Let’s cut to the quick - and call time on politicians’ interminable waffle, prevarication and repetition in parliament.
That’s the call from the Lord Bishop who is proposing that as an experiment in the July Tynwald there should be strict time limits on contributions of MHKs and MLCs.
Bishop Robert Paterson, who has tabled a motion at this week’s sitting of the court, said: ‘This experiment is not about stifling free speech, it’s about trying to make free speech work more efficiently. If we decide it does stifle free speech then the first thing I’ll do is abandon it.’
He said his idea for the time limits was sparked during a lengthy discussion about bin wagons at last month’s Tynwald sitting.
‘The discussion went on for nearly an hour. I sat there thinking “how much does it cost to run this operation?”. I did some very rough calculations on a bit of paper. It cost £1,000 per hour in salaries of Tynwald members, then you have the cost of owning, heating and maintaining the building and the much bigger cost of the civil servants behind the scenes. It must have cost several thousand pounds just to discuss dustcarts for an hour.
‘This is not an efficient way of running a country, it’s not an efficient way of running a county council in the UK.’
Bishop Robert’s proposal is to limit statements and moving a report to 20 minutes and moving any other motion to 15 minutes. He suggests that speaking to a motion or amendment is restricted to 10 minutes while contributions at Question Time should be no longer than five minutes.
The Tynwald president would have discretion to allocate additional time on request.
If the motion is approved, Tynwald’s standing orders committee will review the experiment and report back to the court in November.
‘If it really doesn’t work, that’s fine,’ said Bishop Robert. ‘I simply think we can do things better. If Question Time is a little bit more restricted then maybe more questions can be answered.’
A recent innovation in Tynwald has seen some members read out pre-prepared speeches from their iPads.
The Bishop said he had no problem with that for the most part: ‘Prepared speeches are much better than ones off the cuff because they have been thought about beforehand. The difficulty arises when members go ‘off-piste’ and elaborate when they don’t need to. The real problem is when they get their information by cutting and pasting from Google.’
Bishop Robert said there were clearly some contributions that required a longer time - such as the Treasury Minister’s Budget speech.
‘That would need an hour or longer. That’s fine - just make an arrangement with the President. Nobody’s going to have a problem with that.’
He said he had had a great deal of support from colleagues in Tynwald but added: ‘I’m quite certain there will be a significant number who will oppose it.’
So will be ensuring that he sticks to his own time limit when he introduces his motion? ‘I’m sure that as soon as I’m on my feet members will be checking their watches!’ he said.
Currently the only time limit in Tynwald is the five-minute rule during adjournment debates.
In contrast, debates in the House of Commons are very much ruled by the clock.
It may be, however, that the problem with debate in our parliament is more about quality than quantity.