Questioning Secretaries of State

Lord Norton

The House yesterday agreed a report from the Procedure Committee recommending that, if there is a Secretary of State in the House, then on one Thursday every month, when the House is sitting, 15 minutes should be set aside for three oral questions to the Secretary of State immediately following the existing 30 minutes for oral questions.  Where there is more than one Secretary of State in the House, as there is at the moment, they would answer questions on different Thursdays within any given month. 

As Lord Brabazon of Tara, the Chairman of Committees, put it: “The proposal at the moment is that the two departmental Secretaries of State should answer Questions in this House on their departmental responsibilities – as far as I can see, that means the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on transport and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, on almost everything else.”

The first of these Secretary of State question times will be on Thursday, 14 January, when Lord Adonis will be at the dispatch box, and on Thursday, 21 January, when Lord Mandelson will be answering.

Lord Brabazon also reported that no firm proposal has yet been received from the Commons regarding the possibility of Secretaries of State who sit in the Lords answering questions in the Commons or in Westminster Hall.

8 comments for “Questioning Secretaries of State

  1. Gar Hywel
    17/12/2009 at 9:28 am

    “Secretaries of State who sit in the Lords answering questions in the Commons or in Westminster Hall”.

    An interesting idea, but the Commons only attends the lords on one, sometimes two, days a year; it would not be like for like, although speaker of HofC does have the powers of the 5-6th person of state does he not, so he might be able to do the summoning?

    Westminster Hall is also interesting in that it is more like a Forum where the public can also gain the attention of the Chairman, and yet it is a formal meeting of the HofC.

    I have not myself stood up and spoken from the “gallery”/ public seating, in Westminster Hall, but it could not be easier to allow Jo (Gar)Public to do so.

    In which case the Lords’ Secretaries of state
    could well attend there too, merely be an agenda adjustment. It might be no better attended for that.

    I may say that I have never succeeded in speaking to a subject of my choice, or any subject at all, in the main Chamber of the HofC ,on account of the pressure of space and people, in the public gallery. Even delivering a note of intention/hope(!) to Mr speaker beforehand would not be adequate, although occasionally some people do succeed in doing so.

    Does Lords’ nominated Secretary of State attend select committee? Yes! Of course, so Westminster Hall would be a gesture towards full session.

  2. Bedd Gelert
    17/12/2009 at 11:19 am

    Questions to the ‘Lord High Everything Else’ – now that is one to be selling tickets for !!

  3. Gareth Howell
    17/12/2009 at 3:45 pm

    “the possibility of Secretaries of State who sit in the Lords answering questions in the Commons or in Westminster Hall.”

    Or even the possibility of Secretaries of state who sit in the commons answering questions in the Lords, to give the HofL at least a semblance of usefulness.

    Do they answer them in Select committee of the Lords?

  4. lordnorton
    17/12/2009 at 4:15 pm

    Gareth Howell: Secretaries of State (whether in the Commons or Lords) can and do appear before Select Committees in the Lords. The possibility of Secretaries in the Commons answering questions in the Lords has been raised as a quid pro quo for Secretaries of State in the Lords answering questions in the Commons.

    • Gareth Howell
      17/12/2009 at 4:41 pm

      Noble Lord,
      Commons to Lords would be acceptable…. just going to answer questions from a pressure group?!

      Lords into commons chamber would be branded as undemocratic, but it is all a question of what can and may be done. Westminster Hall may be viable for that purpose. It would be a useful political exercise.

      Has there been any exchange of views with Mr. Speaker’s dept on the subject publicly?

      It would not be particularly easy for Lord Secretaries to appear before a Commons chamber…… for the money!

  5. Croft
    18/12/2009 at 11:49 am

    Even reading the report I must say I struggle to understand what ’15 minutes…set aside for three oral questions’ will achieve. It’s just so short to get into anything but the most superficial of question and no time for any reply…

  6. Gar Hywel
    02/01/2010 at 9:05 am

    For me the guiding principle must be the fact always of reducing the power of the lords in favor of Democracy.

    Ideally if the Lords chamber could be used as
    a Westminster Hall style chamber for ancillary debate then it would be fine.

    Having NO secretaries of state in the HofL
    would be difficult for the patronage of the Prime minister who must find it difficult enough balancing all the expertise in the first place.

    If ALL ministers and secretaries of state had free range of both chambers you would certainly get a very different kind of debate in the Lords, from now.

    It will continue to be the power of the 73 or the 96(?) Hereds, which holds sway in the next parliament, whichever government gets back in to office.

    I really don’t see that the Crown is under threat, but that is what the Hereds are there for, and that is what they believe.

    It is true that the uni-cameral socialists
    are nearly all anti-monarchy as well, but I can think of at least one uni-cameralist in the other place who is quite well to the right in other ways.

    There must be a way of keeping monarchy without keeping the two chambers, for now, without going back to an un-elected non democratic 17thC way of doing things, when there was one effective chamber with only peers in it! Privy Council of old.

    It is the principles of democracy which count
    not the principles of ‘cameralism’ which are important.

  7. Gar Hywel
    02/01/2010 at 12:29 pm

    If the HofL were an empty chamber in the sense that there are NO elected hereds or appointed peers at all, then the occasion of the State opening of parliament would amount to the elected MPs of the Commons attending in the benches [of the HofL] and filling them.

    There are too many elected Members in the other place as it is, so to provide some of them with the work that “Lords” now do, would be an excellent use for the second chamber.

    Membership for ALL the 656 members of the HofC would include sitting in the second chamber when asked to do so by the whips,to deal with the final readings of Bills and all the minutiae that the HofL currently does, in exactly the same way as they do for select and Bill committees already. The HofL would become a Bill committee.

    The idea that the “monarchy becomes isolated”
    through not having hereds at the state opening may be entirely false. The state opening would take place as normal, MPs taking a red bench seat to listen to it.

    If any Hereditary peer wants to be involved in the debate of parliament then he should be
    chosen by the constituency ‘college’ and elected in the proper way that all members are.

    The creation of ‘elected’ hereds is a false trail and anti-democratic, intended to undermine principles of democracy which are
    accepted as the norm by the Conventions of the UN to which we are committed.

    g

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