HC Deb 07 November 1983 vol 48 cc23-4 3.35 pm
Mr. Speaker

I hope that the House will permit me to take the opportunity before another important debate today to say a word about the length of speeches.

Several hon. Members have written to me to express their distress at not being called in Thursday's foreign affairs debate, and I share their frustration. However, despite no fewer than seven appeals from the Chair for brevity, many of those who were called to speak did so at great length.

When I was elected your Speaker, I promised to defend the rights of Back Benchers and said that I wished to ensure that they had a greater call on the time of the House. But I cannot achieve that if the Front Benchers take more than their allotted time, and if right hon. and hon. Members take advantage of being called early to speak at length.

I therefore appeal to hon. Members to have regard for their colleagues when they are called to speak — particularly on days when there is great pressure, as there was on Thursday last, and as there is again today. This will save hon. Members writing to me to express their frustration. Obviously it will not be possible to call all those who wish to speak in every debate, but it is my fervent hope that the House will hear contributions from more Back Benchers than has been the case in the past.

May I add that I hope those who are called will always observe the etiquette of the House by remaining in the Chamber to hear some of the subsequent contributions—at the very least the next speaker—and certainly that they will be in their places for the winding-up speeches.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We listened with interest to what you said. Clearly not everyone will be called in a debate, but perhaps you will give further consideration — I appreciate the comments that you have made on this and other occasions — to the point that has been raised in previous Parliaments, which is whether Privy Councillors should be called in preference to other Back Benchers. There are some debates, certainly those in which there is great competition to speak, where at most only one or two Back Benchers who are not Privy Councillors are called to speak.

I appreciate that when a Privy Councillor is called the next speaker will not necessarily be a Privy Councillor, but, in the main, there is a long established tradition, going back many years — perhaps centuries — that Privy Councillors get priority. Do you consider that to be fair? It is assumed that we are all equal here, but we know that that is far from the position. Would it not help equality and many Back Benchers if you gave serious consideration — obviously not now, but at your leisure — to the possibility that an hon. Member will not necessarily get preference because he is a Privy Councillor?

Mr. Speaker

What the hon. Gentleman has just said weighs heavily with me. Privy Councillors are senior Members of the House, and, as the hon. Gentleman correctly said, it is a long tradition that they should have some priority in our debates. As they are senior Members, it is right that they should take into consideration the fact that they are called early in debate and set a good example to those who follow. They should not make the overlong speeches some of them have made in the past.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in suggesting that the Chair tries to ensure a balance between the calling of Privy Councillors and Back Benchers, and I shall certainly take note of what he said and consider it.