On the perils of trying to speak in Parliament……

 It is said that there are more great speeches languishing in the briefcases of members of Parliament than have ever been recorded by Hansard. This is for the very basic reason that in a Parliamentary debate, you put your name down to speak, commit your pearls of wisdom to paper (if diligent) or scrawl some notes in the Library five minutes before the debate starts (if not), and then proceed to deposit the seat of your pants on the seat of the benches in the chamber, there to await the moment of ‘catching the eye’ of the speaker so that you can place said pearls into the immortal record that is Hansard. Unfortunately, you do not always get to do so.

Parliament has got better at this: when I was first elected, you could sit (or rather bob up and down) fruitlessly for five hours or so while the chosen few (Privy councillors, pals of speaker etc.) ‘caught the speakers eye’ and droned on for an eternity while your pellucid prose stayed firmly in your pocket until ten o’clock. Now we have a time limit on back-bench speeches, and usually, everyone who has put down to speak gets some kind of moment to say something. But that isn’t an end to it, because Government business managers are now overly fond of placing statements, late items of business etc. at either end of a debate they don’t deem very important, which cuts the time available for a debate you have already put down to speak in by huge amounts, and the time limit imposed on speeches shrinks accordingly. Worse still, as the shrunken time proceeds, members inevitably stray marginally over their limit (you get one minute ‘injury time’ for interventions, for example) so that the limit gets shorter and shorter as the debate proceeds. If you are the poor sod who gets ‘recognised’ last, before the front benches respond, your time limit can be very short indeed. And yes, last week I was that poor sod.

The National Policy Statements on Energy were due to be debated for the whole of Monday afternoon and evening: just over six hours for six meaty volumes: not long, but a reasonable time for parliamentary scrutiny. But then three statements of an hour each emerged, coupled with a motion to overturn attempts to block David Laws’ presence on a financial services committee (yes, that important!) About two hours left for the whole process, an outrage really.

So, inevitably the ‘time limit’ of about six minutes came down and down, and I was finally ‘recognised’ by the speaker just over twenty minutes before the end of the debate, with the cheery encomium ‘make it less than two minutes if you can’. So Hansard records me gibbering vaguely for two minutes on why I thought we should look again at the figures for demand in the ‘Overarching energy statement EN-1’. I think it is important that we do take a further look, because some very strange assumptions seem to have been applied to National Policy documents statements of demand over the next fifteen years, which I think, among other things, inflate the supposed ‘energy gap’ and make a supposed, but in reality entirely hypothetical case for more gas and nuclear build. Quite an important point, I think, but alas not now to be seen set out in the pages of Hansard.

But fear not: as a reader of this blog you can, exclusively, find out what the argument would have consisted of. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology ‘great speeches that were never made’ are no longer consigned to the bottoms of briefcases: they merely live a half-life in a computer memory, or in this case as an entry in an obscure blog. So here it is: and by the way, it isn’t a great speech: but I think it makes a point worth thinking about a bit further. And I will be trying to do so.


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