Following on from Lord Norton, my favourite Ministerial response is “As the noble Lord will recognise” which can mean “I’m desperately trying to remember my briefing note on this point, give me a second to collect my thoughts” or ” Come off it you idiot, you’re definitely wrong” depending on context. There are some long-serving peers who insist on referring in debate to a former General as “Noble and Gallant Lord”, and former senior members of the Judiciary as “Noble and Learned Lord” which is fine if you happen to know the individual’s former job but puzzling for beginners. Not to mention Noble Prelates and Noble Primates, the latter ( referring to Archbishops) I confess almost always makes me want to giggle. Then I note that almost all MPs who ‘fly up’ to the Lords (to use a brownies and guides metaphor) blot their copybook at the beginning by referring to their Noble Friends as ‘My Honourable Friend” as they do in the Commons. This produces a murmur of disapproval…the House can sometimes be quite unforgiving. Usually they look mortified and only do it once.
I have some doubts as to whether the formal manner in which debates are conducted in the Chamber is the most fruitful way to discuss a topic. Nor do I think the committee stages of a bill, where Ministers respond formally, rarely straying from their brief, are the best way to analyse the likely weaknesses of a bill. In my experience much of the formal debate is to get a record of views in to Hansard for the sake of posterity and real changes in a bill only comes about by persuasion of the bill team, civil servants and Ministers outside the Chamber. Formal debates can be particularly sterile and wholly predictable. There is also a distinct lack of what I call “evidence based” statements. I have heard colleagues quote so called research which sets any academic’s teeth on edge. I have an urge to stand up and shout ‘lot of tosh’ but the only way to challenge in a formal debate is to rise decorously and ask ” Could the Noble Lord/Lady point us to the source of this information?”, which is invariably ignored.