HC Deb 12 November 1957 vol 577 cc781-2
Mr. Ellis Smith

We are at the beginning of a new Session, Mr. Speaker, and I desire to raise with you a point of procedure. I do so in order to have the benefit of your advice and to ask you whether I am correct in what I am about to say. According to the latest edition of Erskine May, hon. Members must be on their guard to enable us to safeguard free speech, and in my view we are in danger of that being filched from us.

Yesterday, in the debate upon a highly controversial question, three Members occupied approximately 180 minutes—

Mr. Nabarro

All Socialists.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The hon. Member should be sure of his facts before he makes an interjection.

Others who are in a preferential position took advantage of their position. If we are to act as a democratic institution, I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you will consider whether the time has arrived when the position of back benchers should be safeguarded?

It is well known that there is deep feeling in the big industrial areas on the question of housing. In the City of Stoke-on-Trent, where we have, relatively, one of the best housing records in the country, it is no longer possible for the local authority to spend a penny on slum clearance. I wish to ask, therefore, first, whether you agree with my line of reasoning and whether you will make some observations on it, and, secondly, what you consider to be a reasonable time to take to speak—15 minutes, 20 minutes, or what?

Mr. Speaker

I hesitate to express an opinion as to what is a reasonable time for a speech. My opinion on that subject might be very much at variance with the views of many hon. Members. I think I know to what the hon. Member refers with regard to yesterday's debate, but I would urge him not to be censorious about the speeches of those who speak from the Front Benches—I believe that that really is the point. After all, those who speak either from the Front Opposition Bench or from the Government side are discharging what is to them an exacting and responsible task. They are speaking for their parties and, in the case of the party in office, for the Government. I do not think that one should view the matter too strictly or censoriously.

Hon. Members who sit behind these right hon. Gentlemen can help me in my anxious desire to enable as many hon. Members as possible to take part in the debate. I may mention that it is a great grief to me when the clock beats me and I cannot allow as many hon. Members to speak as I should like. The only advice I would give is for hon. Members to show to those whose conduct they may think a little tedious the good example of brevity in their own speeches. After all, brevity is probably the one attribute of a good speech which is within the power and ability of us all.

I would urge hon. Members to refrain as much as possible from interrupting each other's speeches, because I have frequently seen the smouldering fires of an hon. Member's oratory, as it were, revived and stoked up again by an interruption. Certainly, interruptions do sometimes make a speech more discursive than the hon. Member who has the Floor intended it to be. Apart from that, there is nothing within my power that I can do to help the hon. Member.

Mr. S. Silverman

I am sure that the House is extremely grateful for what you have said, Mr. Speaker. But to add even further clarification to the explanation which we have all followed with great interest and sympathy, may I ask whether it would be right to say that in your opinion any quality of a good speech which we can all share applies as much to speakers from the Front Benches as to speakers from the back benches?

Mr. Speaker

Mutatis mutandis that is so.