Private sittings are extremely rare—the most recent being an accidental instance in 2001. There is a reasonable expectation that the House conducts its business in public without very good reason not to.
Unsuccessful motions to sit in private are, however, relatively common, particularly on Fridays, due to their effect on business. If fewer than 40 MPs (including the Chair and four tellers) participate in a vote, any debate interrupted by this vote ends. A motion to sit in private can therefore be used on Fridays, when the House tends to be quieter, to try to stop a Private Member’s Bill progressing. Because a motion to sit in private can only be moved once during a sitting, MPs who support the Private Member’s Bill sometimes move the motion to sit in private at the beginning of the day on a Friday to prevent someone else from moving it later.
You can move a motion to sit in private at any time, provided nobody has already done so that day. You can interrupt another MP to do so. You stand and say, “I beg to move that the House do now sit in private.” The Speaker then asks the House to decide whether to sit in private.
A motion to sit in private, if agreed, means that:
- members of the public have to leave the galleries and
- all broadcasts end
You can move a motion to sit in private in a general committee, such as a public bill committee. The procedure is the same as for the Chamber.
You can’t move a motion to sit in private in Westminster Hall.