Start of debate

An Opposition frontbencher speaks first, and begins by moving the motion, saying “I beg to move the motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.”

Debate and amendments

If the Government haven’t tabled an amendment to the Opposition’s motion, the Speaker proposes the question and the House proceeds to debate the motion. A minister will usually make the next speech.

If the Government have tabled an amendment to the Opposition’s motion, and the Speaker has selected it (the Speaker will tell the House whether that is so at the beginning of the debate), a minister makes the next speech, and opens by saying, “I beg to move the amendment in my name on the Order Paper”.

After the minister’s speech, the Speaker proposes the question. In most debates in which the House is considering amendments, the question would be “That the amendment be made”, but on allotted Opposition days, it is “That the original words stand part of the question”. This allows the House to discuss and vote on the Opposition’s motion as well as the Government’s amendment. Otherwise, the Government’s amendment would be decided first, and if it was agreed, that would prevent the Opposition voting on their own motion. The same rule does not automatically apply to unallotted Opposition days but may be applied by means of a Business of the House motion.

A spokesperson from the third largest party (or the official Opposition if the debate is being held by the third largest party) is likely to be called next.

Then the Speaker will call backbenchers to make their speeches. If there are a lot of them, the Speaker may impose a time limit.

End of debate

At the end of the debate, there are usually final speeches by a second frontbencher from the Opposition and a minister.

If the debate finishes before its scheduled end time, the Speaker will put the question. If the Government has tabled an amendment, there are two questions to be decided.

The first to be put is “That the original words stand part of the question”. This means that the motion the Opposition moved is put for a decision. This can be done with or without a vote.

If the question is agreed, then the House moves on to the next item on the Order Paper.

If it’s not agreed, then the second question will be put by the Speaker – this time “That the proposed words be there added”. This one asks the House to decide on the Government’s amendment to the Opposition’s original wording. Again, it can be decided with or without a vote.

If the debate is still continuing at its scheduled end time, the Speaker does not put the question, and the debate is adjourned, without a decision or a vote. To avoid this, the Opposition may, if there’s only a minute or so to go, move a closure motion – in other words, a motion that the debate ends there and then. If the Speaker accepts a closure motion, and the House agrees it, the House proceeds immediately to a decision on the Opposition’s motion and any Government amendment.