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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
    * 12.30-3.30pm, from 15 April 2024 until the end of the 2019 Parliament

Sittings in Westminster Hall during the Covid pandemic

At times during the course of the Covid pandemic, from March 2020 to July 2021, when the House introduced various procedural changes to continue business, sittings in Westminster were also affected. At times, they were suspended completely; at other times, virtual participation was possible.

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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