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Since 1999 the House of Commons has held debates in a parallel debating chamber, known as “Westminster Hall”.

This chamber is used for debates on issues raised by backbench Members, for debates on select committee reports, for debates on subjects selected by the Backbench Business Committee and for debates on e-petitions.

It was briefly used as a forum to enable Members to ask questions for oral answer from Ministers in several departments on subjects with cross-cutting responsibilities.

The establishment of a second debating chamber was first proposed by the Modernisation Committee in their report on the Parliamentary Calendar in 1998. The proposals drew on the example of the “Main Committee”, a similar chamber established in the Australian House of Representatives in 1994.

Although the introduction of Westminster Hall was met with some opposition and scepticism when it was first proposed, it is today an established feature of the House’s arrangements for holding Ministers to account.

Pattern of sittings in Westminster Hall

From the beginning of the 2015 Parliament, the usual pattern of sittings in Westminster Hall has been:

  • Mondays 4.30-7.30pm – debates on petitions and e-petitions, determined by the Petitions Committee
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9.30-11.30am & 2.30-5.30pm – ½-hour, one-hour and 1½-hour debates initiated by backbench MPs
  • Thursdays 1.30-4.30pm – 1½-hour or three-hour debates determined by the Liaison Committee (on select committee reports) or the Backbench Business Committee

Sittings in Westminster Hall during the pandemic timeline

20 March 2020    
Sittings in Westminster Hall suspended from this date (decision 19 March 2020)

5 October 2020
Sittings in Westminster Hall resumed. MPs had to be physically present to participate (decision 23 September 2020)

14 January 2021 
Sittings in Westminster Hall suspended from this date (decision 13 January 2021)

8 March 2021        
Sittings in Westminster Hall resumed. Until 30 March, sittings would be held in a committee room to facilitate virtual participation (decision 25 February 2021).

  • Arrangements for virtual participation in Westminster Hall, extended until 21 June 2021 (decision 25 March 2021).
  • Arrangements for virtual participation in Westminster Hall, extended until 22 July 2021 (decision 16 June 2021).

On 6 September 2021, when the House returned from the Summer Recess, all provisions for virtual participation had lapsed. Sittings in Westminster Hall restarted in the Grand Committee Room (off Westminster Hall) and MPs had to to be present to participate in proceedings.

Whilst sittings in Westminster Hall were suspended, the Petitions Committee used some hybrid and some entirely virtual oral evidence sessions to discuss petitions. The discussions involved ministers and Opposition spokespeople.


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