Checking and challenging government

The House of Lords plays an important role in checking and challenging the decisions and actions of the government through questions and debates.

Oral questions: in the chamber

Members of the House of Lords do this by either questioning ministers (in the chamber or in writing) or requiring ministers to respond to debates on topical issues.

Lords Questions takes place at the start of business, Monday to Thursday. Members of the Lords ask the government four questions on any topic it is responsible for and a minister or spokesperson must respond. Once the spokesperson has answered the initial question and a follow-up, any member may ask their own supplementary questions. Lords Questions lasts 30 minutes.

Written questions: in writing

Members of the Lords can also ask the government questions in writing on any topic it is responsible for. Members may ask up to six questions per day. The government must respond inside two weeks.

Private notice questions (PNQs)

Members of the Lords can apply to the Lord Speaker to ask the government a short-notice, topical question to be answered in the chamber by a minister or spokesperson on the same day.

Government statements

Government ministers announce important policy initiatives and report on national and international issues through statements in the Lords chamber. Statements are usually made in the House of Lords and House of Commons. They are followed in the Lords by a question and answer session where members follow up with the minister.

Debates

Members of the Lords include doctors, soldiers, technology experts, business people, nurses, scientists, writers, judges, lawyers and police officers. Many are appointed for their knowledge and experience and chosen from communities for making a difference through involvement with charitable, voluntary and civil society organisations.

During debates, members are able to put this experience to good use, discussing current issues and drawing the government's attention to concerns.

Debates in 2019 included:

There are three main types of debate:

  • General debates (usually on Thursdays): One longer debate or two short debates lasting around five hours. Each party is given opportunities throughout the year to initiate such debates and backbench members can enter a ballot to propose general debates
  • Short debates: These take place at the end of business or during dinner time and should last 60 or 90 minutes. In October 2013 a weekly one hour slot (on Thursdays) for a topical question for short debate was introduced. Backbench members can enter a ballot to propose topical subjects for these debates
  • Debates on committee reports or general issues of the day with no set timing

Further information

Lords enquiry service

Contact the House of Lords enquiry service with general questions about the Lords:

  • Telephone: 0800 223 0855 (Freephone) or 020 7219 3107
  • Email: hlinfo@parliament.uk
  • Text Relay: 18001 7219 3107