Backbench Debates - Procedure Committee Contents


Balloted Debates

One Thursday in each month from the start of the session to the end of December is set aside for two balloted debates, each limited to 2½ hours. Only bishops, backbench and Crossbench members may table motions for balloted debate. The ballot is drawn by the Clerk of the Parliaments two or three weeks before the debates are due to take place, and the successful motions are subsequently entered directly on the Order Paper for the named Thursday. Neither the Government Chief Whip nor the Usual Channels has any role in the scheduling of balloted debates, which were first introduced in the early 1970s as a vehicle for members to secure debates on "cherished projects" that might not attract party interest.

Tabling and scheduling Questions for Short Debate

Any member may table a Question for Short Debate (QSD) in House of Lords Business. The member is then referred to the office of the Government Chief Whip to "agree upon a suitable date when the question can be asked" (Companion to the Standing Orders, Para. 6.44). The office of the Government Chief Whip offers time to members for their Questions for Short Debate in the order in which they were tabled (first-come-first-served), subject to a practice—pre-dating the General Election—that members who have not yet asked a Question for Short Debate in the current session are given priority (i.e. members who are waiting for their first QSD of the session leapfrog those waiting for their second one). This practice helps to explain the length of the list of QSDs late in the session: those QSDs listed which are the second QSD tabled by a particular member in that session are unlikely to be offered time. Offers of time are also conditional on the availability of an Opposition spokesperson.

Up to four slots are usually available each week on the floor of the House: the dinner break on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and either last business or a lunch break on Thursday, dependent on the point in the session. QSDs compete with other items of non-Government business: e.g. motions against statutory instruments and (especially on Thursdays) Select Committee reports.

Questions for Short Debate are regularly tabled "out of sequence" for a variety of reasons: a member might for example turn down a slot because of an overseas trip, or because they wish to time their debate to coincide with the publication of a report; the Opposition spokesperson may not be available; or it may not be possible to table certain QSDs on certain days because they would require Front Bench spokespersons to be in two places at once (e.g. a Home Office QSD in Grand Committee when a Home Office bill is being considered in the Chamber) or not allow Front Bench spokespersons a break (e.g. a dinner-break QSD about Scotland when a Scotland Bill is being considered in Committee of the Whole House).

In conclusion, by the end of the session only a relatively small proportion of those members who have tabled QSDs are still awaiting offers of time. The majority of QSDs listed at this stage are:

·  second QSDs from an individual member;

·  QSDs tabled by a member who has been offered time, but who has turned down the time offered or has not responded; or

·  QSDs tabled shortly before a party or balloted debate on the same subject but the member has not removed the QSD.

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