Skip to main content

What happens in a Westminster Hall debate

The Chair calls the MP whose debate it is to make an opening speech. If it’s your debate, at the start of your speech, you must move the motion by saying, “I beg to move that the House has considered [subject of debate]”.

In a 30-minute debate, the minister will reply straight after your speech, unless a backbencher has got permission from you and the minister to give a speech after you. Opposition frontbenchers can’t take part in these debates.

In 60 and 90-minute debates, the Chair will then call MPs in the following order:

  • the MP whose debate it is to make an opening speech
  • backbenchers
  • frontbencher from the third largest party to sum up
  • frontbencher from the official Opposition to sum up
  • the minister to respond
  • the MP whose debate it is to sum up (if there’s time)

If lots of MPs want to speak, the Chair may put a time limit on speeches once the opening speech is over. Time limits don’t apply to the Opposition frontbenchers or the minister. But there is a convention that, in 60-minute debates, the two largest Opposition parties will have five minutes each, and the minister 10 minutes, and in 90-minute debates, the two largest Opposition parties and the minister each get 10 minutes.

If there’s a vote in the main Chamber during a Westminster Hall debate, the time taken up is added on to the end of the debate. Any debate that follows immediately after it will start and finish later too.

If the debate finishes before its scheduled end time, the Chair puts the question and asks MPs to decide on the motion. The motion is almost always agreed. There can’t be a vote in Westminster Hall, so if MPs shout “No” when the Chair puts the question, the Chair reports the fact to the House and the question is undecided. It’s possible for the question subsequently to be put to the House for decision without further debate (in the past the Backbench Business Committee has found time for this), but it doesn’t automatically follow that this will happen.

If an MP is still speaking when the time for the debate runs out, the motion lapses, and the Chair adjourns the debate without asking MPs to make a decision on the motion.

If you have a 30-minute debate, and the previous debate ends early, your debate can start early, as long as the minister is present. It can carry on until the time it was expected to end.

Contact an expert

Procedural Hub