Length of speeches and speaking time limits
21.14When it is known to the Chair that a large number of Members wish to speak in a debate, the Speaker has frequently appealed for brief speeches to be made.1
Standing Order No 472 provides that the Speaker may announce in relation to any debate that backbench speeches or backbench speeches between specified times shall be limited to a specified length.3 The Speaker may at any time make subsequent announcements varying the limit upwards or downwards.4 Whenever the Speaker has made such an announcement, the occupant of the Chair shall direct any Member (other than a Minister, a Member speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, or not more than one Member nominated by the leader of the second largest opposition party) who has spoken for the specified period to resume their seat forthwith.5 The Standing Order also provides for ‘injury time’ in respect of interventions; the Chair is required to add one minute, plus the time taken by the intervention, for each of the first two interventions.6 It is not uncommon for the Chair to delay the operation of a formal time limit under the Standing Order until a short way into the debate, thereby allowing slightly longer speeches from Members with a particular contribution to make, such as the mover of an amendment which has been selected or the Chair of a relevant select committee.7
The Standing Order also provides for time limits to be imposed on frontbench speeches with a limit of 20 minutes for speeches made by Members speaking on behalf of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition and for one speech by a Member speaking on behalf of the leader of the second largest opposition party (or in the case of a topical debate, 10 minutes for the Members speaking on behalf of the Government and of the Leader of the Opposition). In such speeches, one minute is added for each intervention accepted, up to a limit of 15 minutes.8
The Speaker indicated that he expected Ministers making statements normally to take no longer than 10 minutes, with the response on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition taking no longer than 5 minutes and that on behalf of the second largest opposition party taking no longer than 2 minutes.9
- See HC Deb (31 January 2017) 620, cc 864, 995 for examples of extremely short speeches so delivered.
- The standing order was first agreed in 1988, following earlier more limited experiments with limiting times for speeches (see Erskine May (21st edn, 1989), p 371) and was subject to later further experiments (see Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), p 437).
- Limits as low as 3 minutes have been imposed in the main Chamber (HC Deb (6 January 2016) 604, c 385) and as low as 1 minute in Westminster Hall, ibid (31 October 2018) 648, c 404WH. Details of time limits on speeches are displayed where practicable on the annunciators. Speeches which begin before the designated starting hour must not continue for more than the specified period after that hour, see eg HC Deb (1990–91) 196, cc 366, 369. On an opposition day for which the subject of debate was chosen by a minority party, the Speaker imposed a limit on backbench speeches between the conclusion of the opening speech and the beginning of the speech by the Member who was winding up on behalf of the party that had chosen the subject of debate, ibid (1999–2000) 347, c 1210.
- HC Deb (22 January 2008) 470, c 1431; ibid (13 January 2010) 503, c 778.
- Although not specifically provided for in the standing order, the rule is commonly not enforced for the second spokesperson of parties other than the official Opposition winding up the debate on an opposition day at their disposal (though see HC Deb (17 January 2006) 441, c 804 for an exception).
- The Chair has noted that an intervention intended merely to provide added time for the Member speaking is not disallowed but has the effect of reducing the amount of time available to those still waiting to speak, HC Deb (15 December 2015) 603, cc 1442–43.
- See for example HC Deb (28 April 2014) 579, c 557.
- SO No 47(3) and (4).
- The equivalent limits for urgent questions are 3 minutes for the Minister, 2 minutes for the Member asking the urgent question and (where different) the opposition spokesperson, and 1 minute for the spokesperson of the second largest opposition party, HC Deb (18 May 2016) 611, c 2.