absurd way in which one has to jockey for the opportunity to speak. You have to pop up and start bellowing, ‘My Lords’, in the hope that your bellow will be more thundersome than those of competing Members, or that some Lordly recognition of your particular position or seniority or expertise, or whatever, will persuade others to sit down and allow you to put your question.

We have regular shouts of “this side”, as either Labour or the Conservatives argue over which benches should go next. Most extraordinarily of all, when these playground-like exchanges reach an impasse, a government minister is relied upon to stand up and say “I think we’ll have Baroness So and So now, and then move on to Lord Such and Such”. In effect, then, the Executive can choose whom it is questioned by and in what order.

Meanwhile, sitting with a comprehensive view of the whole chamber is a highly competent person – the Lord Speaker – who would be best placed to make the call as to who should speak next. Yet our antiquated rules mean she must be as silent as the Woolsack on which she sits.

It was her realisation that this anomaly – among others – was absurd that led Baroness Hayman to stimulate initial discussions on how our practices could be improved.

Paul goes on to describe the recommendations of the Leader’s Group on Working Practices, including on the length and nature of questions, as well as examining the case for allowing Commons ministers in to answer questions in the Lords and vice versa.

You can read Lord Tyler’s full post at ePolitix and the full report of the Leader’s Group here.

Lord Tyler is Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee on Constitutional and Political Reform.

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