HC Deb 04 November 1997 vol 300 cc109-10
31. Mr. Pickthall

What consideration she has given to time-limiting all contributions to debates in the Chamber. [12024]

Mrs. Ann Taylor

The Standing Order gives the Chair wide discretion to impose the 10-minute limit when the number wishing to speak justifies it. I am not convinced that there is a need to limit all contributions in that way.

Mr. Pickthall

Is not one of the most infuriating experiences for any Back Bencher that of, having prepared a contribution for a debate, spending as long as several hours sitting in the Chamber waiting to deliver that contribution, only to find that the opportunity is lost because several senior colleagues, higher up the batting order, have spent 30 or 40 minutes delivering their wisdom to the House? That experience has been the lot of several hon. Members waiting to deliver their maiden speech. Does she not consider that, when many hon. Members wish to speak in a debate, a 20-minute time limit on Front Benchers and a 10-minute time limit for everyone else is reasonable, given that we would need some injury time or time added on?

Mrs. Taylor

When a 10-minute limit is imposed, it applies to all Members, be they Privy Councillors or the newest Back Benchers. I think there is concern that, on occasion, certain Members tend to speak for excessively long periods when others want to make contributions. The Modernisation Committee will consider the whole subject of the conduct of debate, and it will be for the Committee to consider ideas such as that which my hon. Friend has mentioned: injury time to encourage interventions or promote intervention when there is a 10-minute limit. Many people will have sympathy with him on that score, because I believe that we have all, at some time, sat through a debate without being able to participate.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am glad that the right hon. Lady made her last point. Does she agree that spontaneity is terribly important in debate and that, if Members cannot intervene, the lifeblood of debate drains away? Surely we do not want a series of Members delivering pre-prepared speeches, never giving way and not replying spontaneously to other speeches?

Mrs. Taylor

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Interventions and spontaneity are important because they are the only thing that ever makes anyone change their mind. If that happens rarely, so be it, but at least an opportunity exists. I believe that the point that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) made about the possibility of injury time should be considered carefully, although we do not want to do anything that would allow abuses of the overall purpose of a 10-minute limit. The Committee can usefully look into that.