Public business: Opposition time

18.13Standing Order No 14 provides that on 20 days1 in each session proceedings on business chosen by the opposition parties shall have precedence over government business.2

Seventeen of the days so allocated are at the disposal of the Leader of the Opposition, and three at the disposal of the leader of the second largest opposition party.3 This is defined in the standing order as the party of those Members not represented in the Government which has the second largest number of Members elected to the House as members of that party.4

The standing order provides that not more than two of the days at the disposal of the Leader of the Opposition, and not more than one of the three remaining days, may be taken in the form of half-days on any day other than a Friday.5 When a half-day of opposition business is set down for consideration under the provisions of Standing Order No 14(2)(c)(ii), the business then under consideration at that hour stands postponed.6

Frequently, two separate subjects are debated on an opposition day, with the day being informally divided at a point about half-way between the start of public business and the moment of interruption.7

On occasion, the Opposition have chosen to move to annul a Statutory Instrument which may then be debated for one-and-a-half hours pursuant to Standing Order No 16 or be voted upon without debate if it had been debated in Delegated Legislation Committee.8 Opposition days have been used to debate Addresses calling for the production of papers.9

It has been the practice in some recent sessions for the leader of the second largest opposition party to put a portion of the three days at their disposal informally at the disposal of other opposition parties.

On occasion, for example because of an extended session, the Government has provided a day or part of a day for a debate on a motion in the name of the leader of an opposition party without its being one of the allotted days. A business order has been made applying the procedure under Standing Order No 31(2) for amendments on opposition days to these motions.10


  1. 1. It also provides that two Friday sittings should be deemed the equivalent of a single day for the purposes of this calculation. However, under the terms of Standing Order No 12 (House not to sit on certain Fridays), the House does not normally sit on Fridays except on those days when Private Members' Bills have precedence (see also fn 5 below).
  2. 2. HC Deb (1981–82) 28, cc 125–26 for statements on the timing of opposition days. This practice dates from the decision of the House of 19 July 1982 to replace the long-established practice whereby the Opposition chose subjects for debate on ‘Supply Days’. Descriptions of the former procedure can be found in Erskine May (19th edn, 1976), pp 285, 286 and 728–33 and Erskine May (20th edn, 1983), p 295.
  3. 3. The allocation of the three days to the second largest opposition party was pursuant to a decision of the House of 23 May 1985, CJ (1984–85) 460.
  4. 4. In Session 1987–88, following the dissolution of the Liberal Party and the formation of the Social and Liberal Democrats, for the purposes of the standing order the disposal of these three days fell to the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
  5. 5. The provision of the facility for taking half-days has its origin in the decision of the House, arising from a report of the Select Committee on Procedure, to make such a facility available to the Opposition to raise urgent matters at short notice, see HC Deb (1967–68) 754, c 259 and CJ (1967–68) 22, and also HC Deb (1971–72) 829, c 994 and ibid (1984–85) 68, c 406.
  6. 6. HC Deb (1999–2000) 345, cc 475, 527. On that occasion a business order was necessary for the House to resume debate after the moment of interruption on the postponed business.
  7. 7. For an occasion when the order in which two such subjects was changed from that on the Order Paper, see HC Deb (1995–96) 281, c 929. For an occasion when the second debate was not moved due to lack of time, see ibid (1 July 2015) 597, c 1521.
  8. 8. HC Deb (15 November 2005) 439, c 898; ibid (26 February 2014) 576, cc 286–312.
  9. 9. For example, HC Deb (1 November 2017) 630, c 878; ibid (5 December 2017) 632, cc 930–1003; ibid (31 January 2018) 635, cc 827–77; ibid (13 November 2018) 649, c 189 ff.
  10. 10. CJ (1997–98) 773, 790; ibid (2001–02) 363, 757; ibid (2008–09) 400, 649; such motions were especially common during the 2010–12 Parliament due to the length of the session, for example CJ (2010–12) 884.