HL Deb 25 January 1984 vol 447 cc241-52

3.5 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare) rose to move, That the Second Report from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House be agreed to.

The report read as follows:

1. STARRED QUESTIONS The Committee have considered the terms of Standing Order 40 which provides that, in reckoning the period of notice for Starred Questions, no account shall be taken of any time when the House is in recess. The Committee are of the opinion that this condition leads to a lack of topicality, particularly on the eve of the summer recess when Starred Questions can be tabled for a date more than two months in the future. In order to meet this difficulty they recommend that the period of notice should in future be a month inclusive of recesses and that Standing Order 40 should be amended accordingly. They recommend that the change should take effect in time for the summer recess in 1984.

2. TIME-LIMITED DEBATES The Committee took note of the procedure for Short Debates limited to 2½ hours and of the fact that this procedure had been successfully applied to debates other than those selected by ballot. They are of the opinion that the procedure for timed debates should be extended to provide for the possibility of debates of a maximum duration of 5 hours. They recommend that the House should exercise this option by means of an appropriate motion applying the time limit in each case. Within the overall limit, the amount of time allotted to particular speakers should be agreed in advance and announced to the House as it is at present for Short Debates.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think that I need say only a few words about the first recommendation in the report on Starred Questions. Your Lordships will recall that this matter was first raised in the House in a Starred Question itself by the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, on 16th November and it was referred to the Committee. The Committee was happy to accept the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, and the result is the first recommendation which we hope will ensure greater topicality of Questions when we reassemble after a Summer Recess.

The second recommendation raises rather more serious issues on the subject of time-limited debates. It arose from a joint letter which was written to me from the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, on 16th November last advocating the introduction of debates limited to five hours. The Committee had this letter before it. It also had a memorandum from me of a purely factual nature, and it had a memorandum from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who unluckily was abroad at the time and unable to attend the Committee. His memorandum argued forcefully against the proposal and was supported, also in his absence, by the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

The Committee had a very thorough debate on these proposals and took full note of the objections that were raised by the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton. But in the end it was decided unanimously by those members present in the Committee—and there were, in fact, 23 members present out of the 29 members on the Committee—that the recommendation should be put to the House that we should have a modest experiment of debates limited to five hours.

I have no doubt that some of your Lordships will wish to argue the pros and cons of this proposal, but I think that I should just make one point: the proposal is a very modest one. In the first place, it would not apply to any debates on Second Reading. In the second place, it would only be proposed for a general debate with the approval of the mover of the Motion and after discussion through the usual channels. In the third place, in each case a Motion applying the time limit would have to be put to the House itself.

As far as the mechanics of the five-hour debate are concerned, if the recommendation should appeal to your Lordships, then the procedure would be similar to the procedures which have worked so successfully with short debates limited to two and a half hours, and we have heard the mechanics outlined this afternoon by the Chief Whip. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to.—(Lord Aberdare.)

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, as the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has indicated, although I am a member of the Select Committee on Procedure I was not able, owing to a business trip abroad—and, if he will allow me to say so, also to the rather short notice at which this subject was brought forward—to attend the Select Committee; although in his usual courteous way he allowed me to circulate a paper. But as your Lordships will be only too well aware, circulation of a paper without the opportunity to answer the arguments put forward—though no doubt better than nothing—is a fairly inadequate reply.

I rise to suggest to your Lordships that, despite the moderate and restricted terms in which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has put this forward, your Lordships should view this proposal—as I suggest your Lordships should view all proposals involving restriction on their freedom of action in debate—with a good deal of caution: indeed, perhaps even with a modicum of suspicion. I know—and the House will in a few moments be taking part in two such debates—that we have a system of short debates in which an analogous system operates even though its consequences, as appeared from the statement of the noble Lord the Chief Whip, are sometimes rather comic in their effect.

There is, of course, an enormous difference between those short debates. which the House accepts, I think—because it is only with that limited allotment of time that those debates are possible at all—and the general debates to which in certain cases the proposal of the Select Committee would extend this restrictive process. I am sure that I do not need to say that the general debates which your Lordships' House puts on on occasions are a major part of the activity of the House. I think that their standard and quality account for a good deal of the very high reputation that your Lordships' House has outside. I suggest that we want to be very careful indeed before we do anything by way of restriction which might adversely affect the conduct of those debates. I also pray in aid the traditional historic right of a Peer to give expression to his views in debate, without let or hindrance, although subject of course always, if he seeks to abuse that right, to a Motion that the noble Lord be no longer heard—a Motion which is from time to time necessarily proposed. Subject to that, your Lordships have an ancient right to address the House without restriction.

If one comes then to this specific proposal, it has one rather paradoxical effect. If only a small number of Peers put their names down to speak in a debate, as apparently has happened in respect of this afternoon's short debates, an ample allocation of time is made. But, as the amount of time allotted is, as I understand it, simply a mathematical process of taking the amount of time, apart from that allocated to the Minister and to the opener, and dividing it by the number of noble Lords who have given notice that they wish to speak, the effect is that, if a subject is popular and of very great importance, the shorter is the time allotted to each noble Lord, and there is indeed no minimum guaranteed length at all.

There are other substantial difficulties which I shall not weary the House with at this stage, save to mention two. First of all, these general debates—in some of which I have taken part—raise matters of controversy among the parties. This proposal makes no provision for extra or additional time for those who speak for the political parties, with the exception of the Minister. There is no provision for extra time for those who speak from the Opposition Dispatch Box or indeed for those who represent the other parties in the House.

If I may quote an example of that from a debate which I had the privilege of opening on 23rd November, there was a speech in that debate which raised very serious party political issues affecting public and private ownership. It was a speech from that Dispatch Box made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. It lasted 28 minutes, and every minute of it was worthwhile, because it was a closely reasoned and powerful exposition of a point of view with which I wholly disagree. If we adopt this proposal, and it is applied to that sort of debate, a speech like that of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, would have to be cut in two, if not in three.

The proposal also militates against what one might call the debating type of speech. If a noble Lord decides simply to read or to speak from something that he has prepared, he does not have to give way and he can probably limit the length of his speech in accordance with the time allotted to him. But if he makes a debating speech, it is the very proper convention of the House that he gives way to an intervention, particularly from another noble Lord opposite to whom he has referred. Under the proposed system, how is that time to be handled? Either the intervention simply comes out of the time of the noble Lord who is speaking or it comes out of the time of some subsequent speaker to whom it has been allotted.

With very great respect to a Select Committee of which I happen to be a member, it seems to me that this somewhat hurried recommendation has not been thoroughly thought through in all its implications in its application to these general debates. Therefore, I would counsel considerable caution. I add only one further comment. The report, which is not unduly full of information, ends with the sentence: Within the overall limit"— that is the five hours— the amount of time allotted to particular speakers should be agreed in advance and announced to the House as it is at present for Short Debates". I ask this question: agreed in advance by whom and on behalf of whom? If it is on behalf of all those taking part who have given their names in to speak, it may well be that agreement can be reached or that it cannot be reached. If it cannot be reached, I assume the Motion would not be moved. But if it is—in accordance with, I think, the practice in other directions—simply to be agreed between the Whips, I would see the very greatest objection to that.

I speak as one who is an almost passionate admirer of my noble friend the Government Chief Whip and an almost equally passionate admirer of the Opposition Chief Whip. It is naturally in the interests of the Whips to have such limits in the arrangement of business. They then know exactly by when the business will be concluded. They will have a natural temptation to move such a Motion, and—although they are of course not like Oscar Wilde, able to resist anything except temptation—they might perhaps yield to it on occasions. Therefore, I should like to hear from someone who speaks on behalf of these proposals whose agreement would be required if such a Motion were to be moved.

Subject to that, I rise simply to express doubts and a belief that the adoption of this proposal, even in a limited number of cases—from which it might spread—would be harmful to the conduct of our general debates which are to some extent the pride of this House. In the words of Lord Melbourne, I would say to your Lordships: why not leave it alone?

3.17 p.m.

Lord Jacques

My Lords, I am surprised at the heat engendered by this proposal. It is very modest. It does not try to take away any of the procedures of debate that we have at the moment. At present it is possible to make a recommendation to the House that on such-and-such a day there will be two debates of two and a half hours each, instead of a general debate without a time limit. That is possible at the moment, and it is done. The proposal is merely that, in addition to that, it should be possible to propose that a debate be a five-hour debate, and that would also need the formal approval of the House. The House will decide, not in general, but on each occasion. The proposal would never be put to the House without the support of the person moving the Motion before the House. Whether it should be a five-hour debate or a debate without a time limit depends upon the subject. We are merely proposing to have facilities available so that we can adopt one course or the other. It is a very modest proposal.

I submit to the House that the possibility of a five-hour debate offers several advantages. First, it would encourage noble Lords with specialised knowledge and experience but who are short of time to be prepared either to propose Motions to the House or to speak in debates because they would know the time for which they were expected to sit. In that respect it would be a considerable advantage. Secondly, in accordance with our experience of two and a half hour debates, there is every indication that speeches would tend to be shorter without their value being seriously diminished.

I would remind the House that the length of a speech depends not so much upon the speaker's knowledge of the subject but upon the extent to which he has marshalled his thoughts so that he can convey them to the House logically and concisely. If we encourage that, we shall get somewhere, will we not, my Lords?

I would also suggest that if as a result of the change we have shorter speeches, it is likely that there will be more Peers in the Chamber during the debate; the debate will be more interesting if there are more speakers making shorter speeches. Then, very occasionally there is a Division after a debate. If there is to be a Division, everybody will know the approximate time when it is to take place; and that, of course, will be an advantage.

I come to the final advantage that I can see. One of the treasured procedures of this House is the Unstarred Question, which enables Members of the House to probe and debate policy and to put forward alternatives and amendments to policy without embarrassing anyone. There is never any Division on an Unstarred Question; it is a debate, a discussion. Unfortunately, Unstarred Questions come at the end of the day and sometimes not at the end of the day, but at the beginning of the next day. With a time limit on debate there will be the advantage that if an Unstarred Question is to follow, everyone will know the approximate time it is to be asked and there may be a little more time available for those who want to take part in the debate.

I feel that what is being proposed will be a worthwhile experiment. There were 23 members of the Committee present. They agreed unanimously to submit the recommendation to the House, and I hope that your Lordships will approve it.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken, but there is one matter that I should like to point out. As we all know, I hope, in this House order is supposed to be kept by the Back-Benchers. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that all Back-Benchers make themselves thoroughly familiar with the Standing Orders and with the Companion to the Standing Orders, and the leaders of each party should impress this on the "new boys".

Secondly, with regard to the first part of the report of the Procedure Committee, I wonder whether the Procedure Committee would consider having one Starred Question at a week's notice. I cannot believe that I am alone in having wanted to ask a Question on a highly topical matter, only to find that I could not do so for a month, all the Starred Questions being booked up. By that time there would be no point in asking the Question. If the Procedure Committee could agree to my suggestion, more Starred Questions would be asked for information only, in accordance with Standing Order No. 31, and there would be fewer with the thinly-veiled object of chivying the Government on a pet subject.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may very briefly support the case made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, because, like him, owing to the short notice given, I was unable to attend the meeting of the Procedure Committee on 8th December. I think that the only major point I wish to add to the admirable case which he has put is as follows. In the nature of things a debate lasting five hours will be a more important debate than one lasting two and a half hours, it will have a wider scope, and the subject itself will be a bigger subject. Therefore, during any such debate there will be some Back-Bench speeches which should not be limited by the mathematical accident of dividing the number of minutes available by the number of Back-Bench speakers. There should be scope for those Peers with special knowledge to make a contribution to the debate which may exceed the average length of time.

For example, we have had interesting debates on the Falkland Islands. Very few of us have had the advantage of going there, but those noble Lords who have been there have been given—and should always be given—a fairly extensive hearing. I give that as but one example. So I most warmly support my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in what he has said in this matter.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I rise in support of what my noble friend has said. I think that I now have very nearly 40 years of parliamentary experience, and I am still waiting for one new experience: that is, to hear the speech which is too short. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter referred to an admirable speech made by my noble friend Lord Barnett, and he said that it took 28 minutes. I am sure that it was an admirable speech. I heard most of it. But I believe that there are very few speeches, and indeed very few arguments, that cannot with benefit be reduced in length. So far as writing is concerned, one can go through an article 20 times and still find a word that can with advantage be omitted. That is a discipline which is of value if it is imposed upon us.

The other point which seems to have been put as a criticism is that the Whips have a special interest because what is proposed would enable them to know how long a debate would last and when the next business would be taken. I venture to say that that is not an advantage to the Whips, it is an advantage to us. That is what we want to know, and it is a great advantage to us if we do know.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I am not quite certain whether my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter is going to push his argument to the vote. I hope that he does, because I believe that we have heard a division of view which justifies the House as a whole coming to a conclusion. I believe that the fundamental point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter at the end of his speech was one that we ought to take into account.

If I really felt that both Houses—and this House in particular—would always be full of angels who would never do anything wrong, and that there was no possibility of anyone in future taking advantage of anything, I would accept the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, without question. But I do not think that this House will always be full of people of that kind.

If we add this extra restriction to the mechanics of the House we shall be giving an extra power to the Executive, to the detriment of the freedom of the Back-Bench; and I do not believe that we ought to do that, I consider that the ultimate freedom lies in the fact that the Back-Benchers who have no Government axe to grind, who have no vested interest, should have no unnecessary restrictions placed upon them.

One does not want to be at all critical of the Whips system, which has been practised to very good effect in the whole of Parliament for a long time. But we know that the Whipping system gives them power in influencing people much beyond any power held by ordinary Members of this House. If a certain subject which is important enough to be considered for more than five hours does not suit the Executive, they could keep it down. We know that they can bring to bear influence by the issue of a Whip, or by a nod and a wink, to get the matter through. I do not believe that that extra power ought to be given to the Executive.

I have no problems in this regard at the moment; I should be very happy to hand over almost all my powers to the present Executive. But we do not know how long that is to last. The essence of our Parliament is that it changes, and that means that the Executive changes, too. I can envisage circumstances—and I am not being melodramatic about this—where it would suit the Executive to truncate the kind of debate that would be of interest to the nation and which the Back-Benchers would like to pursue but would not suit the Government of the day.

The very modest nature of what is proposed shows that it is not all that important. It does not affect Second Readings. Motions would have to be moved, and possibly it would have the effect of shortening the speeches. These pluses are not fundamental points, but I believe that the removal of ultimate freedom from the Back-Benchers is fundamental, and it ought to be resisted. That is why I hope my noble friend will push the matter to a vote, so that the House as a whole can express its views on it.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee, I was present for the whole of the time. I can assure the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton, that every possible consideration was given both for and against this particular suggestion. I do not think that if they had been present they could have crossed any t's or dotted any i's. If I may say so, it has nothing to do with the question of power. It is a question of providing a new length—a definite length—for debate. Many of us who have sat in this House for some years have known occasions when halfway through a debate for which there is a list of 30, 35 or 38 wishing to take part, those who have spoken have gone and, for the rest of the evening—sometimes for several hours—there have been not a dozen people in your Lordships' Chamber.

Surely, the limit of five hours will concentrate people's minds—because people's minds in your Lordships' House can be concentrated. It has not happened often enough. I believe that the limit would be an asset. I only hope the House will realise that the proposal was not simply passed without any consideration at all. It was, in fact, discussed in very considerable detail. I feel, along with all the others, that it will be to the ultimate advantage of the House. It has nothing to do with the power of the Whips. It is to do with good debating in your Lordships' House.

3.32 p.m.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, I suppose that I should apologise for pursuing this debate. I am not going to offer an apology because what has occurred is something that has bothered me ever since I became a Member of this Assembly. In my judgment—I have expressed it both here and elsewhere—the House of Lords is the most remarkable Assembly in the world. It contains, I believe, 13 Members who are Fellows of the Royal Society. That is a great achievement itself. We have remarkable scientists, educationists and philosophers, some of whom regard themselves as philosophers but who are not very philosophical. I shall mention no names. I have no desire to indulge in any offence or criticism.

Like my noble friend Lord Paget, who is sitting beside me, I have been a Member of this House for 14 years and have taken part in many debates, probably to disadvantage. That cannot be helped. It depends upon one's opinion, one's objective and one's purpose in life and how one regards this Assembly and what use can be made of it. I think great use can be made of it. More use can be made of it than hitherto has happened. I am much concerned about procedure. If I may say so with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, the Chairman of Committees, I am not so much concerned about the report from this Committee; I am concerned with the implications arising from this discussion, initiated largely by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, whose experience and judgment we hold in high respect.

This is what I wanted to say. It will not take long. We can talk our heads off until we are black or blue in the face. We can have speeches that are short and long. We can have speeches that are remarkable in an oratorical sense or in a logical sense. We understand all that. It is a matter of judgment whether a speech is illogical. It is not so much whether the matter is really logical or how it appeals to one. One could say a great deal about that. What concerns me is this. We have remarkable debates but we never come to a decision. There is no implementation. What is the purpose of this Assembly if we talk our heads off but there is no actual implementation of any sort?

This is not a criticism of the present Government. It is a criticism of every Government that I have known. I know this myself because I have been a member of them. Governments pay not the slightest attention. The Government Front Bench, the Whips and those with authority listen, but the matter is completely ignored. Nothing happens. There is the odd reference in the press—hardly anything at all.

All of us know that what matters for the reputation of a politician is not his speech but whether he gets an item in the newspapers. That is what counts—and there is little of it. However, I set that aside. I conclude on this point. Let us have our debates long or short, starred or unstarred. I am not particularly concerned whether they are starred or unstarred, this way or that. I am concerned that when a speech is made by some of the best and ablest Members—I say best but there is no such thing as best in this House—when some of the ablest Members have participated, the Government have to take notice.

This is an appeal to the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, who is not present. I am sorry about that. But the Chief Whip is present, and so is the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. Other members of the Government are present. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, might take note of this because it affects her very much indeed, as a former Leader of the House. I beg the Government to pay attention to what is stated by Members of your Lordships' House and not completely to ignore a variety of oratory.

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough

My Lords, if, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said, we are going to debate before we have a debate, how long it should last, would we not be in great danger, in the light of what has happened this afternoon, of spending an hour or two deciding whether it should be five hours or two and a half hours?

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has provided a very good answer to the remark of my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, that this matter would not still be in the hands of Back-Benchers. Of course it would. When a Motion is put before the House to introduce a time-limited debate in this way, it would be for the House to give its approval or not. So the House could decide, if it felt it was inappropriate, that it was not right to do so. Personally, I have rather more confidence than my noble friend in the good judgment of the Whips in this matter. I have no doubt that if it were a subject of great party controversy then discussion through the usual channels would almost certainly decide that it would be better not to have a time limit and to allow it to run its full length.

There was one point to which I should like to reply. It was made cogently by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter who felt that the liberty of noble Members of the House and their right to speak would be limited by this sugestion. In fact, the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and myself, as instigators of this idea—it was previously ventilated five years ago by myself on the Procedure Committee—is quite the reverse. It is for the convenience of the House. There is no doubt that a number of Peers are deterred from putting down their names for major debates because they know that the debate will continue for a long time. There could be over 30 speakers.

The individual Peer feels that he must be present at the end of the debate but he has, perhaps, some other engagement or the hour will be too late. One way or another, he is deterred. There are also some noble Lords who have outside engagements and who have to make their apologies, if they choose to take part in the debate, for not being present at the end. One of our most important duties, as I see it and as, I am sure, most noble Lords see it, is that if we take part in debates, we must be present at the end. That convention is not always observed.

This suggestion would make it very much easier for everybody and distinguished noble Lords, if they knew that a limited time debate was going to end somewhere around 8 o'clock or 8.30, would be encouraged to put their names down and give us very valuable contributions which we should not otherwise get. So there is a point of convenience here and, taking the practical logistics which we all well understand, when debates go on to 10 or 11 o'clock at night a number of Peers will be deterred from taking part because it is too late for them in one way or another. To that extent, Peers are limited as to when they can take part, but if we had this arrangement they would not be so limited because they could come in and make their contribution and we should all be very glad of it.

I felt that it was worth making the point that this is proposed as an arrangement of convenience for your Lordships. It might be suitable in certain cases and would thus give us the benefit of contributions from Peers which we should otherwise not get. We should have limited the debate in time, for the benefit of everybody. I most certainly agree with noble Lords who have said that we have never yet heard a speech that is too short, and, with that, I will sit down.

Lord Hawke

My Lords, I think it is just possible that I may be the oldest sitting Member in the House today, because I have been here for 45 years. I have seen a number of changes in the House. Our numbers have increased enormously. We have far more natural orators than we used to have, and we have a great many people from another place who are pregnant with speeches that were never made there and who are naturally very pleased to be able to exercise their privilege to utter them here.

Therefore, I think that we ought to impose the limit which is proposed. I may say that, when I was a member of the General Synod and the Church Assembly, there were always limits of this kind on the debates. The general saying among the most eminent of divines was, "If you can't say it in 10 minutes, its not worth saying at all". Many a time I and others have proposed as the debates have gone on—and there is no list of speakers there—that speeches might be limited to five minutes, and speeches have been limited to five minutes as people have learnt to be short. I think that we ought to support this proposal and that we ought to have a vote now.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, consider making it clear when he replies to this discussion that any such restriction as is contemplated is subject to two conditions?—first, the agreement of the usual channels of all the parties and, secondly, the Motion before the House decided by a majority of the House if necessary. I think it is necessary that these two conditions should be clearly understood in order to eliminate the, perhaps at this moment, academic possibility (but the one that has been raised) of a party majority in this House using its majority for the purpose of restricting debate against the wishes of the other parties.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I should just like to put one matter to your Lordships. If the openers in the batting order speak too long and the time for debate is limited to five hours, those of us who are put in as nightwatchmen or whatever it may be, may be forced to speak for one and a half seconds. That may be a good thing—I quite concede that. But what your Lordships are then suggesting is that those at the top of the batting order can make 100 and those at the bottom of the batting order have all got to be out for one. How will that be controlled properly? If, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has suggested, everyone were limited to a set time as at the party political conferences, it would be very fair and very correct. But it seems to me very difficult for those at the end of the batting order who may be being bullied while those at the top of the batting order take advantage of it.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I should like to make one point and that is simply that if your Lordships' House contained a higher proportion of noble Baronesses, noted for their brevity, this proposition would never have arisen.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, as one who first took his seat in this House in 1938, I have never made a long speech, and I do not intend to make one now. I do not believe that there is any subject on earth—except something in which there are enormous complications, which is possibly a matter for a Government speech—on which anybody need make any speech longer than a very few minutes. Therefore, I thoroughly support the present proposals.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, in the interests of brevity perhaps I may intervene at this moment. I do not think that it is really up to me to elaborate any further on the merits of the proposals. Your Lordships have heard those who support the recommendation of the Procedure Committee, and those who do not do so, put their case most eloquently and briefly this afternoon. I am sure that your Lordships are willing to come to a decision.

I should like briefly to make two points. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, asked me a specific question. I thought that I had made it clear. but I shall repeat that any debate that was going to be subject to the five-hour limit would, indeed, have had to be agreed through the usual channels, which comprise all the parties; it would have had to be agreed by the House itself on a special Motion: and. in addition, it would have had to have the agreement of the mover of the Motion. So in the case of the debate to which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, referred, he would of course have had to agree to the debate being limited to five hours.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to intervene? He has referred to that particular debate and it may be relevant to this issue to note that, with no limitations on that debate, it took four hours and 40 minutes.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, it was an excellent debate and we are hoping that others may be kept as brief.

The other point was raised by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who mentioned Starred Questions. I can assure the noble Lady that the Procedure Committee keeps this matter under constant review. We discussed the whole matter of Starred Questions only last February, but of course it is open to any Member of the House to put proposals to the Procedure Committee, should he so wish.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, will the noble Lord clear up the point made by the right reverend Prelate? Would the decision of the House be taken without debate?

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, the proposal would be put in the normal way, exactly as it is now in the case of a two and a half hour debate when the two and a half hour limit is applied specially to a debate which is not otherwise limited to two and a half hours. This happens occasionally now. The Motion would be put, presumably by the Leader of the House, that a certain debate should be limited to five hours. There would be no debate on how long it would be—it would be limited to five hours if this proposal is accepted.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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