The grievance debate is derived from the centuries old financial procedures of the UK House of Commons. The traditional insistence of the Commons on considering grievances before granting supply to the Crown found expression in the practice of prefacing consideration in Committee of Supply by the motion ‘That Mr Speaker do now leave the Chair’. The question now proposed in the House of Representatives is ‘That grievances be noted’. It is because of the procedural origins of the grievance debate that it is listed on the Notice Paper as an order of the day under government business, rather than private Members’ business.
Programming and scope of the debate
The motion ‘That grievances be noted’ is now a standing referral to the Federation Chamber. The final order of the day in the Federation Chamber on each sitting Tuesday is the grievance debate. The question proposed by the Chair is ‘That grievances be noted’, to which question any Member may address the Chair. If consideration of the question has not concluded after one hour, the debate is interrupted by the Chair. The debate is then adjourned, and its resumption made an order of the day for the next sitting.
Any Member may address the House on, or move an amendment to, the question ‘That grievances be noted’ but, in practice, Ministers rarely participate in order to give more private Members the opportunity to speak. A Member’s speech is limited to 10 minutes and it is the traditional practice for the first speaker to be called from the Opposition. The grievance debate is regarded by private Members as a most useful opportunity to raise matters in which they have a particular interest or to ventilate complaints or concerns of constituents. The matter raised need not necessarily be an actual ‘grievance’. A wide-ranging debate, similar in scope to that which may occur on the motion for the adjournment of the House, may take place. A matter which has been the subject of a debate earlier in the session may be referred to, but the earlier debate itself may not be revived unless the allusion is relevant to a new aspect or matter which the Member is raising. This restriction does not prevent reference to previous grievance or adjournment debates. 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.
The scope of an amendment is practically unlimited and debate may then cover both the main question and the amendment. Amendments were frequently moved until about 1924—primarily to seek a resolution of the House or to focus attention on a particular subject—but are now rare. Only three amendments have been agreed to, two of them involving amendments to proposed amendments.
A Member may present a petition during the grievance debate provided the Petitions Committee has checked the petition for compliance with the standing orders and approved it for presentation.