HC Deb 27 April 2004 vol 420 cc751-2
33. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab)

To ask the Leader of the House if he will propose to the Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons that it consider the House's practice regarding the length of speeches in the Chamber. [168417]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has no plans to do so. However, the Procedure Committee, in its recent report on procedures for debates, Private Member's Bills and the powers of the Speaker, considered the length of speeches in the Chamber and recommended as an experiment that an hour before the winding-up speeches should be given over to short Back-Bench speeches. The Government are to reply shortly.

Laura Moffatt

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you in particular uphold the integrity and the reputation of this House. On a recent visit to the Canberra Parliament, I was made aware that it has a 20-minute limit on speeches. Far from detrimental to the work of that Parliament, it appeared that that enhanced Members' contributions. Will the Leader of the House consider making representations to the Modernisation Committee on that basis?

Mr. Woolas

I very much endorse the first part of my hon. Friend's question in commending the integrity with which you uphold our debates, Mr. Speaker. Many Members, particularly from the 1997 intake, struggle sometimes to take part in the debates. I understand the point that she makes. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is sympathetic to the point, and the Modernisation Committee will be considering the matter. As I said in my first reply, the Government will be responding to the Procedure Committee shortly.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

In considering the length of speeches in debate, will the Leader of the House also consider the allocation of time during ministerial statements, departmental questions and Prime Minister's Question Time? Often, more than half the time allotted is given to exchanges between the two Front-Bench teams across the Dispatch Box. That cannot be fair to Back Benchers who wish to contribute, and I doubt very much whether it is effective in holding the Government to account.

Mr. Woolas

May I emphasise, as I am sure the whole House would want to point out, that timings of speeches are a matter for the Speaker? However, we recognise the hon. Gentleman's point that there is resentment from Back Benchers when Front Benchers take too long over speeches. That point is being considered.