Management of the Oireachtas Restaurant. - Committee on Procedure and Privileges—Proposed Amendment of Standing Orders.

I move:—

That the Committee on Procedure and Privileges be instructed to submit to the Dáil amendments to Standing Orders to provide that no speech may exceed a time-limit of half an hour except by unanimous consent of the House.

I hope this motion will command the sympathy of the Government and of the House in general. It would have the effect of considerably expediting public business, and also, I think, of greatly improving the standard of oratory in this House. The fluency of the Irish race is such that we frequently run into the vice of repetition. I am afraid it must be admitted that long-windedness is a conspicuous characteristic of this House. There are two sorts of long-windeness One is deliberate, and consists in getting up and talking for the purpose of consuming time. That sometimes occurs in the House, and ought not, I think, be allowed. There is another sort of long-windedness which is merely a bad habit. It is not done deliberately for the purpose of consuming time, but is done because we fall into the habit of thinking that a thing has not been said effectively until it has been said about a dozen times. It is an insidious disease which I feel creeps over us all the longer we are in this House. Whether it was originally for the benefit of other Deputies or for the benefit of the Press reporters, so as to make sure that a particular point got through to the public, I do not know, but at any rate, it is observable in this House that hardly any Deputy feels a thing has been said adequately by him until he has said it several times over with a very slight change of words.

A suggestion has already been made that some sort of time limit should be introduced, but nothing has been done, owing I think to a most unjustified pessimism about the possibility of doing something effective. A time limit can be imposed, and can be adhered to. It has been done quite successfully elsewhere.

Among other places where it is done is the South African Parliament, where there is a time limit of forty minutes, without any such provision as is suggested here of exemption by unanimous consent of the House. I think it is time we took the thing up seriously. I think that we should all enjoy Parliamentary proceedings very much more if a time limit existed. Of course, one does not want it to be worked unreasonably. My idea is that in the normal way the limit would be removed on the annual Budget debate, and on the Second Reading debates of important Bills.

And on the cattle debate!

But it would still be very well worth while to have such a limit in existence for occasions when the House is in Committee, debates on Estimates, and so forth, Private Members' motions, and adjournment motions at the end of each session, when a large number of members wish to speak at length on various topics. It often happens that, owing to front benchers getting up on adjournment debates and talking for an hour or more, a number of back benchers who wished to speak are shut out, which I think is very unfair. I think back benchers ought to be particularly in favour of something in the nature of this motion. If the Government are sympathetic with the spirit of the motion I am quite content— without pressing it to a division—that the matter should be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, with an indication that the House in general is favourable to something on those lines being done. I strongly hope that it may end in something concrete being accomplished.

I see in the new Estimates that it is proposed to spend £1,500 on busts for decorating the Oireachtas. It appears to me that if my motion leads to a time limit being introduced I shall be fully deserving of having one of those busts erected to myself.

I do not know whether the Deputy thinks that perhaps if the time limit is put on somebody may "bust," but the attitude of the Government in this matter is one of an open mind. It may not be practicable to have a rigid rule established, but we are certainly willing that the matter should go to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, not exactly in the terms that are here, but as a general recommendation that the question should be examined by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to see if it could be made practicable. I do not know whether the particular regulations made in South Africa work well or not. There are particular reasons there why it is necessary to get through the business in a short time. I understand, however, that there it leads sometimes to acrimonious debates. The time there is limited to a fixed period. It might be possible that agreement might be reached if the rule were not fixed. If we could get strong public opinion in the House in favour of short speeches I imagine myself that such a thing would be far more effective than having a fixed rule about the matter. During the present session we have done very well. We have got through a considerable amount of very important business and we have done it very expeditiously. I only hope the same spirit will prevail in the next session, when we will have a very heavy programme to get through. I hold an open mind on the matter, and we are willing to allow it to be considered by the Committee of Procedure and Privileges.

I should like to say a brief word in reply. I do not altogether like the remarks that have fallen from Deputy Little. I do not consider that there is anything rigid about this motion. On the contrary, it is highly elastic. If the House likes, permission may be extended to Deputies to speak beyond the time limit. Deputy Little said that public opinion would be a sufficient restraint on the loquacity of Deputies. That idea is a snare and a delusion of the first order. It is not a sufficient restraint. I have seen many occasions here when public opinion was at boiling point about a particular Deputy who was engaged in speaking and it did not shorten his speech by one moment. If anybody thinks that opinion in this Chamber would check Deputy Hugo Flinn, for instance, when he is in full career, that person is more of an optimist than I am.

I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary to the President is up to date about his information as to the working of the time limit in South Africa. I have reason to believe that it is now working well. If we had an elastic provision which would enable the House on a particular occasion to remove the time limit, I am quite satisfied that it would achieve its object without annoying the House as a whole. I believe on the contrary it would give the greatest satisfaction to the Deputies. The more experience they had of it, the more they would like it. Having said that, I am prepared to withdraw the motion. However, I might mention that I gather from private conversations with Ministers that they are more sympathetic than one would realise from the Parliamentary's Secretary's statement. I am, therefore, prepared to withdraw the motion and leave it on the basis that the House is sympathetic.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the President was very vague in his statement. I do not think the House quite understood what he said.

The position now is that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges are to be told that there is a desire for something of this kind, and I dare say the members who are sent to the Committee from each of the Parties will go there with definite suggestions. I presume each of the Parties in the House will tell its representatives on the Committee what it desires to have done.

Make the limit ten minutes and we will all agree.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.15 p.m until 3 o'clock on Wednesday, 3rd April, 1935.