HL Deb 02 December 1992 vol 540 cc1343-5

3.7 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to say a word about the length of speeches in today's debate standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. As the debate has been limited to five hours, all speeches should be limited to a maximum of six minutes, apart from the mover and the Minister in reply. If any noble Lord should speak at greater length he would be doing so at the expense of other speakers in the debate. As we are in a day which may be dominated to an extent by the art of précis, it may be worth drawing to your Lordships' attention the fact that when the sixth minute is indicated on the digital clock, on which no numbers at this moment are present, that indicates that the seventh minute has already begun.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I hope I may point out to the House that there are 39 speakers due to speak in the debate today. There would have been several more had there not been such a large number of speakers on the list. I for one withdrew my own name as I consider that to have spoken for anything less than six minutes would not be serious. Does the Minister recognise that there is an enormous amount of interest in this subject, particularly as regards the future of some of our very great hospitals? Does he accept that there should be more time for debate, preferably two days in government time, so that noble Lords with all their experience can apply their minds to this issue?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that with the great experience that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has on these matters he will not wish to overcome or re-erect the delicate organisation of the usual channels as they have existed for so long in both Houses to great, and I hope purposeful, effect and to the benefit of all Members of both Houses.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, however indelicate it may be to ask my noble friend, does he consider that, when so large a number of noble Lords indicate that they wish to speak on a subject of importance, it is up to the House authorities to secure that they have adequate time, and six minutes is not adequate time? Is there any reason why, when there is this number of applicants to speak in a debate of this kind, a second day should not be provided?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the truth of the matter is that the proposer in whose name the debate stands did not address himself to me on this subject. If an address had been made to myself that would of course have to have been adjusted through the usual channels. It is difficult to expect the Government at this late hour to respond on something which had been arranged to the satisfaction of those concerned as the best we could achieve in the circumstances.

Lord Alport

My Lords, is it not the duty of both Chief Whips to manage this House in what they regard as the interests of the House as a whole? They should not wait for an initiative to be taken by a private Member of the House who has initiated a debate when they can see quite well that six minutes is not sufficient for a subject which is of great interest and concern to a great many Members of this House?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, as the Government Chief Whip I have to take into account the views and aspirations of all Members of your Lordships' House. One crime of which I believe I am not guilty is that of being able to anticipate a week ahead the number of speakers whose names will be put down for a particular debate. I have also to give consideration to those whose names have been put down to speak on business which follows the debate and who may also have made commitments in the light of what they understood to be the timetable. That consideration is of equal importance.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, perhaps I may come to the aid of the noble Lord the Chief Whip. There is a problem in your Lordships' House when this type of situation arises. It would be equally unfair to those noble Lords who have set down their names to speak in the debate and who anticipated that they would be able to leave your Lordships' House at about eight o'clock this evening if they were to find that they had to stay on until 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock or had to return tomorrow to continue the debate. The decision to limit the time for each speaker to six minutes could only be made in the light of the number of names which were put down to speak. It has become clear only in the last 36 hours that there was a problem. It was then too late for everybody to be informed of the possibility of allowing extra time. I feel that the noble Lord the Chief Whip is coming under the lash for something that is not his fault.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, will the House accept that in raising the matter I did not seek to criticise any Chief Whip, all of whom appear to be hanging together at present? I asked that, bearing in mind the enormous interest in the subject and the interests of those who might have wished to add their names to or who took their names off the list, the usual channels should recognise that interest and should create an opportunity for a two-day debate as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, the mover of the Motion and others were consulted as to whether they would like an open-ended debate or a five-hour debate. As only a limited number of names had been put down it was decided to have a five-hour debate. After that decision was taken, a number of additional names were put down but there was no possibility of changing that decision.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I have been privy to the swiftly moving scene over the past two days. The House should recognise the problems facing not only the Government Chief Whip but also others in trying to be fair to the House. When the decision was made to limit the debate to five hours—by no one other than the person in whose name the Motion was tabled—that was done in order to allow an adequate amount of time for those who at that time had indicated a wish to speak. In the past two days almost half the number of speakers on the list added their names.

The Procedure Committee is due to meet soon. I suggest to the House that we should learn from our experience and attempt the impossible—to satisfy those who would like to speak while bearing in mind that some people will wish to speak but sometimes do not stay until the end of the debate. All those aspects need to be taken into account and I suggest that the matter should be considered by the Procedure Committee when it meets next week.