Main business (Debates)

The main business in both chambers often takes the form of a debate. This includes debates on legislation, general topics of interest or issues selected by the major parties.

What is a debate?

A debate is a formal discussion on a Bill or topic of interest or importance.

A typical debate takes the following form:

  1. A Member introduces a subject (known as moving a motion); eg, 'I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time'.

  2. The Speaker in the Commons or Lord Speaker in the Lords proposes a question, which repeats the terms of the motion; eg, 'The Question is, That the Bill be now read a second time'.

  3. The motion is debated.

  4. The original question is repeated and the House comes to a decision - if necessary by means of a vote (division).

Members take it in turns to speak on the subject concerned and the discussion is strictly controlled by a set of rules called the 'Standing Orders'.

Debates in the Commons - The Speaker

In the Commons, an MP called the 'Speaker' chairs debates and calls MPs in turn to give their opinion on an issue. MPs must get the Speaker's attention (called 'catching the Speaker's eye') and usually stand, or half-rise from their seat to do so. They may also write in advance to indicate their wish to speak, although this gives no guarantee.

MPs address their speeches to the Speaker or their deputy, using notes only. Normally MPs will speak only once in a debate, although they may 'intervene' with a brief comment on another member's speech. MPs who introduced the subject of debate (called 'tabling a motion') have the right to reply to speeches.

Debates in the Lords - The Lord Speaker

The Lord Speaker chairs debates in the House of Lords but does not call it to order (as the Commons Speaker does) because the Lords manage debates themselves.

Lords address their speeches to the other Members, not the Lord Speaker. Members normally speak only once, except to give clarification or by special leave.

Divisions

At the end of a debate the question (ie, the motion which is the subject of the debate) is put to see if Members agree or not. The question may be decided either with or without formal voting or by a simple majority vote.

Transcripts of debates

Public debates and results of divisions in the chamber and committees of both Houses are published in Hansard.
Read Hansard

Related information

Read Hansard

Read Questions and debates going back to 1988. Older editions of Hansard are held by the Parliamentary Archives.

Will the Honourable Member...?

In the House of Commons MPs are not referred to by name. The following terms of address are used instead:

The Speaker and Deputy Speakers are referred to as 'Mr (or Madam) Speaker' and 'Mr (or Madam) Deputy Speaker'.

And that's just in the Commons. The House of Lords has a whole set of different addresses.

You can't say that!

Language and expressions used in the chambers must conform to a number of rules. Members may not:

  • accuse other Members of lying
  • use abusive or insulting language
  • refer to the alleged views of members of the royal family;
  • refer to matters before a court of law (except when discussing legislation)