Committee debates (2015)

Request

What rules exist for a debate being held by the House Of Commons Backbench Business Committee where that debate has been triggered by a ePetition reaching over 100,000 signatures.

Who is strictly responsible for the exact content of the debate?

What complaints procedure is there if a signature to the ePetition believes the committee did not correctly implement the debate, eg, the ePetition was clearly about subject A but the committee debated subject B when it was supposed to be debating subject A?

What complaints procedure is there if a signature to the ePetition believes the committee negligently allowed the debate to be taken away from the core subject but persons who deliberately wanted to distract the debate?

Response

  1. What rules exist for a debate being held by the House Of Commons Backbench Business Committee where that debate has been triggered by a ePetition reaching over 100,000 signatures.
    The Backbench Business Committee can provide time for debate on e-petitions with over 100,000 signatures, on application from a Member of Parliament (MP). Such debates are held on a Monday in Westminster Hall (the House’s alternative debating chamber), and can run for a maximum of three hours, starting at 4.30 pm.
    The rules governing the debate are similar to those which apply to other kinds of House of Commons debate. Any Member may attend and speak in a debate in Westminster Hall. A politically impartial Chair presides over the debate (selected from a panel of Members who have volunteered for this duty). He or she calls Members to speak. The opening speaker will be the Member who applied to the Backbench Business Committee for the debate to be held. The Chair will then call other Members, usually alternating between Government and Opposition supporters. A Minister will respond to the speeches on behalf of the Government, and usually an Opposition spokesperson will also speak. The Member who opened the debate is usually given a brief opportunity to reply at the end. The motion before the House is “That this House has considered the e-petition relating to [subject of petition]”. No vote can be held on this motion.
  2. Who is strictly responsible for the exact content of the debate?
    The Members who take part in the debate are responsible for the content of their speeches, exercising their right of free speech within Parliament. Speeches have to be within the “scope” of the particular debate, i.e. relevant to the subject matter being debated, in this case the e-petition. If the Chair considers that a Member is significantly straying from the subject of debate, they will intervene to ask the Member to return to the subject. Other than in such instances (which happen rarely), there is no external intervention in the content of speeches; it is entirely up to the Member speaking what he or she says.
  3. What complaints procedure is there if a signature to the ePetition believes the committee did not correctly implement the debate, eg, the ePetition was clearly about subject A but the committee debated subject B when it was supposed to be debating subject A?
    and
  4. What complaints procedure is there if a signature to the ePetition believes the committee negligently allowed the debate to be taken away from the core subject but persons who deliberately wanted to distract the debate?
    There is no complaints procedure. The conduct of the debate is not a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. Once a debate has been allocated, it is up to the Chair in Westminster Hall to ensure that debate relates to the e-petition. Members are free to express what views they please within the scope of the debate.