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MPs recommend changes to House of Commons speaking time limits

18 September 2018

The Procedure Committee publishes a report setting out a number of proposed changes to the rules governing time limits on speeches in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

Reducing 'injury time'

Current rules allow the Speaker or Deputy Speakers to impose speaking time limits in debates that are heavily subscribed. However in such debates an MP's speech may have 'injury time' added if he or she takes an intervention during the speech.

Today's report recommends reducing the 'injury time' available for interventions of speeches of more than five minutes, by allowing an extra minute for the first intervention only.

The Committee believes that five minutes is the minimum time limit which the Chair should impose on any speech in the Chamber. If the Chair does impose a time limit of 5 minutes or lower, pauses for interventions ought not to stop the clock on a speech or attract any 'injury time'.

Monitoring balance between frontbench and backbench speeches

The committee has also looked at other factors which affect the speaking time available to backbenchers during a debate, and identifies concerns about the effects of over-long frontbench speeches. The committee plans to monitor the balance between frontbench and backbench speeches in debates where time limits are in operation, and may make further recommendations.

Chair's comment

The Chair of the Procedure Committee, Charles Walker OBE MP, commented:

"It is vitally important to ensure that as many MPs as possible are able to contribute to debates. Any over-regulation of speaking time would be counterproductive, and would discourage genuinely spontaneous interventions and free-flowing debate. A reasonable balance has to be found.

This report offers modest but sensible changes to the House's Standing Orders to help the Chair regulate debates which are oversubscribed.  Members themselves must respect the Chair's desire to call as many speakers as possible by adjusting the length of their remarks accordingly.

My committee has noted that excessively lengthy speeches from frontbenchers can also have a detrimental impact on the time available for backbench contributions. That is why we will closely keep an eye out for any practices which operate to the detriment of backbench MPs. If necessary we would not hesitate to recommend that the Chair uses reserve powers available that allow them to limit frontbench speeches".

Further information

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