Ministers upset by limit of seven minutes at podium

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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister has suffered his first Cabinet rebellion – over an attempt to impose a seven-minute time limit on speeches by ministers at next week's Labour conference.

Gordon Brown wants his Cabinet colleagues to "keep it short" to avoid television coverage of the Bourne-mouth conference being dominated by traditional set-piece addresses by ministers. He also wants to allow more time for speeches by conference delegates.

But the edict has gone down badly with some Cabinet colleagues. They have complained that they cannot cover their complicated briefs in a mere seven minutes and want a longer slot. One minister pointed out that Tony Blair received a standing ovation lasting seven minutes after his valedictory speech to the conference a year ago.

Following their protests, there were signs yesterday that the time limit would not be enforced strictly. The "lead speakers" from the Government on the main topic of the day are likely to be allowed to speak for more than seven minutes. "I don't think we are going to cut off their microphones after seven minutes," a Labour source said. "The message is that we want shorter, punchier speeches."

Mr Brown, who will address the conference next Monday and take part in a question-and-answer session two days later, will not be subject to the seven-minute rule. But allies say he may play his part by making a shorter speech than the hour-long one normally given by his predecessor. "It won't last seven minutes but it won't take 70 minutes either," one said.

Harriet Harman, the Leader of the Commons and the Labour Party's deputy leader, will also be exempt from the rule when she closes the conference tomorrow week.

The Cabinet ministers due to speak on the "theme of the day" are: Alistair Darling, the Chancellor; Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary; Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, and Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary.

Mr Brown's allies say he has ended Mr Blair's informal style of "sofa government" and restored traditional Cabinet Government since becoming Prime Minister, with more regular and longer Cabinet meetings. But some ministers are worried that their new freedom does not appear to extend to the Labour conference.