Precedence in speaking
21.8When two or more Members rise to speak, the Speaker has complete discretion over whom to call,1 though backbench Members will generally be called alternately from either side of the House (or, when the subject of debate is not a matter of party politics, from those adjudged to be supporters or opponents of the question). The occupant of the Chair, whether in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall, does not announce in advance the order in which Members will be called.
Members of the frontbenches are normally given precedence over those on the backbenches.2 Following the agreement of the House to a recommendation of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons,3 the Speaker is now under no obligation to give precedence to Privy Counsellors in debate. In practice, the Chair will often accord some priority to such Members or to Members with other relevant positions or experience including, for example, the Chair of a relevant select committee.
It is often the practice for Members who wish to speak in a particular debate to submit their names in advance to the Speaker. This practice, while not fettering the discretion of the Chair, affords to Members who avail themselves of it a better opportunity of ‘catching the Speaker's eye’, and to the Speaker a means of distributing the available time as equitably as possible between the various sections of opinion4 and assists the Chair in deciding whether to impose a time limit on speeches (see para 21.14 ).
The Deputy Speaker has reminded Members that the Chair is not obliged to call Members who have not been in their place for much of the debate.5 For a statement or an urgent question, the Speaker will only call Members present at the start.
- 1. HC Deb (1976–77) 928, cc 1463–64; ibid (1980–81) 7, c 167; ibid (12 February 2014) 575, c 961.
- 2. HC Deb (1967–68) 770, c 1245; the Speaker has indicated that while the Chair retains formal discretion as to which frontbencher to call, it is in practice best decided by the parties themselves, see ibid (11 July 2017) 627, cc 181, 183.
- 3. Fourth Report, HC 600 (1997–98) para 28; CJ (1997–98) 596.
- 4. See Speaker's remarks, HC Deb (1935–36) 307, c 301; ibid (1980–81) 7, c 168. This also applies to the longer debates in Westminster Hall, ibid (15 September 2010) 515, c 257WH; ibid (7 March 2013) 559, c 334WH.
- 5. HC Deb (21 July 2010) 514, c 456; Rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House, November 2018, para 5.