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Procedure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 27th February 1986.

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Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme 5:58 pm, 27th February 1986

I want to talk, first, about the Government amendment to curb exceptionally long speeches. I was hurt to hear the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) suggest that the measure was prompted by my 11¼-hour speech, which has gone into the "Guinness I3ook of Records" and has been celebrated in cartoon by P.C. Nuttall. I do not regard an 11¼-hour speech as exceptionally long. Be that as it may, the speech was serious, coherent and in order; in other words, it was quite out of the ordinary.

Why has that speech aroused so much antagonism? There are two reasons: first, on that occasion, I actually knew what I was talking about; secondly, from time to time, it contained the occasional joke. When I first came into the House it was considered binding on Members making long speeches that at least they be entertaining. That convention seems to have disappeared. Now we have what is called the turgid fashion. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) referring in the Tea Room—I should not repeat this—to one of the present exponents as "Golding without the jokes". I cannot add any more to this, because it is sub judice and substantial damages are expected.

If exceptionally long speeches are to be avoided in the future I shall feel sorry, in one way, for certain Members. After I made my 11¼-hour speech, I was rung up by correspondents from periodicals and newspapers all over the world. They were not political correspondents, but rather the editors of women's journals asking the reason for the stamina that was shown. That was the interest shown in the speech. That did not apply to my own wife. I returned to my constituency on the following Saturday and was shocked at the headline, which read: "MP's wife says he goes on a bit." That was the total impact of that 11¼- hour speech.

I shall support the Government in their attempt to stop exceptionally long speeches. Today I was elected general secretary of the National Communications Union, and I shall be leaving the House. To keep my record I need the support of Members this evening. It is not only my pride that is at stake. Filibustering, if it is to be called that, is a painful business and should be brought to an end. I disagree with many of my hon. Friends on this point.

I am not talking about the pain to the Chairman—I still get into trouble with my wife because I keep on saying "Miss Fookes" in my sleep. I am not talking about Ministers —the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, still bears the scars on his face. I am not referring to the ladies of the Tea Room—at 4 o'clock in the morning their general response to Members like me is "Do you not have a so-and-so home to go to?" Nor am I referring to the Doorkeepers and policemen who look rather bleary eyed at those of us who are keeping them up. No, I am not speaking in their defence. They have said too many hard things about me in the past, and I shall not jump to their defence.

I am referring to those who are asked by the Whips to talk for an exceptional length. Most Members will not know the horror of being pushed in to the Chamber and told that one has to speak at length—the Whips may have said that one must speak for two hours—arid to speak wisely, without knowing what the amendment is about. The terror of wondering whether one will be given the Amendment Paper open at the right page so that one may begin one's speech is unknown to many hon. Members. No one knows the terror of clashing with the Chairman who has a 9 o'clock plane to catch to Glasgow. Nobody knows the dull ache in the legs, which are weaker than the tongue, or the realisation that nature calls.

To speak for an exceptional length of time is sometimes a difficult task. I regard it as equivalent to the young lieutenants of the first work'. war who were charged with the job of leading the charge from the trenches. They did not want to do it, but did so because it was expected of them, and they did it for England. No one speaks at exceptional length out of choice. Hon. Members do it out of a duty imposed on them. They would like to be relieved of that duty, and the proposal of the hon. Member for Honiton would relieve them of that obligation.

I also support timetabling, not only out of sympathy for those who are called upon to hold up business, but because it is opposed by the Prime Minister. Although it has not been mentioned, I understand that Ministers have been summoned from all parts of the world to be here this evening to vote against this proposal. Why have they been sent for? The Prime Minister does not dislike or oppose exceptionally long speeches—she never actually listens. To the Prime Minister, an exceptionally long speech is something about which she may be told in idle conversation. The Prime Minister wants to defeat this proposition because she knows that her days are numbered. The Prime Minister knows that we will have a Labour Government. She has given up governing and has adopted an Opposition mentality. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to give up their Opposition mentality, for they will be in government.

I shall not be here, Mr. Speaker, but I constantly think of your needs. A Labour Government need timetabling, and everyone on the Opposition Benches who supports Labour should support the motion. I disagree with the hon. Member for Honiton. If Labour had won the last election, the Telecommunications Bill would have been dead, because we fought it and spoke against it at length. We held it up in Committee. That Bill would have gone, because we opposed it.

When I have left the House and I am sitting in the union offices, I do not want to read that Conservative Members have the same facility to stop putting British Telecom back into public ownership. There is only one way in which a Labour Government will be able to do what they want 1:0 do, and that is to prevent the time wasting that the present situation permits. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr will take a different view, but when he is sitting here as a senior Minister and young slips of lads from the Conservative party are keeping him up all night he will change his mind.