Both Houses hold debates in which Members discuss government policy, proposed new laws and current issues. Debates are designed to assist MPs and Lords to reach an informed decision on a subject. Votes are often held to conclude a debate, which may involve then passing or rejecting a proposed new law (legislation) or simply registering their opinion on a subject. All debates are recorded in a publication called Hansard — available online or in print.
Debates — general
A similar system for debates applies across the Commons and Lords. Subjects are introduced as a proposal, or motion, by Members, then debated according to strict sets of rules.
Why does Parliament have debates?
Debates are an opportunity for MPs and Lords to discuss government policy, proposed new laws and current issues. It allows MPs to voice the concerns and interests of their constituents, and Members of the House of Lords can speak about issues brought to their attention by the public.
Debates are designed to assist MPs and Lords to reach an informed decision on a subject. This decision is then often expressed in a vote (called a 'division'), for or against.
Debates in the Commons
Commons debates are often lively, with MPs intervening on each other's speeches to support or challenge what they are saying. It is a dynamic style of discussion, in which MPs generally respond to the points made by other speakers rather than reading out formal, set-piece speeches.
However, rules still govern debates. MPs have a right to be heard without overwhelming background noise, and unparliamentary language is not allowed.
Debates in the Lords
The main role of the House of Lords is to debate and revise major legislation, but Lords also take part in general debates and discuss subjects of topical interest — like a new report, or a matter of public concern.
The Lords regulate themselves and the order of business in the House. Therefore, there can be greater flexibility amongst its Members to examine an issue longer than is typical in the Commons.