The chamber of the House of Lords can be very intimidating, especially for newer Members trying to make a succinct point, when it is full to bursting at Questions. They can hardly be blamed if they refer carefully to notes when asking for information from Ministers.
Yet, all too often, when they do this, some old stagers shout “READING”, in an attempt to put them off their stride. All right, the Companion discourages reading, but it also gives firm advice on all sorts of other misdemeanours, such as walking in and out of the chamber when the Lord Speaker or her Deputy is upright. That doesn’t prevent very senior Members from exiting when they feel like it.
Reading a Question may ensure brevity as well as accuracy: we all witness daily long-winded contributions which would benefit from rigorous commitment to paper. I know that I am much less effective if I have not prepared exactly what I want to say, and more likely to waffle if I have no text. Dr Johnson said “I have not time to write a SHORT letter”. It is easy enough to expand excessively if you are extemporising.
This was obviously the reason for Baroness (Betty) Boothroyd’s carefully read Question about the Gurkhas this afternoon – she was taking no chances, and stuck religiously to her text. No Peer dared to shout “READING” at her. One or two other very experienced Parliamentarians followed her lead.
If such notables ignore this advice – and nobody complains – why should not newer colleagues? What’s sauce for the senior geese should be available to the younger ganders too!