Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords






Personal statements


6.01  Members may by leave of the House make a short factual statement of a personal character, such as a personal apology, a correction of information given in a speech made by them in the House or a reply to allegations made against them in the House. Personal statements are usually made at the beginning of business and are not debatable.

Ministerial statements (oral)[1]

6.02  Statements by ministers on matters of public importance may be made by leave of the House without notice.[2] Such statements are commonly synchronised in the two Houses. Annunciators in the House also show this information.


6.03  If the responsible minister is a member of the House of Commons, the statement is made first in that House and may be repeated in the House of Lords. The timing is agreed through the usual channels.[3] Where a statement of exceptional length has been made in full to the House of Commons and made available in the Printed Paper Office before it is due to be repeated in the House of Lords, the minister in the Lords may (with the agreement of the usual channels) draw the attention of the House to the statement made earlier without repeating it, and the House then proceeds immediately to the period for exchanges with the Opposition front bench or benches. In such circumstances the text of the statement is reproduced in full in the Official Report.[4]

6.04  If the responsible minister is a member of the House of Lords, the statement is usually made after questions (on Fridays, at the beginning of business).

6.05  If the House is in committee, it is resumed on the motion of a member of the government for the purpose of hearing the statement. When the statement and exchanges following it are finished, the House again resolves itself into a committee, on the motion of the Lord in charge of the bill. On days when there are two balloted debates or time-limited debates, any Commons statement repeated in the House is normally taken between the two debates. Only in exceptional circumstances are such debates interrupted for a statement.

6.06  There is no limit on the number of ministerial statements that can be made in one day, but lengthy interruption of the business of the House is not desirable. If the Lords are not sitting on a day on which a statement is made in the Commons, it is not the practice to repeat it when the Lords next sit, save in the case of an exceptionally important statement.

Discussion on a statement

6.07  Ministerial statements are made for the information of the House, and although brief questions[5] from all quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate.[6] The time for the Opposition front bench or benches and the minister's reply to them should be limited to 20 minutes;[7] ministers should not, however, cut short their replies, even if this means going beyond the 20-minute limit.[8] The period of questions and answers which then follows for backbench members should not exceed 20 minutes from the end of the minister's initial reply to the Opposition.[9] If a debate upon a statement is desired, a notice should be tabled for a later date.

6.08  As a matter of courtesy, members who wish to ask questions on an oral statement should be present to hear the whole of the statement read out.[10]

Publication in Hansard

6.09  Where a statement contains material which is too lengthy or too complicated to be given orally in the House the additional material may be published in Hansard without being given orally.[11]

Written statements

6.10  Written statements may be made when the House is sitting, by ministers or the Senior Deputy Speaker. Notice is not required. Written statements may also be published online and in editions of Hansard produced when the House is not sitting. Written statements are available online[12] as soon as they are made and are published in Hansard.[13] The digital copy of written statements is the definitive record copy.[14]

Commons Urgent Questions repeated as statements

6.11  When the answer to an Urgent Question tabled in the Commons is, by agreement between the usual channels, to be repeated in the Lords, it is repeated in the form of a statement, synchronised with the answer in the Commons. The repetition of the answer is followed by 10 minutes of question and answer, to which the rules governing PNQs apply.[15]


Questions and motions: general principles

6.12  Questions and motions are expected to be worded in accordance with the practice of the House. The Clerks are available to assist members in drafting questions and motions, and the advice tendered by the Clerks should be accepted.[16] However, there is no official who has authority to refuse a question or motion on the ground of irregularity. Members are responsible for the form in which their questions and motions appear in House of Lords Business, subject to the sense of the House which is the final arbiter.

6.13  It is open to any member of the House to call attention to a question or motion which has appeared on the day's order paper or in the future business section of House of Lords Business, and to move that leave be not given to ask the question or move the motion, or to move that it be removed from House of Lords Business. Such a motion should only be used in the last resort; it is debatable and is decided by the House.[17]


The nature of parliamentary questions

6.14  The purpose of parliamentary questions is to elicit information from the government of the day, and thus to assist members of both Houses in holding the government to account. The House has resolved that it is of "paramount importance" that ministers should give "accurate and truthful" information to Parliament, and that they be as "open as possible" in answering questions.[18] Such requirements are inherent in ministerial accountability to Parliament. A parliamentary question is not a "request for information" under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Form and scope of questions

6.15  Parliamentary questions should relate to matters of government responsibility.[19] Questions should be as short and clear as possible and are drafted so as to be precise in their requests for information. Statements of fact should be included in questions only to the extent necessary to elicit the information sought. Questions should be worded neutrally, and should not presuppose their own answer. They should not contain expressions of opinion or argument. It is not in order to italicise or underline words in the text of motions or questions in order to give them emphasis.[20]

6.16  Questions are normally addressed to "Her Majesty's Government", rather than to a particular department or minister. It is for the government to decide which department or minister should answer a particular question. There are certain exceptions, including oral questions addressed to Secretaries of State sitting in the House of Lords, which may be taken in a designated question time. Such questions are addressed to "the Secretary of State for [department]" (see paragraph 6.25). For questions addressed to the Leader of the House or the Senior Deputy Speaker see below, paragraph 6.21.

6.17  In drafting a question, thought should be given to the nature and scope of the response:

·  Oral questions are not intended to give rise to debate, and should be drafted in such a way that the minister can make their initial reply in no more than 75 words. Proceedings on each question, including supplementary questions and answers, are normally limited to a total of seven or eight minutes.

·  Questions for written answer should usually be answerable using no more than 500 words.[21] The government apply a "disproportionate cost threshold", currently set at £850,[22] to written questions, and may decline to answer questions where the cost of answering would exceed this figure.

What makes a question inadmissible?

6.18  Questions are generally regarded as inadmissible if they fall into one or more of the following categories:

·  Questions that cast reflections on the Sovereign or the Royal Family.

·  Questions that relate to matters sub judice.

·  Questions that relate to matters for which the Church of England is responsible.[23]

·  Questions that relate to matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly.

·  Questions that contain an expression or a statement of opinion, or whose purpose is to invite the government to agree to a proposition, or to express an opinion.

·  Questions that are phrased offensively. The principles of Standing Order 32 (asperity of speech) also apply.

Government responsibility

6.19  In addition, questions which are not matters for which the government are responsible are regarded as inadmissible. In judging government responsibility, members should take account of the following guidance:

·  Questions should relate to ministers' official duties, rather than their private affairs or party matters.

·  Where government functions are delegated to an executive agency, accountability to Parliament remains through ministers. When a minister answers a parliamentary question, orally or in writing, by reference to a letter from the chief executive of an agency, the minister remains accountable for the answer, which attracts parliamentary privilege, and criticism of the answer in the House should be directed at the minister, not the chief executive.

·  Questions should not ask about opposition party policies.

·  Questions should not ask the government for a legal opinion on the interpretation of statute or of international law, such matters being the competence of the courts.

·  Questions should not ask about matters which are the particular responsibility of local authorities or the Greater London Assembly.

·  Questions should not ask about the internal affairs of another country (save for questions about human rights or other matters covered by international conventions to which the United Kingdom is party).[24]

·  In general, questions should not contain accusations against individuals. The names of individuals or bodies are not introduced into questions invidiously or for the purpose of advertisement.

·  Questions should not ask the government about the accuracy of statements in the press, where these have been made by private individuals or bodies.

·  Questions should not ask about events more than 30 years ago without direct relevance to current issues.

·  The tabling of questions on public utilities, nationalised industries and privatised industries is restricted to those matters for which the government are in practice responsible.

·  Questions should not be hypothetical, and should address issues of substance. Questions which are "trivial, vague or meaningless"[25] are not tabled.

Questions relating to the business of either House

6.20  The government are not responsible for the business or decisions of either House of Parliament. Questions should not criticise the decisions of either House.

6.21  In respect of the House of Lords, questions may be addressed to certain members of the House as holders of official positions but not as members of the government. Thus the Leader of the House has been questioned on matters of procedure, and the Senior Deputy Speaker on matters falling within the duties of his office or relating to the House of Lords Commission and other domestic committees.

6.22  Questions are not tabled about the internal affairs of the House of Commons. Questions should not ask about House of Commons select committee reports to which the government have yet to publish their response. Nor do questions usually refer to evidence given before a Commons select committee.

Wording of questions

6.23  The Clerks can advise on how questions may be amended to conform to House style—for instance, the use of punctuation and abbreviations, the standard form for references to previous answers, and so on. Questions should use plain English and should generally be understandable without reference to other documents (with the exception of Hansard).

Question time

6.24  Question time in the House of Lords takes place at the start of business on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Question time may not exceed 30 minutes.[26]

6.25  In December 2009 the House agreed, on a trial basis, that Secretaries of State sitting in the House of Lords should each, on one Thursday each month, answer three oral questions addressed to them in their ministerial capacity.[27] Although no Secretaries of State sat in the House of Lords in the 2010 Parliament, the procedure itself was made permanent in November 2011, with a view to its revival as appropriate.[28] Questions to Secretaries of State take place immediately after oral questions, and last for up to 20 minutes.[29] Arrangements for selecting such questions, by ballot, are described below (paragraph 6.35). Except where indicated in the following paragraphs, the procedure for Secretary of State's questions is identical to that for normal oral questions.

Tabling oral questions

6.26  Oral questions, marked * in House of Lords Business, are asked for information only, and not with a view to stating an opinion, making a speech or raising a debate.[30] The arrangements for tabling such questions when the House is sitting are as follows:

·  oral questions may be tabled up to four weeks in advance of the date on which they are to be asked (e.g. a question to be asked on Monday 31 March may not be tabled before Monday 3 March);

·  oral questions are accepted by the Table Office from 2 p.m. on the day on which they become available;

·  no oral question may be tabled less than 24 hours before the start of the sitting at which it is due to be asked (or after 2.30 p.m. on Friday for Monday);

·  the number of oral questions is limited to four;

·  no member of the House may have more than one oral question on the order paper at any one time,[31] but topical questions and Secretary of State's questions are excluded from this rule;

·  no member of the House may table more than seven oral questions in each session;[32]

·  when oral questions become available, priority in tabling them is afforded to members in person, followed by members telephoning the Table Office in person; questions are offered to members who have contacted the Table Office via email, or whose questions have been brought in by others, from 2.15 p.m.[33]

6.27  When the House is in recess oral question slots that become available are allocated by ballot.[34] The arrangements for the ballot are as follows:

·  oral questions may be tabled up to four weeks in advance of the date on which they are to be asked;

·  oral questions are accepted by the Duty Clerk in person, by telephone, by email, or by a person authorised on a member's behalf, at any time after the previous ballot is closed (or, if applicable at the start of a recess, when the previous deadline for tabling oral questions has passed); the deadline for submissions is 1pm on the day four weeks before the question is to be asked;

·  immediately after the 1pm deadline has passed a ballot is drawn by the Duty Clerk. If more questions have been submitted than there are slots available, the ballot determines which questions are tabled and their order. If fewer questions are submitted than there are slots available, the ballot determines only the order in which they are tabled;

·  a member may submit only one question for inclusion in each oral questions ballot;

·  if the oral questions ballot falls on the same day as the separate ballot for topical questions, a member may enter a question in both ballots but the questions should be on different subjects;

·  no more than one question on a subject will be accepted for inclusion in the ballot and priority is given to the first which is received;

·  members cannot "roll over" submitted questions from one day to the next: questions must be re-submitted for each ballot;

·  in the event of the day four weeks before a sitting day being a public holiday in England, the ballot will take place on the next working day if that is a non-sitting day. If it is a sitting day then normal tabling arrangements will apply and there will be no ballot;

·  if, by the time the ballot is drawn, fewer questions have been submitted than there are slots available, the remaining slots will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis from 2pm.

Asking the question

6.28  Oral questions are asked by leave of the House. The form of words to be used in asking a question is:

    "My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing in my name on the order paper."[35]

6.29  If a member of the House is not present to ask a question, the question may be asked by another member with the permission of the member named on the order paper.[36] The form of words to use in this circumstance is:

    "On behalf of my noble friend/the noble Lord, Lord X, and with his/her permission, I beg leave to ask the question standing in his/her name on the order paper."

6.30   On such occasions, the member who is in fact to ask the question should inform the Table, who will inform the government. The unanimous leave of the House is required for one member's question to be asked by another when the authority of the member named on the order paper has not been given.[37] If the Clerk of the Parliaments knows that an oral question is not going to be asked, he informs the House before he calls the first question;[38] the full 30 minutes is available for the remaining questions.

Ministers' replies and supplementary questions

6.31  Ministers' initial answers should not generally exceed 75 words. Supplementary questions should be short and confined to not more than two points.[39] If a supplementary question exceeds these guidelines, the minister need answer only the two main points. Supplementary questions should be confined to the subject of the original question, and ministers should not answer irrelevant questions.[40] The essential purpose of supplementaries is to elicit information, and they should not incorporate statements of opinion. They should not be read. The member who tabled the question has no automatic right to ask a final supplementary question.

6.32  Members should not take up the time of the House during question time by making trivial declarations of non-financial and non-registerable interests. Questioners should not thank the government for their answers, nor ministers thank questioners for their questions.[41]

6.33  Where a minister's answer contains material that is too lengthy or too complicated to be given orally in the House, it may be published in Hansard.[42]

Topical (balloted) oral questions

6.34  The fourth space for an oral question each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday is reserved for a question which is topical. The questions are chosen by ballot.[43]

6.35  Members may enter the ballot even if they already have one oral question on the order paper; but they may not enter the ballot if they already have an oral question on the order paper for the day concerned. No member may ask more than four[44] topical oral questions in one session. The Clerks discourage members from tabling questions which are clearly not topical and indicate to members which questions have already been tabled for ballot. No more than one question on a subject may be accepted for inclusion in the ballot and priority is given to the first which is tabled.

The ballot

6.36  The timetable for the ballot for topical questions during any sitting week is:

Day question is to be asked

Ballot opens

Ballot drawn

Question appears in HL Business


Previous Wednesday, after oral questions

Friday, 1 p.m.

Monday or Tuesday morning


Previous Thursday, 3 p.m.

Monday, 1 p.m.

Tuesday morning


Previous Friday, 3 p.m.

Tuesday, 1 p.m.

Wednesday morning

All questions for the ballot should be submitted to the Table Office.

The ballot for Secretary of State's questions

6.37  When a Secretary of State is a member of the House the three questions addressed to Secretaries of State, which are asked on a Thursday, are selected by means of a ballot which takes place at 1 p.m. the preceding Monday. The ballot opens one week earlier. The timetable is thus as follows:

Day questions are to be asked

Ballot opens

Ballot drawn

Questions appear in HL Business


Monday of the preceding week, 10 a.m.

Monday of the same week, 1 p.m.

Tuesday morning

Private notice questions[45]

6.38  A private notice question (PNQ) gives members of the House the opportunity to raise urgent matters on any sitting day. A PNQ should be submitted in writing to the Lord Speaker by 12 noon on the day on which it is proposed to ask it, or by 10 a.m. on days when the House sits before 1 p.m. The decision whether the question is of sufficient urgency and importance to justify an immediate reply rests with the Lord Speaker, after consultation.[46]

6.39  PNQs are taken immediately after oral questions, or on Friday at a time agreed by the Lord Speaker, the Lord asking the question and the usual channels. They should not be made the occasion for immediate debate.[47] Proceedings on PNQs follow the rules for oral questions. In particular, supplementary questions should be short and confined to not more than two points. Proceedings on a PNQ are limited to 10 minutes. For these reasons it may at times be more convenient for the House if the PNQ procedure is not used but instead the government makes a statement on the matter which the PNQ is intended to raise. Circumstances in which statements may be more appropriate than PNQs include: when a long answer is required; when the responsible minister is a member of the House of Lords; when the House of Commons is not sitting.[48]

Questions for written answer

6.40  Members may also table "Questions for Written Answer".[49] Questions may be tabled only on sitting days and on tabling days during recesses. There is one tabling day each week when the House of Commons sits but the House of Lords does not, plus a tabling day on the first Monday in October.[50] Guidance on the wording of written questions is given at paragraphs 6.12-6.23. Answers to written questions are published online.

6.41  When a minister undertakes in the House to write to a member on a matter of general interest to the House, it is open to that member or any other member to ensure that the minister's reply is available to the House by putting down a question for written answer.[51]


6.42  Written questions, including those tabled in the summer recess, are expected to be answered within 10 working days.[52] Answers are sent to members via the electronic question and answer system.[53] When the House is in recess, answers should be sent to the member concerned within 10 working days. They are published online on the day they are answered and in a collated daily report either on the next sitting day or, during the summer recess, on the day following the second tabling day, with a reference to the date of the answer. Where appropriate, written questions may be answered on the day on which they are tabled. The following criteria are used to determine whether a written answer is admissible:[54]

·  Only substantive answers to questions are admissible. Except where due to shortage of time answers cannot be prepared in response to questions tabled within five working days of the end of a session, holding answers are not permitted.

·  Answers should not exceed 500 words, though the Editor of Debates has discretion to exceed this in exceptional cases.

·  Answers should be complete and comprehensible and should not rely on references to external documents or web pages.

·  Up to three electronic attachments may be included with an answer. In the interests of long-term accessibility, supporting documents should be included as attachments rather than by means of hyperlinks (which may break in future). Electronic attachments will be published on the parliamentary website but will not be published in Hansard (the Library will print attachments on demand).

·  Electronic attachments should be referred to in the substantive answer so that readers of hard copy know that they exist. A note indicating where readers can find the additional material will be inserted in the text of Hansard.

·  Tables will be printed only if submitted in such formats as are approved from time to time by the Editor of Debates. Tables not in approved formats may be included as one of the electronic attachments.

·  Visual material such as graphs, charts or maps may be included in an electronic attachment.

6.43  The Leader of the House advises on individual cases of difficulty.[55]

Limits on number of written questions

6.44  Members may table six written questions on any one day and a maximum of 12 written questions per sitting week.[56] The tabling of a series of different requests for information in the form of a single question is deprecated.[57]

Questions for short debate

6.45  A question for short debate is distinguishable from a motion in that there is no right of reply.[58] Such a question may be tabled for any day on which the House is sitting. Members should table such questions in the list contained in House of Lords Business, and then consult the Government Whips' Office to agree upon a suitable date when the question can be asked.[59] The date of tabling is given in House of Lords Business; if a date for debate has not been allocated within six months of tabling the question, it is removed from the list. Members are limited to one question for short debate in House of Lords Business at any one time.[60] A member may not table in House of Lords Business a question for short debate on a subject on which the member has a motion for balloted debate.[61] A ballot is conducted to determine the order in which questions for short debate tabled on the day of State Opening are entered in House of Lords Business.[62]

Timing of questions for short debate

6.46  Questions for short debate are entered last on the order paper.[63] More than one question for short debate should be put down only on a day when business appears to be light. They are taken either as last business (in which case they are subject to a time limit of 1½ hours[64]) or during the lunch or dinner break (in which case they last for a maximum of one hour[65]). Thus questions for short debate should be limited in scope.[66]

6.47  Questions for short debate may be taken in a Grand Committee with the concurrence of those concerned. Such questions are time-limited to 1 or 11/2 hours.[67] Once every six weeks when the House is in session a Grand Committee sits for five hours to consider five questions for short debate tabled by backbenchers.[68]

Topical (balloted) questions for short debate

6.48   In a normal full session on every Thursday from the beginning of the session until the end of January there is a topical question for short debate between the general debates (or after the general debate if there is only one).[69] The topical question for short debate is chosen by ballot.

6.49  Only backbench and Crossbench members may enter the ballot and a member may initiate only one topical question for short debate per session. The test of topicality is whether the subject has been covered by at least two mainstream media outlets on either of the two days that the ballot was open or over the preceding weekend.[70] The same subject may not be debated as a topical question for short debate more than once in a six-month period. No more than one question on a subject may be accepted for inclusion in the ballot and priority is given to the first which is tabled. The clerks advise members on the interpretation and application of this guidance.

6.50  The ballot is drawn at 12 noon on Tuesday for Thursday of the following week. The ballot is open from 10 a.m. on Monday until 12 noon the following day. Members should table entries anew for each ballot; undrawn questions are not automatically entered into the next ballot. If there is no entrant in a ballot, or if none of the entries is topical, the slot falls.

Guidance on the conduct of questions for short debate

6.51  Whether a question for short debate is taken as last business or in a lunch or dinner break, the questioner is guaranteed 10 minutes and the minister 12 minutes. The remaining time is divided equally between all speakers on the list; there is no guaranteed time for opposition frontbenchers. If the list of speakers is small, the maximum allocation for all speeches is 10 minutes, except for the minister, who is still guaranteed 12 minutes.

6.52  No member may speak more than once except with the leave of the House. If a member does speak more than once it should be only for the purpose of explaining a material point in his or her speech and not to introduce new subjects for debate.[71]

·  The form of words used when asking the question is: "My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing in my name on the order paper".

·  The member who asks the question has no right of reply since no motion has been moved.

·  It is not in order for members to continue the debate after the government's reply has been given, except for questions to the minister before the minister sits down.



6.53  In a normal full session every Thursday[72] from the beginning of the session until the end of January[73] is set aside for general debates. The House has agreed that it is desirable that there should be regular debates on general topics, and on select committee reports, in prime time.[74]

6.54  Motions are tabled on the order paper in the name of one member only.

·  The leave of the House is not sought when a motion is moved. The form of words used is: "I beg to move the motion standing in my name on the order paper".[75]

·  Every motion, after it has been moved, must be proposed in the form of a Question from the Woolsack before debate takes place upon it.

·  Motions, other than for the Humble Address in reply to the Queen's Speech, are not seconded.

·  At the conclusion of the debate, after every member who wishes to speak has spoken, the mover has the right to a short reply. At the end of their short speech in reply, the mover may either withdraw the motion or press it. If it is pressed, the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair then completes the Question on the motion, if necessary reading its terms.

·  It is contrary to the practice of the House for a Question once decided to be put again in the same session.

6.55  General guidance on the wording of questions and motions, and on Government responsibility, may be found above at paragraphs 6.12-6.23.

6.56  The two types of motion are

·  resolutions;

·  "take note" motions.


6.57  Resolutions may be put down in cases where a member wishes the House to come to a definite decision on a subject, if necessary on a vote. A resolution, if passed, constitutes the formal opinion or decision of the House on the matter.

6.58  Resolutions begin with the words "To move to resolve ..." or "To move that this House ...", and it is in order to incorporate statements of opinion or the demonstration of a point of view.

Motions to take note

6.59  Most debates take place on a motion "That this House takes note of ...". This formula enables the House to debate a subject without coming to any positive decision. Such motions are usually agreed to, since they are neutral in wording, and there is neither advantage nor significance in opposing them. The opinion of the House is expressed in the speeches made in the debate rather than on a division. The formula is regularly used for debates on the general debate day and for select committee reports. It is also appropriate when a minister wishes to put down a neutral motion.

6.60  "Take note" motions should be short and neutrally phrased to avoid provocative or tendentious language, although members are not prevented from advancing controversial points of view in the course of debate. A "take note" motion should not include a statement of opinion or demonstrate a point of view. "Take note" motions are not amendable.[77]

6.61  Debates on "take note" motions may be held in Grand Committee;[78] the proceedings are the same as those that take place in the Chamber.

Balloted debates

6.62  One Thursday in each month from the start of the session to the end of December[79] is set aside for two balloted debates.[80] These balloted debates are limited to 2 ½ hours each,[81] and their subjects should be narrow enough to be debated within the time limit. These debates may be initiated only by backbench and Crossbench members and a member may initiate only one balloted debate per session.

6.63  The choice of the two subjects is made by ballot, which is carried out by the Clerk of the Parliaments, two or three weeks before the debates are due to take place. A member wishing to initiate a balloted debate must give notice by tabling the motion in House of Lords Business under Motions for Balloted Debate. It is not in order to put down a motion for a balloted debate which is the same, or substantially the same, as a motion that is already entered for the ballot.[82] Members should table motions anew for each ballot; undrawn motions may not be entered into the next ballot automatically.[83] A member may not enter into the ballot a motion on a subject on which the member has a question for short debate in House of Lords Business.[84] It is assumed, unless notice to the contrary is given to the Table Office, that any member who has a motion down for the ballot is willing and able to move his or her motion on the day appointed.

6.64  The purpose of these debates is to provide a forum for discussion rather than questions which the House may decide on a division. They always take place on "take note" motions, which should be worded neutrally.

6.65  When a motion has been set down for a particular day, it may be amended in form but not in substance: that is to say, a member who has been successful in the ballot may not substitute another subject for that originally proposed.

Time-limited debates[85]

6.66  The House may limit debates, either in the House itself or in Grand Committee, to a specific number of hours. A business of the House motion in the name of the Leader of the House (of which notice is required) must be moved before the start of the debate if a time limit is to be applied. Within the overall limit, the amount of time allotted to particular speakers is calculated in advance and stated on the speakers' list.

6.67  Speaking time is allocated equally between all the speakers on the speakers' list, subject to a guaranteed minimum number of minutes being given to the mover of the debate, the official opposition frontbencher or frontbenchers and the minister replying. The table below shows these guaranteed minimum allocations of time for debates of various lengths, in minutes.



4 hrs or over

2 hrs or over

Less than 2 hrs





Opposition frontbencher(s)




Minister replying




6.68  For speaking time in questions for short debate, see paragraph 6.50.

6.69  If the number of speakers on the speakers' list is small, every speaker enjoys an equal speaking time (up to the recommended maximum of 15 minutes for any speech), except for the minister in reply who has at least the guaranteed minimum time set out in the table.

6.70  At the appropriate time, whoever is speaking is expected to give way to the front benches.

6.71  The digital clocks in the Chamber show the number of minutes that have already elapsed since the start of each speech.

6.72  Speakers in time-limited debates should respect the time guidelines and keep their speeches short, so that all those who wish to speak may do so. Members may also speak briefly in the gap (for a maximum of 4 minutes) if time allows, subject to the guidance set out in paragraph 4.27). During time-limited debates, speeches should be interrupted only if time allows.

6.73  If time-limited debates are interrupted by other business, for example by a statement or in Grand Committee by a division in the House, the time limit is extended correspondingly and an appropriate announcement made to the House or Grand Committee.

6.74  If the debate on a motion is still continuing at the end of the time allotted to it, the Clerk at the Table rises, and the Lord on the Woolsack brings the debate to an end by either putting the Question forthwith or asking whether the mover of the motion wishes to withdraw it.[86]

Amendments to motions

6.75  A motion for debate, other than a "take note" motion, may be amended with or without notice.

6.76  In principle the discussion of an amendment to a motion is a separate debate, which must be concluded before the House returns to the original motion (or the original motion as amended). However, in practice, once a motion and an amendment to it have been moved, the rest of the debate takes place on that amendment, and the members in whose names the motion and any subsequent amendments stand speak in this debate to indicate the reasons why they prefer their own form of words. When the first amendment has been disposed of, any remaining amendments and the original motion (as amended) are usually put and decided without further debate.

6.77  The following principles apply to a debate during which amendments, and possibly amendments to amendments, are proposed to a motion:

·  a motion, an amendment to the motion, and any amendment to the amendment, must each be moved and proposed in the form of a Question from the Woolsack before they can be further debated;

·  a member of the House who moves a motion, an amendment to it or any amendment to the amendment, may speak for that purpose and has a right of reply on his or her motion or amendment;

·  a member whose motion is sought to be amended by one or more proposed amendments may make separate speeches dealing with each amendment,;

·  a member who has neither moved the original motion nor any amendment to it may speak once on the motion and once on any amendment or on any amendment to that amendment;

·  a member who moves an amendment should not speak separately on the original motion, but has a right of reply on his or her amendment.

6.78  At the end of the debate on an amendment to a motion, the Lord on the Woolsack states the terms of the original motion and of the amendment and then puts the Question "that this amendment be agreed to".

6.79  If there is an equality of votes in a division on such an amendment, the amendment is disagreed to.

6.80  If there is more than one amendment to a motion, the amendments are dealt with in the order in which they relate to the motion, or, if they relate to the same place in the motion, in the order in which they were tabled.

6.81  If amendments are moved to an amendment, such amendments are dealt with in the order in which they stand on the order paper, in the same manner as if they were amendments to a motion, until all are disposed of. Then the original amendment is dealt with.

6.82  If any amendment is agreed to, at the end of the debate the Lord on the Woolsack puts the Question:

    "That the original motion, as amended, be agreed to".

Committees on motions

6.83  On rare occasions when the House considers that the structure of debate set out above is too restrictive, it can go into committee on a motion, so that the limit on the number of times a member may speak is removed. The motion to do so may be moved without notice.

Adjournment of debates lasting more than one day

6.84  A motion for the adjournment of a debate may be moved at any time during the debate without notice and may be debated. When it has been arranged in advance for a debate to be adjourned (for example, the debate on the Queen's Speech), it is usual for its adjournment to be moved at the end of the sitting. The adjourned business may be taken later the same day, or taken as first business on another day.[87]

Withdrawal of motions and amendments

6.85  If, at the conclusion of the debate, the mover decides not to seek the opinion of the House, he or she asks leave to withdraw the motion or amendment. A motion or amendment may be withdrawn only by unanimous leave of the House, though it is rare for any objection to be made.

6.86  The member in whose name the motion stands should conclude the debate by saying:

    "I beg leave to withdraw the motion [or amendment]"

6.87  No formal motion for withdrawal is made and no formal Question is put. The Lord on the Woolsack asks the House:

    "Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the motion [or amendment] be withdrawn?"

6.88  A single dissenting voice is sufficient to prevent withdrawal.[88] If there is none, the Lord on the Woolsack adds:

    "The motion/amendment is, by leave, withdrawn."

6.89  If any member dissents, the Lord on the Woolsack must put the Question on the motion or amendment.




[1] Procedure 2nd Rpt 1984-85.

[2] SO 35.

[3] When considering whether to require repetition of a statement made in the Commons on a Wednesday, the usual channels bear in mind the extra pressure on business created by the late start, and consider the additional options of (i) a private notice question on the subject of the statement and (ii) taking the statement the next day (Procedure 2nd Rpt 2005-06).

[4] Procedure 8th Rpt 2010-12. See HL Deb. 3 December 2014, cols 1322-34.

[5] Procedure 8th Rpt 2010-12.

[6] SO 35; often restated by the Procedure Committee, most recently in 1st Rpt 2002-03.

[7] Procedure 1st Rpt 1998-99.

[8] Procedure 1st Rpt 2000-01.

[9] Procedure 1st Rpt 1989-90; 1st Rpt 1994-95. On 26 January 2004, additional time was allowed for an intervention by the Lord Chief Justice (HL Deb. col. 12). On 10 June 2009, the Convenor of the Crossbench peers was permitted to intervene during the time for the front benches, and the time allowed for backbenchers was extended to 40 minutes (HL Deb. col. 638). The same happened on 17 May 2011 (HL Deb. col. 1261).

[10] Procedure 3rd Rpt 2010-12.

[11] Procedure 4th Rpt 1963-64; 3rd Rpt 1984-85; 1st Rpt 1987-88.

[13] Procedure 1st Rpt 2003-04.

[14] Procedure 5th Rpt 2013-14

[15] Procedure 2nd Rpt 2012-13; 5th Rpt 2012-13.

[16] Procedure 1st Rpt 1985-86.

[17] LJ (1982-83) 108.

[18] LJ (1996-97) 404.

[19] The only exception to this rule is questions relating to the procedure or administration of the House itself.

[20] Procedure 1st Rpt 1985-86; 9th Rpt 1970-71.

[21] Procedure 5th Rpt, 2013-14

[22] HL Deb., 8 February 2012, col. WS21-22.

[23] Procedure 2nd Rpt 1988-89.

[24] See also Erskine May, p. 361.

[25] Erskine May, p. 365.

[26] Procedure 1st Rpt 1990-91.

[27] Procedure 1st Rpt 2009-10.

[28] Procedure 8th Rpt 2010-12.

[29] LJ (2010-12) 1688.

[30] SO 34.

[31] Procedure 1st Rpt 1998-99.

[32] Procedure 5th Rpt 2012-13; 2nd Rpt 2015-16.

[33] Procedure Committee minutes, 14 February 2011.

[34] Procedure 1st Rpt, 2015-16.

[35] Procedure 1st Rpt 1967-68.

[36] Procedure 2nd Rpt 1984-85.

[37] SO 42(2).

[38] Procedure 1st Rpt 1999-2000.

[39] Procedure 1st Rpt 1984-85; 1st Rpt 1987-88.

[40] Restated in Procedure 1st Rpt 2002-03.

[41] Procedure 6th Rpt 2010-12.

[42] Procedure 4th Rpt 1963-64.

[43] Procedure 5th Rpt 2001-02; 3rd Rpt 2003-04.

[44] Procedure 5th Rpt 2001-02; 3rd Rpt 2003-04. The limit was increased to five for the long 2010-12 session (Procedure 3rd Rpt 2010-12).

[45] SO 35; Procedure 1st Rpt 1959-60; 5th Rpt 1971-72.

[46] Procedure 3rd Rpt 2005-06; 2nd Rpt 2009-10.

[47] SO 35.

[48] Procedure 2nd Rpt 1990-91.

[49] SO 44; Procedure 1st Rpt 1990-91.

[50] Procedure 1st Rpt 2013-14. The Leader of the House has discretion to vary the standard pattern of dates, by agreement with the usual channels, in case of exceptional recess dates.

[51] Procedure 7th Rpt 1971-72.

[52] Procedure 3rd Rpt 2009-10.

[53] Procedure 5th Rpt 2013-14. The Leader of the House has asked Lords ministers to send members signed paper copies of answers in addition to using the electronic system.

[54] Procedure 5th Rpt 2013-14.

[55] Procedure Committee minutes, 4 April 2000.

[56] Procedure 2nd Rpt 1988-89; 3rd Rpt 2006-07; 11th Rpt 2010-12.

[57] Procedure 1st Rpt 1977-78.

[58] SO 36.

[59] Procedure 6th Rpt 2005-06.

[60] Procedure 8th Rpt 2010-12. This limit applies to questions for short debate tabled by members in an individual capacity; it does not apply to questions for short debate on select committee reports, nor to topical questions for short debate (Procedure 3rd Rpt 2014-15).

[61] Procedure 2nd Rpt 2013-14.

[62] Procedure 10th Rpt 2010-12.

[63] SO 40(9). There is an exception for balloted topical questions for short debate on Thursdays, which are entered after the first motion for general debate.

[64] Procedure 1st Rpt 1994-95.

[65] Procedure 3rd Rpt 1993-94.

[66] Procedure 8th Rpt 2010-12.

[67] Resolution of the House 31 January 2005; Procedure 5th Rpt 2006-07.

[68] Procedure 1st Rpt 2013-14. A question for short debate relating to a report of an investigative select committee is eligible for debate during such an extended Grand Committee sitting: Procedure 3rd Rpt 2013-14.

[69] Procedure 2nd Rpt 2013-14.

[70] A question relating to a report of an investigative select committee is eligible for entry into the ballot as a topical question for short debate (subject to the same criteria as other entrants, including in respect of topicality): Procedure 3rd Rpt 2013-14.

[71] SO 30(2).

[72] Procedure 6th Rpt 2005-06.

[73] Procedure 3rd Rpt 2010-12.

[74] Procedure 5th Rpt 2001-02.

[75] If a member of the House is absent when a motion standing in theirname is called and has authorised another member to act on theirbehalf, that member may do so, explaining the situation. Otherwise, the motion cannot be proceeded with on that day unless unanimous leave is granted by the House. See paragraph 3.38.

[76] Procedure 1st Rpt 1985-86.

[77] LJ (2010-12) 1688.

[78] Procedure 9th Rpt 2010-12.

[79] Procedure 6th Rpt 2010-12.

[80] Procedure 1st Rpt 1974. They were formerly called "short debates".

[81] If one balloted debate has at least twice as many speakers as the other balloted debate when the speakers' lists close on Wednesday evening, the usual channels may agree to time-limit the debate with fewer speakers to two hours and the debate with more speakers to three hours. This is effected by a Business of the House motion moved by the Leader on the morning of the debates (Procedure 2nd Rpt 2013-14).

[82] Procedure 5th Rpt 1974-75.

[83] Procedure 2nd Rpt 2013-14.

[84] Procedure 2nd Rpt 2013-14.

[85] Procedure 2nd Rpt 1983-84; 2nd Rpt 1990-91; 3rd Rpt 1992-93.

[86] SO 37(1).

[87] SO 45.

[88] SO 31.

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