HL Deb 10 June 1975 vol 361 cc111-4

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask the Leader of the House whether he will draw the attention of all members of the House to the Resolution of the 13th July 1965 "That speeches in this House should be shorter".

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

Certainly, my Lords, since this is a matter for the House as a whole. I do not think it is fully appreciated how the character of the House has changed. Its membership has increased and is very much more active. However, our procedures remain very much the same as they were when attendance was small and the House rose with its business completed before the late hour of five o'clock. As a result, we shall either have to change our procedures or call upon noble Lords to exercise restraint, both in debate and at Question Time. There are clocks in prominent positions. No noble Lord, however close he may keep to his notes, can be unaware of how long he has been speaking. I would appeal to the House, in its own interest and in fairness to all noble Lords, to contain the length of their speeches, as they have often done very successfully in our short debates.


My Lords, as a confessed sinner hereby doing penance, and with the firm purpose of amendment, may I ask the noble Lord whether he would consider issuing a card, rather like the yellow card we issue to our soldiers in Northern Ireland, which could be called, say, the "Egremont Rules", embodying the main points of that memorable Motion of the late noble Lord? Would not something like that, for example, save the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, from having a near apoplectic fit, as he did on 22nd April last? And could not the noble Lord add to that that which is very dear to his heart, something on the length of supplementaries?


My Lords, I should not think that this is for the initiative of the Leader of the House. If the House felt that such a notice was required, I think it should come through our Procedure Committee. That is a matter for the House itself to decide.


My Lords, would the noble Lord be prepared to remind noble Lords that since we have no Speaker in this House it is up to the House as a whole collectively to keep order? Sometimes it is left too much to the Leader of the House to do this, and very often it is much more effective if noble Lords on the Back-Benches on both sides keep order as well as the noble Lord the Leader of the House.


My Lords, I think there is much in what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has said. I felt that in the earlier part of this Parliament I was rising far too often and perhaps contributing to some delay, but it was for a good purpose. This is a matter for your Lordships' House; it is a matter for each individual Member. Perhaps as a result of this Question, which may draw attention to the matter more adequately than sending a notice, your Lordships' House will take account of the interests of each of its Members.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that we get long-winded speeches from both the Opposition Benches and the Front Bench on our side of the House? Is he further aware that when a Back-Bencher speaks for about 25 minutes he is called to order because his speech is too long, but there is often more meat in his speech than many from the Front Benches?


My Lords, it is not for me but entirely for Members of your Lordships' House to decide the merits of those speeches either from the Front Benches or the Back-Benches. My noble friend will recognise that those who speak from the Front Benches speak in the main on behalf of their Parties, and your Lordships' House has always been a little more generous to those who speak from the Front Benches. I have found one interesting statistic; since 1971 the average length of time taken by Back-Benchers has remained fairly constant at about 16 to 17 minutes, whereas the length of speeches from the Front Benches has on average dropped from 30 minutes to 26 minutes.


My Lords, it will be well within the knowledge of the noble Lord the Leader of the House—with apologies for not having quite understood what the last questioner said—that there is great connection between the length of speeches and the fact that speeches running up to 25 minutes are often entirely read from manuscript without any attempt at concealment; that is quite contrary to the Standing Rules of the House. Is there not, therefore, a need for some method of correction, at least on entirely manuscript-read speeches?


My Lords, the Rules of the House are, I think, well known. I can only say that my short experience in your Lordships' House suggests that speeches which are delivered without notes often tend to be somewhat longer than speeches delivered from carefully prepared notes.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, while I sympathise with my noble friend's point, I agree with the noble Lord that, if there are written notes, at least they have an end? If there are no notes at all, the end is uncertain. The aid to memory, the clocks, are not particularly easy for ageing eyes to read. Would it be a help if every ten minutes we had a little "dingdong" ringing out to remind us that time was passing?


My Lords, if my memory is right, the noble Earl the Chief Whip of the Opposition suggested a cuckoo. It was not a suggestion that was accepted by the Procedure Committee. Perhaps bringing this Question to an end, I hope that this is something of which the House will take note, and if the Procedure Committee felt that it was worthy of consideration, I should be happy to go along with it.


My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that in the heyday of this House Lord Brougham used to speak on an average from five to six hours, and that many of those speeches are still remembered? They were reported very fully in the newspapers. If the noble Lord really wants to respond to the noble Lord's Question, a series of provisions introducing the use of basic English, of eliminating adjectives, and so on, could make us look even more ineffective, and perhaps gain us a place in the Guinness Book of Records.


My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to his opinion about the noble Lord of many years ago who spoke for six hours. All I can say is thank God we do not have to put up with that today. As I have said before, this is a matter entirely for your Lordships' House. The matter has now been aired. May I therefore tactfully suggest that we move to the next Question.

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