HC Deb 15 April 1914 vol 61 cc278-302

I beg to move, "That in future no Member shall, except by leave, speak in this House for more than twenty minutes, or for more than fifteen minutes in Committee of the Whole House, Ministers, ex-Ministers, and Movers of Bills and Resolutions excepted."

I desire, in the first place, to express my gratitude to the hon. Members who have withdrawn the Motion and the Amendment in regard to trawl fishermen at Start Bay, for by their action I have the opportunity of saying a few words in support of my Resolution. In moving it I will not occupy the time of the House for more than a few moments, for, whatever my shortcomings since I have been a Member of this House, the making of long speeches has not been my failing. The length at which some Members speak in this House, to say the least, is not a little trying to those hon. Members who have to listen to speeches and to grasp as well as we can the business that comes on in the House. On the very day on which I had the fortune of the ballot for this Motion two Members of the House occupied no less than three hours in making the speeches they delivered. I notice too—though this may not be true of the two hon. Members to whom I have referred—that the less a Member has to say, and the less it is worth saying and hearing, the longer time he takes to say it. My remarks apply to both sides of the House. Perhaps on this side we have the best example that could be set to a body like that which sits here in the case of our Prime Minister. While some of us would gladly listen to him at greater length, and oftener, than we have the privilege of doing, he himself never speaks at very great length. He does not hesitate or stammer, or repeat his sentences over and over again. He goes straight on to the finish, and, though he rarely speaks long, he says much when he does speak. Most of us, most ordinary men at any rate, can say what they desire to say, if it is well prepared and thought out, in twenty minutes. After that it is mostly padding.

Not only are many Members guilty of speaking at very great length, which tries the patience of some of us who have been speaking for forty years, but some Members of this House speak very frequently. It seems to me that some Members think that nothing can pass through this House except they have a share in passing it by their voice. No matter what the subject is, or how often the subject is changed during the day, they seem ready and anxious to speak on it, and to be able to talk at equal length on all things in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth, and when they have sat down sometimes one wonders what they have been saying and what it all meant. It would be out of order, I suppose, to mention hon. Members by name. If I were in a lecture room, instead of being in the House of Commons, this evening, I would endeavour to instruct my hearers by giving them examples of several styles of speaking that I have noticed during my stay in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"] It would be quite out of order to attempt that, and so I will keep to the object to which I rose. My Resolution allows twenty minutes to a speaker in the House and fifteen minutes in Committee of the Whole House. It also provides for exceptions—Ministers and ex-Ministers and Movers and Seconders of Resolutions. While I am not willing to make these exceptions, I have made them for the purpose of trying to make my Resolution more acceptable to the House.

There are Members on both sides of the House, and even on the Front Benches, who certainly have not received their present honours and distinctions because of their oratory and eloquence, and I am very unwilling in my Resolution to allow them to exceed the limit of twenty minutes. Still I make these exceptions because I fear that the House might be opposed to passing my Resolution without them, and if carried the Resolution would allow the Speaker and the Deputy-Speaker to permit Members to exceed the limits of twenty minutes and fifteen minutes—to what extent would depend on the discretion of the Speaker or the Chairman. This Resolution makes it possible for those who desire to do so, by leave of the Chair, to exceed the limits which I have laid down, and if I were the Speaker I should be very chary of allowing the talkative Members to exceed these limits. But if an hon. Member or a right hon. Gentleman felt it impossible to do justice to the exuberance of his own verbosity in one-third of an hour, he could ask leave from the long-suffering Speaker, or the Deputy-Speaker, to exceed that limit. I do not wish to speak long lest I should be held up as an example against my own Resolution, but I may remind hon. Members that since I became a Member of this House in January, 1910, I have not spoken more than fifteen minutes at any one time in this House, and very seldom have I taken up the time of the House. I content myself now with simply moving the Resolution.

Sir J. D. REES

I beg to second the Motion.

I am glad, indeed, that I have not spoken to-day, so that the hon. Member who paid me the compliment of asking me to second his Motion, cannot be pointing to me as one of the two speakers who have already transgressed to-day. As I have not transgressed up to now, I will be careful not to trangress during the remainder of the day. I have no doubt that I was asked to second this Motion because I was the Mover of the last Motion to the same effect. Though I am very glad, because I agree in spirit with the hon. Gentleman, to second the Motion, I do think that it requires some Amendment, which I believe it is likely to receive before this Debate closes. In the first place, it does not say by whom leave to exceed the limit is to be given I do not know whether it means the leave of the Chair or of the House. My Motion was that the leave of the House could be obtained, and that would certainly relieve the Chair of a very invidious duty, which I gather would be thrown upon it, though that is a matter of inference by this Motion. Nor do I knew whether this Motion if passed will amount to a Sessional Order and would take effect at once. It does no run in the same terms as the Order to which I have referred, so as to become; Standing Order if passed by this House I do not know what would be the effect o the acceptance of this Motion.


The effect would be that the Chair would be very glad to take the opportunity of putting the Resolution into force.

Sir J. D. REES

Any change of this kind is desirable, because the object in view is that as many constituencies as possible should speak through their Members. For instance, there must have been many occasions during the Home Rule Debate— I speak without feeling here, because I did not attempt to speak—when hon. Members were extremely desirous to speak, and got no chance whatever of giving expression to the views of their constituents. That seems to be obviously a wrong thing to happen on any very great occasion when every constituency probably wonders why its own Member has not said anything, or thinks that he has not tried, or attended regularly, whereas, the fact is probably that a very large mass of Members have cried to speak but have not had an opportunity of catching the Speaker's eye. I confess that since the time when the hon. Member for the City of London lescribed me as a young Member, low about eight years ago, my views have somewhat altered, because there s really a merit in verbosity and prolixity to this extent, that it does hinder he accumulation of legislation which is the of the evils from which the country uffers. In taking steps to promote legisation it is very doubtful often whether he House will really be conferring a benefit. I submit in all seriousness that bat is a consideration which is worthy if the attention of the House, because; is not that subjects come up on account if any pressing need in the country, but is because there is a programme made, and once that programme is made there a feeling of responsibility on the part E hon. Members on that side of the house which is in power for the me being to carry out that programme even in regard to that most important easure, the National Insurance Bill, we [...] the Minister in charge of it actually [...] it through the House, and afterards confessing that if the judgment of the country had been taken at the time the ct would never have become law. I think;at proves very clearly, more clearly than anything I could say, and also perhaps ore acceptably to hon. Gentlemen opponte, who are more numerous here to-night;an we are—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—I believe, however, that evidence to be weighed, and I do not suggest that right rests on the side of the more numerous to-night—I do suggest that the circumstances to which I have just referred is a proof that at the present moment it is doubtful whether any greater facilities should be given for carrying through an avalanche of legislation. Bill after Bill, law after law, until we reach that stage described by the old Roman historian, where "the more numerous the laws the more corrupt the republic." That is a state of things which is not unlikely to occur.


Is it in order, Sir, that an hon. Member seconding the Resolution should devote the whole of his speech to adducing arguments against the Motion?


It is somewhat unusual, but I regret I had not the good fortune to hear all that the hon. Member has said, or I would be in a better position to judge.

Sir J. D. REES

I am sure that if Mr. Speaker had heard me ho would have acquitted me of any such enormity. There is a feeling in all quarters of the House, if possible, that speeches should be reduced in length, and, in point of fact, it is a feeling apparent not only within the House but outside. I should like to refer to the case of the last resolution upon this subject which I introduced. The then Home Secretary, now Lord Gladstone, said he hoped that I would be content with a committee to consider this subject. I said I would be content, for I had no choice in the matter. The fact is, however, as soon as I approached Ministers and asked for a Committee, they with one accord made excuses, and they did not seem to me very anxious to set; up the Committee which they offered on that occasion. I do not know whether the offer is going to be renewed to-night, but I will confess that, having got that promise on the previous occasion, I was perhaps not as insistent upon having it carried out as I ought to have been as the Mover of the Motion. I do not know whether the offer of the Committee is likely to be the solution to-night, but it would be an act of tardy justice if the Government do offer a Committee, and really proceed to set it up to consider the question, instead of merely offering it and not setting it up, as they did on the last occasion. The hon. Member's Motion allows twenty minutes as the duration of a speech; my Motion allowed thirty minutes, though his Motion is probably better than mine. But I do not quite understand what is going to happen if the privilege which it is proposed to give to Members of the late Administration and to Members of the present Administration is to be accorded to them. Suppose a junior Member of the late Administration claims the privilege of a longer speech, would that be cheerfully accorded by the House of Commons? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, certainly not!"] I confess I think that it is extremely doubtful. No doubt great virtue attaches to the affectation, at any rate, of complete equality between all Members of this Assembly.

The hon. Member's Motion, unless it says clearly that the leave is to be the leave of the House or the leave of the Chair, will be open to some objection. For instance, if it was the leave of the House, a Member might be rather unfairly treated if he had lately taken some action which made him unpopular in sonic quarter of the House. Supposing he was so unfortunate as to incur the resentment of the Irish Members, it would be extremely difficult for him to get a hearing unless the leave required Was the leave of the Chair. Similarly, if any Member incurred the displeasure of Labour Members he would find some difficulty in obtaining a quiet hearing during the fifteen minutes he was entitled to speak. I think the hon. Member's Motion should be made more clear in that respect, and I understand the hon. Baronet opposite is about to introduce an Amendment which may have that effect. Another point I wish to refer to is that under existing circumstances it is exceedingly difficult for private Members to get a word in upon occasions when I think it is extremely desirable that they should be heard. For instance, take the case the other night when there was a very important Motion, on which we had eloquent and statesmanlike speeches by my hon. Friends the Member for South Somerset and the Member for Hull. That was a very important occasion, but when those two hon. Members and Members of the Front Benches had spoken at length, there was really no further time for private Members to speak. Unfortunately, it happens that important subjects connected with foreign affairs mostly come up for discussion on the Motions of private Members, and there are very few other opportunities. There are occasions when I feel that I have a claim to speak, as I feel very acutely the unjust impression which may be given of the feelings of this country in regard to Belgium and the Congo or the affairs of Turkey, which have recently come before the House of Commons. On those occasions a very great advantage would arise from shortening of speeches, and private Members would have an opportunity of expressing other views. Another occasion to which I might refer was the discussion of the conduct of Lord Milner. On that occasion only Members on the Front Benches spoke, with the one single exception of an hon. Member who sat where-the hon. Member for Wolverhampton is now sitting, and who soon afterwards became Solicitor - General, Attorney-General, and then Lord Chief Justice of England. In his case, therefore, the exception was not very great in regard to the case I put, that private Members have not an opportunity of speaking on those occasions under existing circumstances. Then there was another case, that of the Colonial Secretary's Vote, which was quite recently under consideration, and, out of the whole of the time, one hour out of three was taken by one Member— [HON. MEMBERS: "Time!"]—I will not delay the proceedings any longer, save to simply second my hon. Friend's Motion.


I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof the words, "any hon. Member wishing to make a short speech may signify to the Chair the length of time during which he wishes to speak, and if he exceeds that time the Chair shall thereupon call his attention to the fact."

After a very short experience of this House I cannot help thinking that it is: matter of importance that private Members should try and do something to curtail the length of speeches. The hon Baronet the Member for the City of Lon don (Sir F. Banbury), who has just com in, would, of course, be able to speak for the remainder of the time on this Motion I must say in this matter, I sympathis with him in some degree, because clearl a speech of twenty minutes in the dinne hour would be all too short, and it would mean that three Members would have? go without dinner, go that instead of being as at present the hon. Baronet or the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees it would mean both hon. Members. I d not know what the hon. Member for New castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) would do, or what the late Prime Minister for one of the provinces of Canada (Mr. Martin) would do unless he was able to extend his speech over a longer time. Therefore, with a real desire that something should be done, I move the Amendment. It is extremely mild and very harmless, and will not apply to the hon. Member for Edinburgh or to the hon. Baronet the Member for the City, or anyone who does not wish it to apply. It will have this advantage, that if there is a Member who wishes in our long Second Reading Debates to make a short speech before the Leader of the Opposition gets up to reply, he can then guarantee to Mr. Speaker that he would speak for ten minutes, and Mr. Speaker would call him on that understanding and call his attention to the fact when that ten minutes had expired. I hope that this modification of my hon. Friend's Motion will be allowed even by the hon. Baronet to pass before eleven o'clock. It is purely an optional matter and to see whether we can do anything to curtail the length of the speeches to which we have now to listen.

I cannot help thinking that there is possibly one objection to this, in that it is clearly necessary for those in opposition to learn to be able to make long speeches. We cannot all make long speeches, and we have to learn. Hon. Members opposite are quite certain that after the next General Election, which will certainly take place by August, 1915, they will be on this side, and that all necessity for making long speeches will therefore be at an end for them. We are equally certain that we shall be on this side, and therefore all necessity for us to learn to make long speeches will be unnecessary. I think, therefore, if there is no Opposition, as we frankly expect, after the next General Election, then none of us will have to make long speeches, and perhaps something may be done to curtail them. I believe it is out of order to refer to the presence of strangers in the Gallery, but I venture to say that strangers in the Gallery would rather hear six hon. Members speak for ten minutes each than one hon. Member for an hour. I believe the same remark would apply to the sergeant-at-arms, and to the clerks, and to you, Mr. Speaker. It is most distressing to hear the one voice continuing throughout the dinner-hour. I think this extremely mild Amendment will do something to curtail the length of speeches, and by that means those of us who love making speeches, and who never seem to be able to get in, would be allowed rather more often to deliver our souls to an expectant and crowded House.


I beg to second the Amendment.

10.0 P.M.

I doubt whether the subject of to-night's Debate would have arisen if it had been humanly possible for you. Sir, strictly to apply Standing Order No. 19. I find that that Order was passed on the 27th of November, 1882, and on the 28th of February, 1888. That is a Standing Order referring to irrelevance or repetition. It does not require a very long Session in this House or a long experience of Debate in this House for Members to realise that in nine eases out of ten the length of speeches depends not upon the amount of matter with which any given speaker has to deal, but upon his desire that debate should be prolonged. We-are all quite well aware that many speeches at all-night sittings consist of prolonged and persistent violation of Standing Order No. 19. That may appear to be a reflection upon the powers of the Chairman of Committee, but I venture to suggest in that respect that the difficulty of applying the Order rests in this, that after a very short period so many delinquents would have come under the censure of the Chair that there would be very few persons in this House who would dare-to rise. That might be a very laudable result to aim at, but it is in the so far distant future that we are driven to adopt other means for shortening speeches in this House, though I have no doubt Mr. Speaker and Mr. Chairman of Committees will bear in mind that this Debate deals as much with Standing Order No. 19 as. with the actual Motion before the House, and, believing that they will do so, I need not press that particular point any further. As I am seconding an Amendment which has as its object the curtailment of speeches, I shall add but one word more. The curtailment of speeches is like the passage of legislation in this House—it is no hardship to those who already know how to behave themselves. It will only operate as a hardship upon those who-constantly misuse and abuse the freedom of debate in this House, and who know the rules well enough in order to avoid them. I am sure that on both sides of the House the vast majority of Members will be only too willing to see the sentiments expressed, particularly in the Amendment, carried into the general and daily practice of the House of Commons.


I feel that this wholesome and virtuous cause has suffered a good deal in the past from the transgressions of its advocates. Most of those who have spoken in favour of such a Resolution as is before the House have been either habitual offenders or reformed rakes. My hon. Friend the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees), who seconded this Motion, brought forward the question in the year 1908. Although I was not in the House then, I have read the Debate, and I think that he made perhaps the longest speech in all the unfortunate years of that unfortunate Parliament that was made on any subject. And so it has always been. There is no question as to the extent of the disease, but the question is as to the efficacy of the remedies proposed. I do not know that we gain much through plunging the Debate into history, but there can be no doubt that the speeches are not of the exceptional or average length they used to be. We have never heard anything like Lord Palmer-ston's five hours' speech on Dom Pacifico and Civis Romanus Sum. We have not had even a speech as long as that of Lord John Russell, on the Second Reading of the Reform Act, when he spoke for three hours, not getting up until two o'clock in the morning. Those things belong to the past and therefore are very far away, but to that extent there has been a great improvement, if it be an improvement, in the direction of shortening speeches. Neither the average nor the exceptional speech is as long as it used to be. I do not know that very much is to be learnt from the example and practice of foreign Legislature,;. The whole of their procedure and rules is so different from ours that there is not much comparison. For example, I believe that in America, in Congress, speeches are limited to an hour. That would not be any very great safeguard here. Over and above that, many members hand in their speeches for entry in the Congressional Record without their having been delivered in the House; they are taken as read. That might be a good principle to introduce into this House, but it is so foreign to the whole of its precedents and historical procedure that I doubt whether it would be accepted, or whether the conditions hero are in the least likely to render it acceptable.

Therefore, we have to judge for ourselves, looking at the past and present conditions of our Legislature. I am afraid there is no doubt that a rule of procedure of this sort must be compulsory or it will be of no avail. In the London County Council, of which I was a member of ten years, the rule was compulsory, and it was enforced. Although, I believe, in only one case has leave ever been refused to a member to continue his speech beyond the fifteen minutes' limit allowed by the Standing Order there, still the spirit of the rule is always observed, and members frame their speeches with a view to the fifteen minutes' limit. If Members here would think a little more about what they are going to say—I do not say this as a superior person—if there was a little more condensation, there would be less need for a Resolution of this sort. But let us ask if it is likely to be effective. For two years I was Chairman of a Committee which considered this subject, and I was asked to approach the authorities of the House in order to establish the exact rule which the hon. Baronet opposite wishes to put in force by his Amendment. The authorities of the House received the proposition with high favour. It was proposed that every Member wishing to speak should enter his name on a card together with the length to which he would confine his remarks. One of the first of my hon. Friends—I will not mention his name—who proposed to speak for ten minutes, spoke for fifty-five minutes. He was called partly upon the strength of his professions, and that was his performance. Against that there is no guard. Therefore I do not believe that a voluntary rule of this sort would be of any effect. It might bind those who are either too conscientious or not conscientious enough—I mean those who were thinking more of the rule or more of the subject on which they wished to address the House. Hon. Members are not often carried away by their own eloquence, but they are often carried away by the strength of their case, and they are not satisfied until they have had a full opportunity of stating its merits, and the House or public which listens to them is likely to be convinced.

Therefore I submit that you either have to have compulsion absolute and universal, or it is no use to pass a Resolution which I suppose you, Mr. Speaker, would treat as being the formal opinion of the House, and therefore having almost the validity of a Sessional Order. I think that the suggestion originally made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham is a good one. I cannot see why a Select Committee—not a voluntary Committee—should not once more consider this subject. It has the light of many Debates to go by, because this subject has been introduced into almost every Parliament in one form or another. It was annually brought up by Sir Came Rasche during the many years he was a Member of this House. Therefore, considering that the conditions have somewhat changed, and that it is now a greater hardship than ever that so small a number of Members have an opportunity of addressing the House on the many important subjects that come up—and, after all, the projects of legislation were never so large or so deep-rooted as they are now—I think the question well merits reconsideration. It might be well worth the while of the hon. Member who speaks for the Government to consent to the appointment of a Select Committee, the terms of reference to which could be settled between the First Lord of the Treasury and the authorities of the House. Such a course is far more practicable, and likely to be of far more value than the acceptance of any such well-meant but meaningless Resolution as that which has been proposed, or the Amendment which has been suggested. I strongly urge the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the question.


I do not think that the discussion of this subject in this Parliament is likely to take us very far. I believe personally that it is a conspiracy on the part of the hon. Member for North Bucks (Sir H. Verney) to stifle all discussion; because I very well recollect on one occasion on which you yourself, Sir, were appealed to as to the length of speeches, you replied—and I think we all agreed—that your desire was to hear as little debate as possible. The hon. Member for North Bucks proposes that we should come to you and state the length of time we are going to speak. Assuming that that rule held good, and you desired to hear as little as possible of any of us, obviously you would choose those Members who did not want to speak at all, and all discussion would be stifled. As a matter of fact, many other things militate against speeches being short, and it seems to me that, instead of this subject being discussed on the floor of the House of Commons, it ought to be discussed within the confines of the Procedure Committee. For instance, I myself have over and over again noticed Members being called to speak who themselves have not heard the previous two or three hours of the Debate. They have had their speeches with them in the Library; I have seen them preparing them there, and I have followed them into the House and heard the speeches delivered. Very frequently they have no great relevance to the speeches which have preceded them, and the Members would probably be called to order for irrelevance but for the fact that physical necessity requires that you yourself must occasionally leave the Chair and somebody else take your place for a time. The hon. Member who happens to catch the eye of the Deputy-Speaker when you have left the Chair has an ample chance to be fairly irrelevant. Those of us who listen to those speeches agree that that is so.

A notice of Motion has been handed in dealing with the growing autocracy of the Cabinet, which has a great bearing on this subject. After all, the Cabinet determine what is to be considered in this House. Any great question considered here is discussed first of all by four Gentlemen, one representing the Government, one the Opposition, one the Irish party, and one the Labour party. Every one of those four Gentlemen speaks, on an average, for an hour. We have from four o'clock until eleven to discuss these questions, and when we have listened to those four Gentlemen for an hour apiece, we need a long rest. The dinner hour intervenes. We all come back about 9.15, and after that the time allowed for speakers to rise on either side of the Table allows no room for any private Member, and what really happens is a series of long speeches. For curiosity I was looking up the Debates on the Irish Home Rule Bill, and I find that the same hon. Members of this House have delivered the same speeches for the last two years on that particular topic. The composition has varied, and so have the illustrations, but the speeches have been practically the same. Despite that fact, we discussed the Bill again this year for four days. We had to have a week-end rest between the Thursday and the Monday before we came to a decision, because the speeches on the first three days had been so stodgy. You see how that affects those of us who are not interested in Governments, or Oppositions, or parties in this House I mean when a question arises such as the question discussed tonight previous to this Motion, a question when Mr. Deputy-Speaker was in the Chair, concerning the people of England. It was something about the comparative values of soles and plaice in Start Bay, and crab-pots on the Skerries, and if a Scottish Member desires to know what an English Home Rule Parliament would be like, and the questions that would be discussed in it, he had only to come in and listen to those very interesting and entertaining speeches. I came in. There were only five other English Members present. No English Member, who is supremely interested, for instance, in Irish Home Rule, had the courage to come in and to listen to the English fish! That is the view of one who sits and watches what takes place in these Debates.

There are a great many other questions like that. I remember that over a week ago we discussed one of these questions for a whole day. I think it had something to do with some recent happenings in the Army or the Navy. Nobody else wanted to talk about anything else until the close of the Debate, and I then wanted to discuss the Scottish crofters who were in Calton Gaol. I got up and attempted to make a speech, and nobody would listen to me. Nobody wanted to. Hon. Members cried, "Divide, divide!" and they had no idea what I wanted to say. They would not even let me make a short speech, The worst of it was that I was closured for attempting to make no speech. Obviously, therefore, this Resolution would not make any material difference to the length of speeches. I would rather, Mr. Speaker, that we should be asked to submit to you the arguments that we are about to use, and that you should call upon us according to the strength and value of our argument. After all, on the Second or Third Reading of the Irish Home Rule Bill, for instance, there were only so many arguments that could be used, and if the first man whom you called upon used so many of the arguments the next man would have great difficulty in finding more arguments than those that were left. Joking on one side, this subject would be very much better discussed in the Procedure Committee. The nature of the speeches delivered in this House depends upon other circumstances than those that have been raised in this Debate. They depend upon certain forms of the House, some modern and some ancient, which have rendered it necessary for some of us never to speak, and others to speak all the time.


As one of the Members of this House who does not often inflict a speech upon it, and who therefore has the larger opportunity of studying the observations of his colleagues, I have on many occasions realised their very great capacity for loquacity. I should like to make one reference which I do not think has been made in this discussion, and that is that though the question may be looked at from the standpoint of the individual Member of this House, it ought to be looked at still more from the standpoint of the constituencies. This is a representative Assembly, not an aggregation of individual men, and the constituencies are interested in what takes place here. I know, as I expect every other Member knows by experience, they desire that there shall be larger opportunities for the constituencies as a whole to make their voices felt in this House. That being the case, it seems to me we want practically to face this question as to how that very desirable end may be achieved. I agree with my hon. Friend that this possibly is hardly the method that will achieve it, though it might tend in that direction. The Procedure Committee may be able far better to understand what is necessary, though I for one would like in regard to this matter to hear the views of Mr. Speaker himself more than any Member of this House. He has inflicted upon him all the speeches made here, and he knows more than we know the necessity for greater distribution of speeches as representing the constituencies. I sincerely hope his views will be heard, and potently heard, before the Procedure Committee, so that we may have some practical proposal in this direction.

May I venture by a fact to indicate what I recognise as the difficulty of the constituencies not being fairly heard in this House? All of us who have had an opportunity of approaching you, Mr. Speaker, know your intense desire to have every aspect of thought in the House represented in our Debates, and, if there is any difficulty at all, it never is due to yon, but to the Members themselves. But in order to show how far constituencies are not represented in our great Debates, I took the opportunity of analysing the last Home Rule Debate, which occupied four days. I venture to put forward these facts, and only refer to them from the standpoint of the sincere desire that the constituencies in this country should be better represented in this House. The result I discovered of that four days' Debate was this; Forty-five Members spoke altogether; of these twenty-one were Unionists, sixteen were Liberals, three were Labour Members, and five were Irish Members. Of Liberals there were five Front Bench Members, there was one ex-Minister, one Parliamentary Secretary, five Scottish Members, and four unofficial English Liberal Members. Of the four unofficial English Members, one voted against the Bill, being one of the two dissentient English Members. Therefore, so far as I can make out on an analysis of that important Debate, the net result was of the unofficial Liberal Members only four English Members took part in the Debate. What I feel about the matter is this: It is not a matter of very great importance, to my mind, what individual Member should speak in this House, but what is important is that the constituencies should have their voices heard here. From the standpoint of the representation of the constituencies in the House of Commons, it is vitally necessary, if representative institutions are to maintain their hold upon the country, that this House shall not be continually used as a sounding board for a few men to make great reputations, but that the constituencies shall themselves be heard and make their influence felt. We want to deal with the matter in some practical way. I do not believe that the Motion is quite practical, and I am inclined to think that the Amendment is even better than the Resolution, but I have grave doubts whether either of them is the right method. I therefore contend that we should submit the whole matter to the Procedure Committee, in order that we may have the whole question decided in such a way that this House may be made thoroughly representative of the nation in its speeches. When we get more Members speaking the constituencies and the country will be more interested, and Members themselves will be more interested. We know by experience that an bon. Member may attend here for four days and four nights and wait in vain for an opportunity to speak during "the whole of that time, and yet he realises that any Member of the Front Bench can just seize the psychological moment to speak without any waiting. Other "hon. Members may have to wait and wait, and when they do come on to speak they find that all they wanted to say has been said already. When there is not a proper moment to speak it robs the Debate of interest, and our constituencies do not take the same interest in what takes place. Therefore, from the practical standpoint, and not merely in the interests of individual Members, but in the interests of the constituencies as a whole, and in order that the constituencies may have a better chance of making their voices felt, I support the Amendment so far as it goes. I hope the Procedure Committee will be able to do something in the direction of securing by speech a greater representation of the constituencies in this representative House.


I expect there are very few hon. Members who do not sympathise with the object of this Resolution. Certainly I sympathise with it myself. One of the best rhetorical displays I ever heard was an occasion when the names of twenty-eight persons appeared on a toast list to propose or respond, and they were limited in time to one minute each. The result was a most successful display of rhetoric and humour. There are times during Second Reading Debates when hon. Members think it their duty to cover the whole ground each in turn, when really what is wanted is short, vigorous speeches, and a long repetition of the same arguments is the last thing the House wants. There is another time to which allusion has not been made when long speeches are very much to be regretted, and that is on the few private Members' days that still remain, especially on Fridays when private Members' Bills are brought in, when that rare opportunity is often spoiled by long speeches, sometimes made even in support of a Bill. Of course, on those occasions the longest speeches are perhaps more often deliberate. For my own part I would not lay very much stress upon the value of this Motion for the purpose of accelerating Government business. I have my doubts whether long speeches are ever a real instrument of obstruction except perhaps on Friday when the promoters of Bills have no power of getting more time for them. I do not think that the shortening of speeches can be hoped for as a great advantage by the Government or need be feared as a great restriction by the Opposition. To my mind the shortening of speeches would be an improvement in our important Debates. I am perfectly certain that in the majority of cases a discursive and diffused speech is a sign of little thought beforehand, and if hon. Members were forced by the knowledge that they were expected to make shorter speeches to think "what are my best arguments, and how can I put them shortly," I am bound to say that I think the speeches would be improved by that necessity.

I am not quite certain whether the difficulty under which we labour is not largely a matter of tradition. In old times speeches were always long, because there were very few speakers. They dealt with the whole subject, and they were expected to deal with it. The ordinary private Member two or three generations ago was a much more silent person than at present. He had fewer opportunities, because of the custom of the House. The custom of the House was that only practised and recognised protagonists should speak in the big debates. Nowadays there is so much speaking power and fluency in the House that the speaking is done by hundreds where it used to be done by scores. What has happened is this: While the protagonists in this generation have not very much shortened their speeches—it is true that they take an hour where in the old days they took an hour and a half or two hours, but they still constantly take an hour—the private Members are now, in spite of all that has been said, coming into their own more and more, and they imitate the long speeches of the leaders and speak for half an hour or three-quarters. I do not know whether any such stimulus as this proposal will supply will be efficacious. Perhaps the more potent influence on our generation will be the example of the brevity of the Prime Minister, because there there is proof that even Members of the Front Bench can say a lot of effective things in twenty minutes or half an hour.

I want to say with regard to the Motion before the House that the Government, of course, is quite sympathetic to it, but I doubt if the House should be prepared to accept it in its present form and at the present time. The Resolution as it stands is not merely a pious opinion, and is not merely a Resolution of the House which would have no effect, but it would become a Sessional Order, and it would be rather a strong thing, I think, at the end of a day like this, when this Motion was not expected, for the House to pass a Sessional Order of this importance. There are, moreover, certain minor objections to it which are none the less serious. I will only point out two. It is perfectly clear to the House that if shorter speeches are to become the rule there must be some method of extending the opportunity to a speaker whom a large number of Members want to hear. Supposing this Motion was passed as it stands, you might have the spokesman of a party whom the majority of the House wanted to hear, refused by his opponents, a minority of the House, indignant perhaps at something he might have said a few moments before. As I read this Motion, "except by leave" would mean except by leave of the House. I have asked advice, and I am told that as it stands it would probably mean by leave of the House, and the leave of the House could presumably be refused by one person. Even on the interpretation of the hon. Member, it seems to put a rather invidious duty upon the Speaker of saying whether he should allow a Member to continue or not.

Another minor objection which I think is rather serious, is that there is a limitation to fifteen minutes in Committee of the Whole House. What does that mean? Does it mean fifteen minutes for each speech in Committee, or does it mean fifteen minutes for all the speeches which a Member chooses to make in Committee? Is it going to bar the immemorial and rather convenient tradition of Members being able to speak over and over again in Committee, if necessary? That is a detail which it is absolutely necessary to decide. It would certainly be extremely difficult for the Chairman of Committee to count up—supposing a Minister were replying twice upon a point—whether that Minister, or any other Member, who wanted to speak twice, had spoken five minutes on one occasion and ten minutes on another. I think the propositions in the Motion are too difficult for the House to adopt on this occasion. I suggest that my hon. Friend should be content with the discussion that has taken place, and that he should withdraw the Motion to-night. There is a Committee sitting at the present moment, the Procedure Committee, presided over by the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker), and I understand it has actually considered this question, which is well worth the reference to the Committee. I have asked, and I understand that they have actually been taking evidence and have considered the question actively. Therefore I do not think there is any reason for the House to suppose that the matter is going to be neglected, and I think it would be far better that it should be treated by a Committee of that kind and dealt with in connection with other expedients for making our Debates more valuable in the future. I think the Amendment of my Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir H. Verney) is harmless. I would suggest that the whole question should be left to the Committee, although with regard to the Amendment I do not think the House can do any harm in passing it, and I do not think it would be of any great value.


As a partisan of short speeches I hope to keep my remarks within sixty seconds. To do so I must apply a parable or figure. A cricket match took place at the Antipodes. Barlow, the stone-waller, had been batting for a couple of hours, and after a run the wicketkeeper knocked down the wicket and appealed to the umpire, who said, "Run out!" Barlow in walking away, passed the umpire and protested: "Why, I was two yards behind the wicket!" The umpire replied, "That is all right, but we have had enough of you. We want to see the other fellows." It is a great advantage to have a resourceful umpire. Perhaps it would be too invidious to ask the occupant of the Chair to assume that function, but the House in a corporate capacity might do so.


I think the discussion has proved that there is a universal or almost universal desire in all parts of the House that speeches should be generally shortened; but I confess to sharing the view expressed by the Secretary to the Board of Education (Mr. Trevelyan) and the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) as to the wisdom of the expedient put forward either in the Motion or the Amendment. I think the main proposal of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Leach) goes needlessly far. It lays down an arbitrary and artificial rule, which could only be applied with a good deal of disadvantage to our discussions. After all, there are many Members to whom an allowance of fifteen or twenty minutes would be far too long, and it would encourage a speaker in whose case fifteen or twenty minutes would be out of proportion to the value of what he would contribute to the Debate to take up the extreme limit of the time provided for him. For that reason I think an arbitrary time limit would not be to the advantage of our discussions. On the other hand, there are many speeches, even from Members who cannot lay claim to the dignity of Ministers or ex-Ministers, which could well be extended beyond the limit mentioned in the Resolution. The Amendment, it is true, is free from the objections to the original Motion, but, at the same time, it appears to be innocuous, and because it is innocuous it would be largely ineffective and would merely be the expression of a pious opinion. We must remember that at the present moment a Committee is sitting which is considering the question of the procedure of the House. In these circumstances it would be well that that Committee should take evidence from Members of the House of long experience on this very question and that one of its most important functions should be to make a special report upon the question of the length of speeches, and whether any practical expedient could be devised which would improve our discussions. I do not know whether at this stage it would be possible to propose an Amendment in the sense in which I have been arguing. If the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Verney) would withdraw his Amendment it would be possible to propose an Amendment asking for a special report from the Procedure Committee on this question.


I would suggest to my hon. Friend that we should pass my Amendment, which is innocuous, and then he could move his own. Then he would get both.


I do not understand the anxiety of my hon. Friend to have an innocuous Motion placed on the Records of the House. The substantial point is that we should get a special Report from the Procedure Committee on this question, and the important thing that can be gained from this Debate would be gained. Nothing at all can be achieved by passing the hon. Baronet's innocuous and futile Amendment. As, however, he is wedded to his Amendment, I am therefore to assume that there is no possibility of attaining the object I have suggested. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education entered into a very interesting disquisition, not only as to the chances which have come over our Debates, but as to the causes of the present situation which we deplore. I must confess to sharing the view of my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. J. Hogge), that our Debates are considerably deteriorating because of the fact that Members, instead of making debating contributions, practically deliver long essays which have absolutely no relation either to what goes before or comes after. If there was real debating and Members dealt with the subjects under discussion, and if they contented themselves with putting a single point, they would contribute to the Debate without repeating arguments which had been gone over ad nauseam by others, and there would be no need for a Standing Order at all. Another reason for the tendency to long speeches is the facilities which Members of the House have of getting verbatim reports of their speeches in all the local papers in their constituencies, and undoubtedly that has a great deal to do with the prolixity of speeches and the loquacity of Members. If there were not these facilities I think speeches would not only be shortened, but would be a great deal more to the point and would have more relevance to the subject under discussion. I am sorry the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Verney) does not see his way to withdraw the ineffective and innocuous Amendment which he has moved, and to make way for a more effective and more practical proposition, namely, that we should ask for a special Report on the question from the Committee on Procedure.


It has fallen to my lot twice this day to congratulate the Government, first of all, on having brought in a more or less harmless Bill, and, secondly, on having made a more or less harmless speech in answer to what I think would be a very harmful Motion. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) pointed out that it would be very difficult for the Chairmen of Committees to decide whether or not a Member had spoken for fifteen minutes. That shows the disadvantage of a private Member bringing in a short Motion of this sort at a time when it was not expected to be considered, and when the House is empty—a Motion which is going to upset the rules which have existed in this House certainly for the last 400 years. Of course, the hon. Member finds himself met with very many serious difficulties, and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) pointed out that the Chairmen of Committees would have to add up in the Committee stage the number of times each Member has spoken, and then supposing a Member had spoken four or five times, even if he has only spoken four minutes each time, he might find himself stopped upon an important Amendment, on which it was very necessary in the interests of his constituents, or in the interests of the country, that he should have an opportunity of expressing his opinion.-I do not suppose that that is the intention of the hon. Gentleman, but that is the actual effect of his Motion. Then the hon. Gentleman pointed out that the question whether or not a Member should speak for more than twenty minutes would be decided by the House, though in an aside he said it would be you, Sir, who would have to decide. That is not the Motion. That shows again—I do not wish to say anything offensive—the absurdity of a private Member with no very great experience of the House attempting to alter these old forms of procedure in this way. I venture to say it is putting on you, Sir, a very invidious task to say whether or not a certain Member should discontinue his speech. I have been twenty-two years a Member of this House, and I think everyone will admit that I have been a fairly regular attender. Whether I have benefited by that or not I do not know, but still I have learnt a great many of the weaknesses, also the great faculties and great good sense which a great many hon. Members have. I know that a great many hon. Members are very angry if they are not called upon to speak. Consider what the feelings of hon. Members would be if, after they had prepared a speech in the Library, which is going to be reported at full length in all the local papers, and which they think is going to send a thrill through their constituency, the whole thread of their argument is cut off, and that particular Member is not allowed to speak any longer. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire who, if I may say so, is distinguished for the length of his speeches—and for their good sense. He would probably be allowed to go on for half an hour. I can imagine a Member speaking for twenty minutes, and sitting here fuming because the hon. Member for Wiltshire was allowed to go on for thirty minutes, and was not stopped. I really think it would be absurd that such a state of things should continue any length of time. That is one of the difficulties which I think would happen if this Motion was carried. There is another thing which the hon. Gentleman pointed out—this is not an ordinary Wednesday evening Motion. The effect of it would be that it would at once become a Sessional Order. I think I may say that there are not more than 150 of the 670 Members of the House here at present. Would it be right that a Sessional Order should be proposed by a private Member against the will of the Government on an occasion like this? I think everybody knows that it would not be right. There was one point in the speech of the hon. Gentleman with which I most thoroughly disagree. He said it would be very much better if Members would sit down and think out their arguments. I disagree with him, and I will say why. After all, what is the duty of a Member who is making a speech in this House? Of course, if he is proposing or introducing a Bill or moving the Second Reading, he has no doubt to think out his arguments. But the ordinary Member, even the Member of the Government, in the Debate; which follows has got to answer the arguments put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House. If a Member; goes into the Library and sits down and prepares a speech he does not hear the arguments which have been going on in the House, and he makes a speech which has probably very little to do with the line of argument which has been followed in the House. We know that the First Lord of the Admiralty on one occasion prepared a speech which he contributed to the papers when, owing to a variety of circumstances, he did not rise to make his speech until seven o'clock, though he had understood that he was to begin it at four; o'clock, and that speech was actually published in New York before the right hon. Gentleman had got up to make it.


And in Germany also.


That shows the disadvantage of having a set speech made up. Therefore, on that point, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. When I first came to this House speeches were very much longer than they are now. I remember Mr. Gladstone getting up and making a speech on bimetallism. He was not prepared for it, and he only came into the House by accident, but he made an interesting speech, which lasted over an hour. All Members on both Front Benches in those days used to make very long speeches. These right hon. Gentlemen will not be touched by the Motion of the hon. Member. The worst offenders, the Ministers, are going to be left out, and it is only the private Member who is penalised.


And there are ex-Ministers.


That is another difficulty. An hon. Member sitting perhaps three Benches behind may be called to order for having spoken twenty-one minutes, and he may reply, "I am an ex-Minister and therefore have the right to go on as long as I like." The hon. Member has not sufficiently considered this particular Motion—


rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


The worst offenders will not be affected under this Motion. The only reason I can see why it is advocated by a certain number of hon. Members is that on great set occasions they are not able to make the speeches which they would like to make. I never find any difficulty in making speeches.

It being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Adjourned at Three minutes after Eleven o'clock.