HL Deb 17 February 1993 vol 542 cc1128-9

3.12 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I should like to say a word about this afternoon's debates standing in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch. As the mover is allowed 15 minutes, and the Minister should rise to reply not less than 20 minutes before the scheduled end of the debate, in the case of the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, this means that all other speeches should be limited to a maximum of six minutes and in that of my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch, four minutes. If any noble Lord were to speak at greater length, he would be doing so at the expense of subsequent speakers in either debate.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I wonder whether your Lordships will forgive me if I comment for a moment on what the noble Lord the Chief Whip has just said. Four minutes is clearly an inadequate time for anyone to address your Lordships' House on a subject as important as Maastricht. I have to say, as part of the usual channels, that in no way do I blame the Chief Whip for what has happened. It is something that we have brought upon ourselves by having timed debates, which on the whole have been very successful. But it seems to me that we are moving to a situation where noble Lords are putting down subjects for two-and-a-half hour debates which are far too big for the time allowed. In a recent debate on defence noble Lords were restricted to six minutes. In today's debate on Maastricht noble Lords are restricted to four minutes. It is making a mockery of the debating ability of your Lordships' House.

What I suggest is that we take on a self-denying ordinance that, on the whole, we put down subjects of this magnitude for five hours or for an unspecified period and that we also ask the Procedure Committee to look into the whole question of the timing of debates.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, perhaps I may follow the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, on this matter and at the same time congratulate the Government Chief Whip on successfully ensuring that no maiden speakers are to take part in this debate as otherwise the time of everyone would have been spent in congratulating them, probably with every justification, on the wisdom that fell from their lips.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend consider referring to the Procedure Committee the use of these short time-limited debates on major subjects of policy of which this afternoon's debate is an extreme example? Would it not be possible to evolve a convention or rule under which, if there was only to be a short debate, a limited subject, suitable to be taken within that time-scale, alone was permitted?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, perhaps I may start on the smaller but nonetheless important point of congratulations which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, mentioned. I think that he attributes to the Chief Whip powers of influence beyond those which apply.

I fully appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and I am sure that your Lordships will also believe that this is neither the time nor the place to debate the issue. I quite agree with the suggestion made by the noble Lord and by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that the Procedure Committee is the correct place to review the subject. I would also point out though that in the case of balloted debates, which the two debates are today, there will always be an impossible problem of definition of subject which will always, I fear, prove to be a challenge to your Lordships.