I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, would take under advisement the events of yesterday. After some discussion the House resolved that you should have the power to decide that between 7 pm and 9 pm on Second Reading debates we could make 10-minute speeches. That was intended to allow more Back Benchers to speak in such debates. Yesterday two Front Benchers spoke in that period. That meant that for 20 minutes Back Benchers were precluded from doing so. That would not matter—but for the fact that it meant that there were six Front-Bench speakers in yesterday's debate.I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider this matter. The power of selection is one of the basic powers of the Chair. It has long been customary for a debate to be opened by two Front-Bench Members and closed by two Front-Bench Members. Often, in a repetition of yesterday's circumstances, a home affairs Minister might open a debate and a Welsh Minister close it. However, that did not happen yesterday. There were six Front-Bench speeches in the whole period. If that practice is repeated, the time of Back Benchers is eroded. I do not ask for an answer now, Mr. Speaker, but I ask you to consider the matter.
I am willing to give an answer now.The House knows that I always deprecate having to call three Front-Bench speakers from both sides of the House in a debate. The Front Benches have a good opportunity with the Minister who opens and the Opposition spokesman. They usually take their full time. I should like to place this on the record. It is fairer to both sides of the House, when there is a third element such as there was yesterday on the Welsh question, for it to be borne in mind who winds up at the end of the day. I hope that the occupant of the Chair will not be put in the position of having to call six Front-Bench speakers in one debate.
Did I understand you, Mr. Speaker, to say that you had to call speakers? Am I not right in saying that Mr. Speaker and other occupants of the Chair are entitled to do exactly as they wish? Would not it be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House if the occupant of the Chair did not call the Front-Bench speakers? Then everyone would be happy.
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. On two previous occasions I exercised that authority and discretion. I indicated to the usual channels that if more than two Front-Bench speakers rose to speak I would not call them. However, yesterday I felt that there were special factors. I want the House to know that I deprecate calling six Front-Bench spokesmen in a debate.
I am grateful for your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the reasons for your action. It is worth putting on the record that the Front Benchers concerned were not as courteous as you were. They chose to speak for one hour and eight minutes in the first case, for 50 minutes in the case of those who replied, and for 20 minutes in the case of those in between. They could easily have rationed out the time between them, but did not choose to do so.