General Article Is the House of Commons losing the art of debate?

Topic Selected: Government Book Volume: 360
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The Commons chamber is about exchange, back and forth, argument and counter-argument. But ever stricter time-limits, and speeches read from scripts are putting that tradition at risk.

By Tony Grew

‘Too much of our Parliament isn’t debate, it’s speeches,’ Tom Tugendhat observed recently. ‘It’s like line dancing. You may be with others in the same room but fundamentally you are dancing alone.’

In December and January, we had long debates on the withdrawal agreement. Speaker Bercow is keen to accommodate colleagues and likes to fit everyone in. This leads to MPs being put on a three-minute time limit, or in some cases a two- or one-minute limit. Is that really long enough to develop your point or to make a substantive argument?

The balance between hearing from as many MPs as possible or disappointing some to allow others a meaningful amount of time to speak, is a difficult one, but it goes to the heart of what debate is for.

The concept of limiting speaking times is relatively new. T...

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