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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 has briefly been 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.

This Commons Library briefing paper examines the introduction and development of the parallel chamber, the main features of Westminster Hall procedures and the changes in procedure and practice which have had effect from the start of the 2015 Parliament.

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