Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 754: debated on Thursday 3 July 2014

Timing of Debates

Moved by

That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Wilcox set down for today shall be limited to 3 hours and that in the name of the Earl of Shrewsbury to 2 hours.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that our two debates today are time limited in the normal manner of Thursday debates. The number of those taking part means that for Back-Benchers in both our debates today the time is limited to seven minutes. I remind all speakers that when they have reached the time allocated to them, the number on the clock means one’s time is up and at that stage one should conclude one’s remarks. I also remind noble Lords that if they are content to take interventions on their speeches, the time taken on the intervention comes out of the time allocated to the Peer who has accepted the intervention. That is indeed the nature of our proceedings. Our time-limited debates are exactly that.

On that question, this matter was raised last week. Some of us feel very strongly that if we are to have a free debate in this Parliament, then interventions should not be taken out of the contribution of the Member. We are destroying debate in the way that the House is now conducting its debates.

My Lords, I can hear some assent, but the fact is that if interventions are allowed as freewheeling additions—I entirely understand the argument of the noble Lord that interventions assist a proper debate—then one simply does not have time-limited debates, unless of course the House would be content with the fact that time would run out and Peers who had contributed to debates had no response from a Minister. I know that that is not the wish of this House. If Peers wish to abandon the idea of time-limited debates, that is a wide matter for debate, not a matter for debate today.

I am sorry to come back again but the facts are that this is not the Commons, where interventions take up a lot of time during the course of a debate. Interventions in this House are rare, and I cannot see why we cannot allow a little time for interventions on the rare occasions that they take place.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear the affirmation from the noble Lord that this is not just an echo of another place. Here every Peer can have a voice. When we have time-limited debates, every Peer is allowed to sign up. The other side of that is that in a time-limited debate every Peer should be allowed their voice, and if there are lengthy interventions at the beginning of a debate, it will mean simply that those who are to speak later are denied their voice. This is a House that respects the conventions of the way in which we work, and I know that we will have two very effective debates today.

My Lords, is it not the case that the time limits are now becoming so short that it is not only virtually impossible to take an intervention but very difficult to make a speech that covers the subject adequately? Should we not consider carefully whether we should have a minimum time limit—if necessary regulated by a ballot or some other means? We ought not to go on having limits as short as some that there have been recently.

My Lords, I know that these matters have been considered on previous occasions in the Procedure Committee and there are valid arguments on both sides regarding the proposal made by my noble friend. All I can say is that today the time limit is seven minutes, which is considered to be ample time to set out one’s arguments. Perhaps I may quote my noble friend Lord Patten who remarked on one occasion, in a Question for Short Debate, that after speaking for five minutes in another place he had barely cleared his throat. Here we are perhaps capable of putting our arguments succinctly and forcefully in a remarkably compact amount of time.

My Lords, the constant refrain that the House does not have enough time for interventions and that the House does not have enough time to give people a decent number of minutes to express their views in a debate comes ill from a Government who keep on telling us that we are not needed and that we ought to have more holidays and more time off.

My Lords, the noble Lord often intervenes with some amusing remarks. That was amusing but not accurate.

Motion agreed.