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Arrangement of Business

Volume 835: debated on Thursday 18 January 2024


My Lords, before we move on to the main business, I want to raise an issue which should concern all Members of the House. When we have timed debates, frankly, Members on all sides of the House are speaking too long and going over their speaking limit. That results in other Members not getting a chance to reply, particularly the Front Benches, or sometimes with take-note Motions the Member who moved the Motion. I certainly want to hear the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, at the end of their debates today. It is discourteous to other colleagues to go over your time, particularly in a timed debate.

I noticed that on today’s Order Paper the first debate is limited to six minutes for Back-Benchers. That is quite a lot of time. For the third debate, it is seven minutes. Respectfully, if you cannot make your point in six or seven minutes then maybe you should reflect on how you present yourself to the House. It is wrong that we do this.

We have another issue in that we now have persistent in-the-gap speakers. Speaking in the gap should be used very sparingly when you have not managed to get in. Persistent in-the-gap speakers can be found on all Benches, and I suggest that noble Lords who do it stop doing so.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very fair point. I spent nearly 30 years in local government in a council chamber where you were not allowed to speak for more than five minutes, and I think I managed to get my case over sometimes. It shows full respect to other Peers to respect those limits, although I know that sometimes the limits are quite short. If I may say so, it is also true at Question Time, where there are not time limits, that sometimes questions and answers are too long. We have discussed this before and we on this side strive to be briefer. I have noticed that there is now quite a wide tendency to read questions, either from pieces of paper or even smartphones. The normal guide is 130 words a minute, so if speeches or questions are written out then there really is no excuse for them to last longer than they need to. I agree with the noble Lord that it does not show full respect to other Members. I am grateful for what he said; I agree with him and I am sure that the House listened carefully to him.

I endorse the comments of the Leader of the House about Question Time. I have always said that the clue is in the title: it is Question Time.

My Lords, I suggest that the Whips could be a bit more assertive when people go over time, because often they sit there while the time goes on and the rest of the House is getting agitated, but they do not intervene. Please can they intervene rather more?

My Lords, would there not be more time for Back-Benchers if we ended the quite unjustifiable right of the Lib Dems to reply to every debate?

My Lords, how is this to be communicated to all those Members of your Lordships’ House who are not present this morning?

My Lords, perhaps some Members of your Lordships’ House read Hansard, but my noble friend makes a good point; we communicate these matters through party groups and will continue to do so. I certainly sometimes make the point to Ministers not to go on for too long—perhaps sometimes people see me doing that. We will communicate this, and I hope all Members of the House will read what has been said by the noble Lord opposite and others.

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and not just defending the Liberal Democrats, I point out that the two largest parties in your Lordships’ House do not represent the choices of a very large number of British voters and we need to hear from a variety of voices.