Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 14:14 UK
Sitting in private

Parliament retains the right to hold debates in private and any MP can propose that members of the public and press be removed from the galleries at any time.

A to Z: Sitting in Private

If such a proposal is made, the Commons Speaker must put the motion "That this House sit in private" to a vote without debate.

But the procedure is seldom successful - the last time the Commons sat in private was on 5 December 2001 when it was debating the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill.

Instead, attempts to exclude members of the public are usually deployed as a device to disrupt or delay the House's proceedings.

MPs used to call out: "I spy strangers" to invoke this procedure, but this phrase was replaced with the current wording in 1998.

In the 1880s, an Irish Nationalist MP caused the Prince of Wales to be removed in this way.

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