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How Members can suggest a debate

31 January 2012

This page includes information on how MPs can suggest a subject for a debate, the criteria which the Committee looks at in choosing a debate and the types of debate which the Committee can schedule.

How to suggest a subject for debate

The Backbench Business Committee is always pleased to hear suggestions from backbenchers for subjects to be debated.

The Committee will meet to hear representations from Members at 2.30pm on sitting Tuesdays.

Application form

The Committee has an application form for Members to suggest a debate, which should also be used for those intending to make representations in person. The form can be downloaded here

Members who are Ministers of the Crown, parliamentary private secretaries of principal opposition front-bench spokespersons are not able to make representations to the Committee.

Any Lead Member applying for a debate and wishing to declare a relevant interest should place an 'R' after their name and enter details of that interest into the box for further information below.

Members wishing to propose a subject for debate should email their application form to the Committee at 
Transcripts and webcasts of previous sessions are available here.

Points to consider when making a representation for a debate

The Backbench Business Committee can consider any subject for debate, but an MP must make the case for their consideration.

E-Petitions are now principally the responsibility of the new Petitions Committee which will recommend petitions for debate in Westminster Hall on a Monday.

The Backbench Business Committee will take into account the following criteria when deciding a subject for debate:

  • Topicality
  • Importance of the subject
  • Breadth of interest: how many other Members support the proposal, and are they likely to take part in debate? Is there cross-party interest in this debate?
  • Is there support from Select Committees, campaign groups, constituents and others?
  • Is the subject unlikely to secure debate by other means (for example, by a debate in Government or Opposition time)?
  • Whether, for a debate in the Chamber, a substantive motion has been proposed.

Members making an application should also consider:

  • What form the debate should take; is a general debate proposed or is a debate on a substantive motion being called for? Would the proposed debate take place in Westminster Hall or the Chamber?
  • How much time should be provided for the debate (e.g. 90 minutes, 3 hours, a full day)?

It is helpful if Members suggesting a subject for debate briefly address these points in their proposal.

The Government decides which days of the week will be given to the Backbench Business Committee for its debates and the amount of time available varies each month. Backbench days are allocated to the Committee by the Government's business managers usually about two weeks in advance.  Backbench time is almost always oversubscribed and more time tends to be available in Westminster Hall than in the main Chamber.

The types of debate the Committee can schedule

The Committee has the power to schedule debates in the backbench time allocated by Government.

The Backbench Business Committee has the authority to schedule the following debates in back-bench time:

  • General debates or debates on a substantive motion in the main Chamber. These can be 90 minutes, 3 hours or full day debates. 
  • General debates in Westminster Hall. These can be 90 minutes, allocated either for a Tuesday or a Thursday; or for 3 hours allocated for a Thursday.
  • Select Committee Report launches. This motion enables the Chair of a select committee to present a report within five sitting days of its publication. The Chair will speak for up to 10 minutes and then take questions from Members on issues relating to the report for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Other avenues for debate

The amount of time available for allocation by the Backbench Business Committee is limited. Some subjects may be more suited to other avenues available to Members to raise issues, including Early Day Motions, public petitions, select committee reports, Business Questions, Ministerial statements, Parliamentary Questions, individual adjournment debates and campaigns by outside organisations.

Decisions of the Committee

The Committee's decisions and minutes of Committee meetings all appear on its website.

About the Committee

The Backbench Business Committee was the first business committee of any kind to be established in the Commons. The Committee's Chair and members were elected directly by the House in June and July 2015. The Committee's remit is set out in Standing Order No. 152J.

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