HC Deb 20 July 1971 vol 821 cc1259-60
Mr. Speaker

I want to say something about the four-day debate on the Common Market White Paper. I have already received intimations from about 110 Members who want to speak in the debate. If other right hon. or hon. Members wish to speak, I hope that they will let me know, because I have to try to arrange the debate.

Also, I hope that the very fact of this number of Members wanting to speak will lead those who are now preparing their speeches to indulge in the virtue of compression, because the only way in which the Chair will be able to succeed in calling a fair number of those who wish to speak will be if speeches are reasonably short.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Arising out of your last remarks, I understand the Chair requiring brevity so that a good number of speakers can catch Mr. Speaker's eye. On the other hand, the brief speeches that have been made on recent occasions in the House have meant that a real contribution to subjects is not coming from the back benches. With back bench speeches being cut down to 10 minutes, and five minutes so often, speeches made from the Front Benches, which are not under that restriction, are virtually dominating the formation of opinion. I believe that we must find some way other than sheer brevity if back benchers are to make their proper contribution to parliamentary debates.

Mr. Speaker

I did not use the word "brevity". I used the word "compression". I certainly intended what I said to apply to Front Benches and to back benches.

Mr. Michael Foot

Further to that point of order. In support of what has been said by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), may I point out that the whole question of the length of speeches is one to be recommended by Select Committees and is not to be at the edict of Mr. Speaker. If all back benchers had had to compress their speeches to the lengths which you, Mr. Speaker, sometimes recommend, the two most prominent back benchers of the last 20 years—Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Aneurin Bevan—would never have been able to contest the views expressed from their Front Benches when they were on the back benches.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you, when you are asking back benchers to compress their speeches, to take into account the rights of back benchers to be able to argue with the Front Benches sometimes at equal length to those who speak from the Front Benches?

Mr. Speaker

I will certainly take that matter into account. I think the hon. Gentleman knows that I have never for that reason been in favour of an absolutely rigid limit. All that I was saying was that 110 right hon. and hon. Members have expressed a wish to speak in the debate and that the shorter the speeches the more will be able to speak.