HL Deb 08 May 1991 vol 528 cc1091-2

3.7 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am afraid that I must interrupt the noble Lord as Question Time has lasted for more than 30 minutes. The noble Lord should have made his final question a good deal shorter.

After the short debate on improving relations with other member states of the European Community and before the short debate on engineering, my noble friend Lord Caithness will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on relief to cyclone victims in Bangladesh.

With the leave of the House, I should like to say a word about this afternoon's short debates standing in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Howie of Troon. In the case of the first debate the number of speakers is such that it is not necessary to propose any formal time limit, but I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it would conform with the spirit of these short debates if they would keep their speeches within the 15 minutes which apply to the mover of the Motion. In the case of the second debate, apart from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and the speech of the Minister who is to reply, speeches should be limited to a maximum of 14 minutes. If any noble Lord should speak at greater length, he would do so at the expense of subsequent speakers in the debate.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I hope I may ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House a question. Is it not the case that 30 minutes for Question Time is a recommendation of the Procedure Committee and not a hard and fast rule? Is it really in the spirit of this House to interrupt a speaker when the 30 minutes is up and when the question he is asking is obviously going to be the final question? I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to express his views on whether this practice is to be the daily procedure of this House, or whether we shall continue to maintain a certain degree of give-and-take as we have done in the past.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, I certainly do not wish to be in any way discourteous to the noble Lord. However, if the noble Lord had been a little quicker in putting his question it would have been possible for my noble friend to reply. It would also have been possible for the noble Lord who wished to speak from the Opposition Benches to put his question and for my noble friend to reply to it. However, knowing full well the wish of this House to adhere to the 30-minute maximum for Question Time, if inordinately long questions take us over the 30 minutes it is inevitable that we have to draw matters to a close.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, that is not a specific answer to my question. Perhaps I may press the noble Lord a stage further. I have asked him whether he is going to make it a hard and fast rule that as soon as 30 minutes have passed he will close down questions irrespective of whether they have been answered.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the decision of this House was that it was undesirable that Question Time should exceed half an hour. The time for Question Time was extended to half an hour because it was felt on all sides of the House that if we were more generous and allowed half an hour rather than 20 minutes there was no reason whatever why every single noble Lord should not have an opportunity to speak provided he put his question briefly.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords—

Noble Lords


Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, when the 20-minute rule was in operation it was very frequently waived, allowing up to half an hour. That was done at the discretion of the Leader of the House. I am asking whether that does not still apply now that Question Time has been extended to 30 minutes.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, it does not apply. One of the reasons for extending the time to 30 minutes was that the rule which laid down that it was desirable that Questions should last for only 20 minutes was more often honoured in the breach than in the observance. It was therefore thought far more sensible to extend the time to 30 minutes in the belief that every noble Lord would co-operate and we would adhere to the 30 minutes.