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House of Representatives Practice, 6th Ed – HTML version

16 - Non-government business

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Adjournment debate

Debate on the question ‘That the House do now adjourn’ is specifically exempted from the normal rules of relevance applying to other debates,[118] and by this means the adjournment debate provides Members with an opportunity to speak on any matter they wish to raise. The opportunities provided in adjournment debates in terms of the total time available to private Members are not inconsiderable. Because of this, and because an adjournment debate takes place on a majority of sitting days, the adjournment debate is particularly valued by Members.

Although, technically, Ministers are not excluded from participation in the adjournment debate, in practice the period is regarded as an opportunity for private Members. Objection has been raised when Parliamentary Secretaries have participated,[119] although more recently their participation has not been objected to[120] (but see also ‘Call of the Chair’ at page 807).

The standing orders provide for a one hour or half hour adjournment debate to take place at the end of every sitting day. The detailed arrangements for the moving of the motion or the proposing of the question for the adjournment of the House are described in the Chapter on ‘Order of business and the sitting day’. In brief, when the motion for the adjournment is not moved by a Minister, the automatic adjournment provisions apply as follows:[121]

  • the Speaker interrupts proceedings to propose the question ‘That the House do now adjourn’ at 9.30 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, at 7.00 p.m. on Wednesdays and at 4.30 p.m. on Thursdays;
  • a Minister may require the question to be put immediately without debate. If the question is then negatived, the House resumes its proceedings at the point at which they were interrupted;
  • if the question is not put immediately, it may be debated. No amendment can be moved to the question.

In all cases, whether the adjournment debate has been initiated by a Minister or by the Chair, if debate is still continuing at 10.30 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays or at 5 p.m. on Thursdays, it is automatically interrupted by the Chair. At this point a Minister may require that the debate be extended for 10 minutes to enable Ministers to speak in reply to matters raised in the debate. A Minister may start his or her reply before the Speaker interrupts the debate, providing no other Member seeks the call. In this case the debate is still interrupted at the due time and the Minister may then require the debate to be extended.[122] If no such extension is sought, or after the extension or on the earlier cessation of the debate, the Speaker automatically adjourns the House until the time of its next meeting.[123] Standing and sessional orders have been suspended, by leave, to enable the debate to extend beyond the normal time.[124]

Time limits

Except for the limitation imposed by the automatic interruption by the Chair at the specified time, or such other times in special circumstances as may be specified, each Member receiving the call on the adjournment motion may speak for five minutes.[125] No extension of time may be granted. If no other Member from any part of the House rises, a Member who has already spoken to the motion may speak a second time for a period not exceeding five minutes.[126] Similar time limits apply to Ministers, with the exception that when a Minister’s speech commences just prior to the interruption the Minister may conclude his or her five minutes after the interruption by requiring the debate to be extended. The Minister may then speak for a second period of five minutes, if no other Minister rises.

Debate

Subject to the general rules of debate,[127] matters irrelevant to the motion may be debated.[128] This means that the scope of debate is practically unlimited and provides the private Member with an opportunity to raise matters of his or her choosing.

Through the application of the general rules of debate a Member may not anticipate discussion of a subject which appears on the Notice Paper and is expected to be debated on the next sitting day, but incidental reference is permitted.[129] Debates of the current session may not be revived unless the allusion is relevant to a new aspect or matter which the Member is raising. A passing reference may be made to a previous debate.[130] A Member may reply to matters raised in a previous debate to correct a misrepresentation by way of a personal explanation.[131] Remarks cannot be based on a question asked earlier in the day, but the facts may be stated without dealing with the question.[132] Provided that no other rules of debate are contravened, matters before State Parliaments may be discussed,[133] as may be activities of another Member of the Parliament.[134] Members have customarily advised other Members if they proposed to make remarks concerning them in the adjournment debate, although there is no formal requirement for them to do so.

A Member may present a petition during the adjournment debate provided the Petitions Committee has checked the petition for compliance with the standing orders and approved it for presentation.[135]

Call of the Chair

The practice of the House is that an opposition Member receives the first call on the motion to adjourn the House.[136] Subsequently, if Members are rising on both sides, the Chair alternates the call in the normal way,[137] calling the Member who, in the Chair’s opinion, first rose. The call is not alternated if it would lead to a Member who has already spoken being called again in preference to a Member who has not spoken.

The Speaker has stated that he would give preference for the call to backbenchers over frontbenchers from the same side of the House,[138] and that it would not be proper for the Chair to recognise a member of the Executive in the adjournment debate, except at times when no other Members have risen to speak.[139]

On one occasion in 1952, the Speaker gave preference to Members desiring to speak on a particular subject and on a later occasion stated that, although Members were at liberty to debate their chosen subjects, as he had been warned of two subjects he would hear them first.[140] On a later occasion the Speaker required assurances from Members that they proposed to debate certain matters already raised before he gave them the call.[141] These practices were not continued.

Adjournment debate in the Federation Chamber

The Federation Chamber stands adjourned on the completion of all matters referred to it, or may be adjourned on motion moved without notice by any Member ‘That the Federation Chamber do now adjourn’,[142] which may be debated.[143] In practice the timing of the motion is agreed between the whips.

It is now well-established practice that a regular 30 minute adjournment debate takes place on Thursdays in the Federation Chamber. However, the timing and duration of the debate are not fixed by the standing orders,[144] and the debate may be extended or occur on a day other than Thursday by agreement between the whips. The Deputy Speaker has stated that unless advised of an agreement for extended debate, after 30 minutes the Chair would cease to recognise Members seeking the call and put the question,[145] although in practice some flexibility is often allowed.

The rules applying to the adjournment debate in the House apply, as appropriate. However, any Member (rather than only a Minister) may require the question ‘That the Federation Chamber do now adjourn’ to be put immediately without debate.[146]


118. S.O. 76(a).
119. H.R. Deb. (30.9.1997) 8832–3—point of order objecting to Parliamentary Secretary’s participation disallowed.
120. E.g. H.R. Deb. (5.9.2006) 103.
121. S.O. 31. Times current for 43rd Parliament.
122. H.R. Deb. (23.8.1979) 613.
123. S.O. 31(c).
124. E.g. VP 1993–95/2567–8; VP 1998–2001/712, 1063.
125. Standing orders have been suspended to enable Members speaking in the debate to speak for one period of 10 minutes, VP 1993–5/1723; VP 1996–98/1054.
126. S.O. 1. Leave is required for a Member to speak a third time. When no other Member has risen a Member has spoken a third and fourth time, H.R. Deb. (21.6.2011) 6760, 62, 64.
127. See Ch. on ‘Control and conduct of debate’.
128. S.O. 76(a).
129. S.O. 77. See also Ch. on ‘Control and conduct of debate’.
130. H.R. Deb. (23.3.1972) 1196.
131. H.R. Deb. (26.5.1955) 1201.
132. H.R. Deb. (21.2.1952) 256.
133. H.R. Deb. (25.11.1953) 529–30.
134. H.R. Deb. (25.10.1950) 1395.
135. S.O.s 206, 207(b).
136. H.R. Deb. (10.5.1973) 2041.
137. See Ch. on ‘Control and conduct of debate’.
138. H.R. Deb. (11.3.1998) 1040, 1042.
139. H.R.Deb. (16.10.2003) 21678. Example of a Minister speaking as the last participant in the debate when no other Member sought the call, H.R.Deb. (25.11.2003) 22808–9.
140. H.R. Deb. (14.5.1952) 342.
141. H.R. Deb. (11.3.1953) 871–5.
142. .O. 190(e).
143. S.O. 191(a).
144. S.O. 191. Prior to September 2002 former S.O. 274 fixed the time of the debate as 12.30 p.m. on Thursdays.
145. See statement by Deputy Speaker, H.R. Deb. (17.9.2002) 6471.
146. S.O. 191(b), e.g. VP 1998–2001/273, 892.