A debate in the House of Commons or House of Lords is a formal discussion of a particular proposal. MPs or Members of the House of Lords take it in turns to speak. The way in which debates are conducted follows a number of rules and conventions.
What is the process for a debate?
A typical debate takes the same general format.
An MP or Member of the House of Lords puts forward a proposal for debate by moving a motion.
A motion can be substantive such as “I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time” or it could be general and expressed in neutral terms such as ‘That this House has considered investment in cycling'
The Chair then puts the question to the House, which repeats the terms of the motion, for example 'The question is, that the Bill be now read a second time'.
The question is debated. MPs or Peers take it in turns to speak on the subject concerned.
When the debate has ended the Chair asks the question again and a decision is made, which may be through a vote (divison).
How are decisions made following a debate?
At the end of a debate in both the Commons and the Lords the Chair ‘puts the question' to the House, for example in the House of Commons, "the question is that the Bill be read a second time. As many as are of that opinion say Aye, on the contrary No". MPs then call out either Aye or No.
If there are only calls for either Aye or No the decision is made without a vote. If there is no clear result a division is called.
What are the rules and conventions for debates?
The way in which debates are held is governed by the Standing Orders, the written rules which regulate the proceedings of each House, and also by various customs and traditions.
Many of these conventions are set out in the Speaker's Guide to the rules of behaviour and courtesies of the House of Commons.
Who chairs debates?
House of Commons
In the House of Commons the Speaker is responsible for ensuring that the rules of the House on the way business is carried out are adhered to.
In the Commons the Speaker, or a Deputy 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 Deputy Speaker, using notes only. Normally MPs will speak only once in a debate, although they may 'intervene' with a brief comment on another MP's speech. MPs who introduced the subject of debate (called 'tabling a motion') have the right to reply to speeches.
House of Lords
In the House of Lords the Lord Speaker presides over proceedings and chairs debates but does not call it to order, or decide who speaks next 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.