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



5.42  In a normal full session every Thursday[212] from the beginning of the session until the end of June 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.[213]

5.43  Motions are tabled on the order paper in the name of one member only. It is not the practice to add names of other members in support of a motion.

  • The leave of the House is not sought when a motion is moved. The motion is moved as follows: "I beg to move the motion standing in my name on the order paper".
  • 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, the mover has the right of reply. The Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair then completes the Question on the motion, if necessary reading its terms. He does not complete the Question until every member of the House who wishes to speak has spoken. The mover of a motion always has the right of reply at the end of the debate. At the end of his speech in reply, the mover may either withdraw the motion or press it.
  • It is contrary to the practice of the House for a Question once decided to be put again in the same session.

5.44  General guidance on the wording of motions may be found below at paragraph 5.11.

5.45  The three types of motion are

  • motions for papers;
  • resolutions;
  • "take-note" motions.

Motions for papers[214]

5.46  The words "; and to move for papers" are added to a subject for debate so that the mover of the motion has the right to reply to the debate. It is recognised that at the end of the debate such a motion should normally be withdrawn, since it is treated as a neutral motion and there is neither advantage nor significance in pressing it. The opinion of the House is expressed in the speeches made in the debate rather than on a division.

5.47  The wording of these 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 motion for papers should not include a statement of opinion or demonstrate a point of view. By custom, no amendments are tabled to such motions.


5.48  Resolutions may be put down in cases where a member wishes the House to make 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.

5.49  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

5.50  Debate may also take place on a motion "That this House takes note of …". This formula enables the House to debate a situation or a document without coming to any positive decision. The formula is regularly used for select committee reports. It is also appropriate when a minister wishes to put down a neutral motion. Such motions are usually agreed to. Guidance about the wording of motions for papers applies to take-note motions.

Balloted debates

5.51  One Thursday[216] in each month up to the Whitsun recess is set aside for two balloted debates.[217] These balloted debates are limited to 2½ hours each, so that speeches are normally time-limited. They are intended for discussion rather than decision, 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. Balloted debates always take place on motions for papers.

5.52  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 his motion in House of Lords Business under Motions for Balloted Debate. For further rules, see Appendix C.

Time-limited debates[218]

5.53  The House may limit debates 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.

5.54  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 two official opposition spokesmen and the minister replying. The table below shows these guaranteed minimum allocations of time for debates of various lengths.

4-6 hrs
2-3½ hrs
1½ hrs
Opposition spokesmen
Minister replying

5.55  For speaking time in Questions for Short Debate, see paragraph 5.40.

5.56  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.

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

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


5.59  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, but must have regard to the time constraints on the debate. During time-limited debates, speeches should be interrupted only if time allows.

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


5.61  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 asking whether the mover of the motion wishes to withdraw it, or by putting the Question.

Amendments to motions

5.62  Any motion for debate may be amended with or without notice.

5.63  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, the remaining amendments and the original motion (as amended) are usually put and decided without further debate.

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

5.65  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".

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

5.67  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.

5.68  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.

5.69  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

5.70  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. The committee reports to the House and the Report is received.[219] Thereafter the motion is disposed of in the usual way.

Adjournment of debates lasting more than one day

5.71  A motion for the adjournment of a debate may be moved at any time during the debate without notice and may be debated. But 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 formally by the member who will speak first when the debate is resumed. The House may make an order, without notice, for adjourned business to be taken later the same day, or taken as first business on another day.[220]

Withdrawal of motions

5.72  The practice of asking leave for the motion to be withdrawn at the conclusion of a debate is normally adopted in cases where all that has been sought is to raise a subject in debate. A motion or an amendment to a motion that has been moved can only be withdrawn by the unanimous leave of the House, but it is rare for any objection to be made to withdrawal.

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

5.74  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 be withdrawn?"

5.75  A single dissenting voice is sufficient to prevent withdrawal.[221] If there is none, the Lord on the Woolsack adds:

    "The motion is, by leave, withdrawn."

5.76  If any member dissents, the Lord on the Woolsack must put the Question on the motion.

5.77  When a member begs leave to withdraw a motion, other members are not precluded from rising to speak; and if they continue the debate the mover may again beg leave to withdraw the motion at a later stage. If, however, the Lord on the Woolsack has asked the House whether leave to withdraw be granted, and any member has objected, the mover cannot again seek leave to withdraw his motion, which must be decided on Question.

212   Procedure 6th Rpt 2005-06. Back

213   Procedure 5th Rpt 2001-02. Back

214   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1966-67. Back

215   Procedure 1st Rpt 1985-86. Back

216   Procedure 6th Rpt 2005-06. Back

217   Procedure 1st Rpt 1974-75. Back

218   Procedure 2nd Rpt 1983-84; 2nd Rpt 1990-91; 3rd Rpt 1992-93. Back

219   SO 63; HL Deb. 24 July 2002, cols 371-2. Back

220   SO 46. Back

221   SO 32. Back

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