Backbench Business debates

A Visual Explainer


What are Backbench Business debates?

Backbench Business debates give backbench MPs an opportunity to have a debate on a topic of their choice.

MPs can request time for a debate from the Backbench Business Committee, which decides the debates to schedule.

These debates do not often involve a vote on a particular action or decision.  

Instead, they are a way to:  

  • raise awareness of an issue, often as part of a wider campaign 
  • seek to influence government policy
  • put the views of backbench MPs, opposition parties, and the government on record.

The setting

Backbench Business debates happen in the House of Commons Chamber or in Westminster Hall.

This explainer focuses on debates which take place in the House of Commons Chamber.

Chairing the debate

Backbench Business debates are chaired by the Speaker or one of the Deputy Speakers. Their role is to:

  • ensure debates keep to the time allocated
  • call on MPs to speak
  • make sure MPs follow the rules of debate.

Opening the debate

The MP who requested the debate makes the first speech.  

They will generally:

  • outline their views on the issue
  • present examples
  • in some cases, call on the government to take action. 

Backbench speeches

After the opening speech, other backbench MPs take turns to speak in the debate. 

The main opposition parties

The main opposition parties then have a chance to respond.

An MP from the third largest party generally goes first, and is followed by an MP from the official Opposition

They outline their party's position on the issue.  

The government's response

The Minister then responds to the debate on behalf of the government. 

The Minister will generally:

  • respond to concerns raised by MPs
  • explain the government's position and policies
  • share relevant plans or ambitions for the future.

Closing the debate

If there is enough time, the MP who opened the debate can make final comments.  The debate is then concluded.

Engaging with debates

  • You can contact your MP and ask them to attend a debate. Or you can ask them to request their own debate on an issue you feel is important.  
  • You can watch debates online or attend in person. Find out what's on by looking at the Parliamentary calendar
  • For some debates, you may be asked to share your insights and experiences. This can help inform the MPs taking part in the debate. See the Chamber Engagement website for details. 

Lisa, Ian and Charlotte helped inform previous debates on topics including the menopause and pensions advice:

Find out more about how the Backbench Business Committee works.

Photo credit: UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor