Any MP can apply to the Speaker for an emergency debate in the Chamber. They are sometimes called Standing Order No. 24 debates—after the rule that sets this out. Emergency debates are held on a neutrally phrased general motion, which usually starts, “That this House has considered the matter of”.
The process involves two stages. First, you apply to the Speaker to ask for the opportunity to make a speech of up to three minutes in the Chamber, setting out your reasons why the debate should be held. If the Speaker grants you this opportunity, you make the speech the same day. After your speech, the Speaker decides whether to ask the House to grant the emergency debate. If the Speaker decides to put your application to the House and the House agrees it, the debate can happen immediately, but usually takes place the next day the House is meeting.
The matter to be debated must be:
- urgent: requiring a rapid response from Government and debate in the House, and with no prospect of it being brought before the House in time by other means
- important: of evident national importance, or of dramatic regional or local importance, such as a major plant or facility closure or natural disaster
- specific: allowing for a focused debate on a closely-defined matter rather than one covering a number of disparate concerns.
The Speaker also takes into account the extent to which the matter engages or potentially engages ministerial responsibility.
Emergency debates can be up to three hours long.