As far as I’m aware, the House of Commons chamber is symmetrical, which begs the question - what happens if the Government wins, say, a majority of 220; as one of the most recent (and optimistic) polls predicted? That would leave the opposition parties with just 215 seats - leaving the benches on their side of the chamber fairly sparse - and the Government with 435 (not counting speakers, Sinn Fein, etc.).

What happens to the seating arrangements when parliaments are this imbalanced? Do the Government just try and cram in as many MPs as possible onto their benches? Do they take over part of the opposition benches? Or do they simply handle it on a ‘first come first served’ basis - with members turning up at the crack of dawn to reserve their seats? How many MPs can fit on one side of the chamber?

  • 2
    Going by the TV coverage, there isn't enough seating at the moment for everyone! Apparently the capacity is about 430.
    – pjc50
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 22:15
  • Well quite! And thats with both sides of the House with fairly equal numbers!
    – CDJB
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 22:16
  • 1
    This almost happened in 1997: Labour took 418 seats, a majority of 179. Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 22:59

1 Answer 1


With the possible exception of the government front bench, there are no seating arrangements in the Commons, seating is already on a first come first served basis, with members reserving a seat for the day through being present at prayers at the beginning of the day and getting a prayer card with their name on it placed into a slot on the bench. That the Government party sits to the right of the Speaker's chair and Opposition parties to the left is by long held to convention, but nothing more rigid. Members can in fact choose to sit where they please, and there are a number of examples of this happening. The most recent being those Tory rebels whom were expelled from the Tory party in response to their votes against Boris; they largely simply remained in their customary seats.

Added to that; we're actually already in the situation you describe. There's only actually sufficient space for 400-and-something MPs on the benches (opinions vary; 427 is an authoritative estimate; which is why you see so many standing during any remotely busy debate. Both Labour and the Tories are too big for "their" side of the chamber's bench capacity.

So yeah, if a party gets more members than there are seats on one side of the chamber then the overflow will have to either stand, or compete with opposition members for seating on the other side of the hall by arriving earlier than them in the chamber. Remember though that very few debates are actually attended by all MPs, so the likeliest outcomes is that they simply continue to stand as they already do.

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