The Speaker and Deputy Speakers have asked the Procedure Committee to examine how the present system of speaking time limits in the Chamber is operating, and whether the current provisions for adding ‘injury time’ to speech times when Members take interventions should be amended.
Arrangements for the Speaker and other occupants of the Chair to impose time limits on speeches were first introduced in the 1980s. In 1998 the House agreed that the Speaker should disregard time taken in accepting interventions when applying a speech time limit, and in 2002 agreed that where interventions were taken on a speech the first two would entitle the speaker to a minute of extra time per intervention in order to allow time to respond to them.
In 2002 the Modernisation Committee recommended that a ten-minute limit on backbench speeches should be the norm. In 2007 the House agreed changes to standing orders to give the Chair far more flexibility in managing speech limits, in order to accommodate as many contributions to a debate as possible. Ten-minute speech limits are now the exception, and far less generous speech limits are applied in most debates which are oversubscribed.
The ‘injury time’ provision causes difficulty to Chairs when managing contributions at the end of a debate, particularly when very tight time limits apply. The Procedure Committee recommends that Standing Orders be revised so as to encourage genuinely spontaneous interventions while safeguarding the Chair’s discretion to manage heavily oversubscribed debates.
Specifically, the Committee recommends that in speeches with time limits of over five minutes, when calculating speaking time the clock should be stopped for the first two interventions, and a minute’s injury time should be applied in respect of the first intervention only.
The Committee considers that five minutes should be the minimum time limit imposed on speeches in a debate in the Chamber. Where the Chair finds it necessary to impose time limits of five minutes or lower, no injury time should be given for interventions.
The Committee notes that formal time limits are not the only way of managing debates effectively, and indicates that informal and advisory time limits may also lead to a balanced allocation of time in debate, particularly when limits of under five minutes are contemplated.
The Committee has not examined in detail other factors which lead to pressure on the speaking time allocated to backbenchers in debate. It notes the provision in Standing Orders to impose time limits on frontbench speeches. Frontbench speeches, and interventions on frontbench speeches, are valuable to the House, but Ministers and those speaking for their parties must, at the start of debates, have regard to the overall management of debates and the number of Members wishing to contribute. The Procedure Committee will monitor the balance of time between frontbench and backbench speeches in the remainder of this Session: if it identifies practices detrimental to backbench interests it will not hesitate to recommend that the Chair use its existing powers to limit time to be taken on frontbench speeches.
Published: 18 September 2018