Tabling questions to the Government can serve one of several purposes. One is is to ensure that an issue is drawn to the attention of a minister. The matter may be important but not one that has fully engaged the attention of ministers. The purpose is thus served before the minister has even come to the dispatch box.
There was a good example at Question Time yesterday. Lord Ashley of Stoke asked about provisions made to prevent violence against disabled people. The minister, Lord West of Spithead, explained what the Government were doing, but went on to say: “This is not an area I had looked into in any great detail and I was absolutely horrified when I began to do so and saw some of the percentages of disabled people who are subject to violence.” He said the Government talked to various groups representing disabled people. “I absolutely commit the Government to talk more with these groups because more needs to be done.”
Questions also serve a purpose in teasing out what progress, if any, is being made with Government programmes and initiatives. There was an example yesterday when Lord McNally asked when the Government expected the National Council for Democratic Renewal, announced by the Prime Minister on 1 June, to meet. The Leader of the House, Baroness Royall, replied: “My Lords, it is important that there is a mechanism at the heart of government to lead work to rebuild trust in politics and shape the next steps to renew our constitution. That is why the Prime Minister has said that he is establishing a national democratic renewal council. Further details will be announced shortly”.
Lord McNally responded by saying: “My Lords, I think that that means ‘not the foggiest’.”
We know how to interpret answers.