House of Commons Library

Commons Opposition Day debates since 1992

Published Monday, February 11, 2019

This Note lists Opposition Day debates in the House of Commons by party and by session. The five tables cover different administrations:

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Table 1. 2017 – Present: Conservative minority administration under Theresa May.

Table 2. 2015 – 2017: Conservative administrations under David Cameron and Theresa May.

Table 3. 2010 – 2015: Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition administration under David Cameron.

Table 4. 1997 – 2010: Labour administrations under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Table 5. 1992-1997: Conservative administration under John Major.


Number of Opposition Days

Opposition Days are days where the main subject of business is chosen by the opposition parties. Under Commons Standing Order No.14, 20 days in each session are made available to the opposition, of which:

  • 17 days are allocated to the Leader of the official opposition
  • 3 days are allocated to the Leader of the second largest opposition party who shares the time with smaller parties in the House of Commons

The Government may also make additional days available, these are noted as unallotted days.

Debates on opposition motions

Dates for Opposition Day debates are announced by the Leader of the House in the weekly business statement on Thursdays. The subject of the debate and text of the motion appears in the Future Business section of the House Business Papers once decided by the opposition party. Sometimes the full text of the motion is not tabled until the day before the debate which means it is not available until the date of the debate when it appears in the Order Paper.

In an exception to the normal rules of debate, the main motion – the opposition motion – is voted on first, rather than any amendment. This is to allow the decision on the opposition motion to be taken first, before any amendment is put.

Many opposition motions criticise Government policies and decisions and the Government often tables an amendment to the motion to take out most of the text and replace it with text commending the Government policy or decision instead. Government amendments are usually carried under majority Governments.

Unless specifically framed, motions tabled on Opposition Days are not seen as binding on the Government.

Divisions on opposition motions

The Government does not table an amendment to every motion; sometimes it simply votes against the motion. Not all motions are critical of the Government, in such cases opposition motions have been agreed without a vote. Amendments can be tabled by other opposition parties. The Speaker selects which amendment, if any, is taken.

Box 1: Are opposition motions ever agreed to?

The spreadsheet notes opposition motions that have been agreed by the House without a division with an asterisk. Those that have been agreed following a division are footnoted with the result of the division.

The 2017 election returned a minority Conservative Government. Following a confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party, the Government has a working majority whereby the DUP will back the Government in key divisions on the budget and finance bills, Brexit legislation and on national security.

The Government has not generally contested opposition motions in the current 2017–19 session and most opposition motions have been agreed without a division or on division but with the Government abstaining.

In October 2017, the Leader of the House updated the House on the Government's approach to Opposition day debates:

When an Opposition day motion is passed by this House, the relevant Minister will respond to the vote by making a statement to the House. This will be within a maximum time period of 12 weeks. [HC Deb 26 Oct 2017 c456]

Motion for a return

As noted above, opposition motions usually highlight aspects of government policy for debate and are non-binding. On 1 November 2017 the Labour Party used an allotted opposition day to call for the Government to release papers by tabling a motion for a return.

Box 2: Power to call for papers

Erskine May explains that: Each House has the power to call for the production of papers by means of a motion for a return. A return from the Privy Council or from Departments headed by a Secretary of State is called for by means of an humble Address to the Sovereign. [Erskine May, Parliamentary Practice, 24th Ed, p133]

The motion was worded as follows:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the list of sectors analysed under the instruction of Her Majesty’s Ministers, and referred to in the Answer of 26 June 2017 to Question 239, be laid before this House and that the impact assessments arising from those analyses be provided to the Committee on Exiting the European Union [HC Deb 1 Nov 2018 cc935].

The motion was agreed without a division. The Government agreed to comply with the resolution of the House and provided documents to the Committee on Exiting the European Union. See the Commons Library briefingn Exiting the EU: Sectoral assessments, for more detail and background to requests for the sectoral assessments.

Box 2: Are motions for a return binding?

Responding to a point of order on a similar motion calling for the publication of the Government's EU exit analysis in January 2018 the Speaker said:

First, yes, the motion is binding. I think that the Government are clear about that, and the Minister has indicated the intention of the Government to comply with it. Secondly, if memory serves me correctly, the motion refers to "a matter of urgency." Therefore, the expectation must be that the report that is the subject of the debate will be released, published or made available to those persons mentioned in the motion as a matter of urgency. [HC Deb 31 Jan 2018 c876]

Use of the motion for a return

Since November 2017, the opposition party have used the same procedural device on another eight opposition days to call for papers. These are noted by ‘humble address’ after the title of the debate.

Five of the seven motions for a return were agreed without a division; On four occasions, the motions were negatived on division.

Parliamentary Search

You can use Parliamentary Search on the Parliament website to find the latest opposition day debates by following this link to update opposition day debates.

Parliament: facts and figures

This series of publications contains data on various subjects relating to Parliament and Government. Topics include legislation, MPs, select committees, debates, divisions and Parliamentary procedure.


Please send any comments or corrections to the Parliament & Constitution Centre. Suggestions for new lists welcomed.

Commons Briefing papers SN06315

Authors: Sarah Priddy; Jean Fessey

Topics: House of Commons, Political parties

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