Tag Archives: lib dem conference

More flexible debates at Conference

Following my earlier article about my thirty-second speech at the recent Autumn Conference, I wanted to share some thoughts on the conduct of our debates. On two occasions now I have submitted Speaker’s Cards offering to speak for either thirty or sixty seconds and I was called on both occasions. However, a member of Federal Conference Committee informed me that other members have done likewise in the past but have then spoken for considerably longer – somewhat an abuse of the Chair’s trust. I have only heard from one other party member who has spoken briefly after volunteering such, so it’s definitely not the norm. On the whole, members speak for three minutes and many of them overrun (I hasten to add that I wouldn’t wish to be unreasonable by criticising nervous first-time speakers for overrunning).

What is so magic about three minutes? Nothing, it’s arbitrary. So why do we have such a rigid structure and why do only a few debates, usually only the longer ones, include the short interjections from the floor microphone? Isn’t that back to front? Surely the shorter debates – some only thirty minutes – would benefit more from more speakers speaking for a shorter time in order to ensure a variety of views?

Why instead don’t we have a system in which Speaker’s Cards for *all* our debates, long or short, allow applicants to offer to speak for either three minutes or, say, ninety seconds and for that individual requested limit then to be enforced by the Chair? Not everything that needs to be said needs to fill three minutes for the sake of it. Conversely long, technical arguments may sometimes be difficult to compress into three minutes. Let’s have more flexibility, please. On the practical issues, I think the loss of time caused by speakers approaching and leaving the podium isn’t a big deal and if it were, more use could be made of the floor microphone for any shorter speeches.

This flexibility of speaking time was the reason for my attempted Reference Back to motion F34 “Standing Order Amendment: Speaker Card Selection” the other week. I was hoping the mini-debate would allow me to suggest more variable speaking times and that FCC might endorse such an idea. In all honesty, I hadn’t prepared this properly, nor submitted a Speaker’s Card. What’s more, F34 had been on the agenda for the cancelled 2022 Autumn Conference and the idea I have just presented here originated back then. I only have myself to blame for doing nothing about this in the interim.

Posted in Op-eds | 2 Comments
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