Previous question

In US parliamentary procedure, the previous question (also known as "calling for the question", "calling the question", "close debate", "calling for a vote", "vote now", or other similar forms) is generally used as a motion to end debate on a pending proposal and bring it to an immediate vote. The meaning of this specialized motion has nothing to do with any question previously considered by the assembly.

In the United States Senate and Commonwealth parliaments, a motion for "cloture", or "closure", is used instead to end debate. In those bodies, the "previous question" has a different use and is rarely used or not used at all.


The "previous question" was initially used in the English Parliament in 1604.[1][2] At that time, use of this motion was intended not to end debate, but to suppress the main question for the rest of the session (similar to an objection to the consideration of a question).[2] It could be debated and when put to a vote, an affirmative vote on the previous question would put the main motion to a immediate vote, while a negative vote on the previous question would end consideration of the main motion altogether for the day.[2] Although rarely used, this same form of the motion still exists in Parliament.[1]

The United States Congress gradually changed the previous question to a different motion for its own purposes. Initially, its use in Congress was similar to that in parliament.[2] Then in 1805, Congress made it undebatable.[2] Throughout the 19th century, Congress made additional changes to this motion.[2] By the end of the 19th century in the United States, it had become a motion to close debate and to proceed to voting on the main question.[2]

Explanation and useEdit

To end debate, a motion for the previous question could be adopted. It is often proposed by a member saying, "I call [for] the question", although the formal wording is, "I move the previous question."[3] The motion for the "previous question" has nothing to do with the last question previously considered by the assembly.[4]

Another use of this motion could be to stop the moving of amendments on any amendable motion.[5] It also prevents the making of other subsidiary motions like commit or postpone.[4]

Previous question (RONR)
ClassSubsidiary motion
In order when another has the floor?No
Requires second?Yes
May be reconsidered?Yes, but if vote was affirmative, only before any vote has been taken under it. A negative vote on this motion can be reconsidered only until such time as progress in business or debate has made it essentially a new question.
Vote requiredTwo-thirds

Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR)Edit

Under Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (the book used by most organizations in the United States), when a motion for the previous question is made (whether formally or in a nonstandard form such as "calling the question", "close debate", or "calling for a vote"), a two-thirds vote (or unanimous consent) is required to end debate.[6] A single member cannot force the end of debate.[7] Also, interrupting someone by yelling out "Question!" or "Call the question!" is not appropriate (it has to be made by obtaining the floor like other motions).[7]

This motion is not debatable because having debate on such a motion would defeat its purpose.[8]

In ordinary societies, the rationale for a two-thirds vote to end debate and move to a vote on the pending question is to protect the rights of the minority (and it may protect the rights of the majority if only one person was improperly allowed to stop debate).[6]

Mason's Manual of Legislative ProcedureEdit

Most state legislatures in the United States use Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure. This book also provides for the motion of the previous question.[9]

The Standard Code of Parliamentary ProcedureEdit

The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure does not have the "previous question". Instead this book has the motion to "close debate", the motion to "vote immediately", or the motion to "close debate and vote immediately".[10] Regardless of the terminology, a two-thirds vote is required to end debate.

Use in the United States CongressEdit

In the United States House, most major legislation comes to the floor under a special rule approved by the Rules Committee, and then the House, which defines the terms and limits of debate for that resolution. After debate has begun, the previous question may be used to end debate[11] (which requires only a simple majority of voting Members to pass).

Instead of a motion for the previous question, the United States Senate uses a motion to limit debate, called cloture.[12] This requires three-fifths of the total number of Senators. It does not immediately end debate on the pending question, but rather imposes strict limitations on debate.

Use in other parliamentsEdit

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the use of the previous question is the same as was originally developed (by suppressing the question instead of closing debate), although its use in this regard is very rare.[1][13] The Chair responds to a motion for the previous question with "The question is, That the Question be not now put."[1][14] The Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons criticized this procedure as "totally incomprehensible", and proposed in its place a simplified motion to "proceed to the next business".[14] Instead of the previous question, a closure motion is used to end debate.[15]

The Australian Senate has the "previous question" in its original form from the British Parliament (by suppressing the question instead of closing debate) and is also very rarely used by this body.[16] Instead, the "closure" motion is used to end debate in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.[17][18] Closure is also used in groups outside parliament in Australia.[19]

In the Parliament of Canada, the previous question has a similar older form.[20] Also in this body, the "closure" motion is used to end debate by requiring that the house proceed to voting at the end of the sitting in which the "closure" motion is adopted.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Seaward, Paul (November 12, 2014). "A perpetual disturbance? The history of the previous question". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 2016-01-10.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Robert, Henry M. (1907). Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies ("Robert's Rules of Order 3rd" ed.). Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company. pp. 60–62.
  3. ^ Robert, Henry M.; et al. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-306-82020-5.
  4. ^ a b Robert 2011, p. 198
  5. ^ Robert 2011, p. 197
  6. ^ a b Robert 2011, pp. 200–201
  7. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions about RONR (Question 11)". The Official Robert's Rules of Order Web Site. The Robert's Rules Association. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  8. ^ Robert 2011, p. 397
  9. ^ Mason, Paul (2010). Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure (PDF). Denver, CO: National Conference of State Legislatures. p. 239. ISBN 9781580246101.
  10. ^ Sturgis, Alice (2001). The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure. Revised by the American Institute of Parliamentarians (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-07-136513-0.
  11. ^ "Glossary (p)". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2016-01-08. previous question - Non-debatable motion, available in the House and its legislative committees, which, when agreed to, cuts off further debate, prevents the offering of additional amendments, and brings the pending matter to an immediate vote.
  12. ^ "U.S. Senate: Reference Home > Virtual Reference Desk > Cloture". Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  13. ^ See dictionary definition of "previous question" at Black's Law Dictionary, Oxford Dictionaries, and
  14. ^ a b "House of Commons - Modernisation of the House of Commons - Fourth Report". Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  15. ^ "Closure motions - Glossary page". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  16. ^ "Chapter 16 - Previous question". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  17. ^ "Chapter 31 - Conduct of Senators and rules of debate". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  18. ^ "Chapter 14 - Control and conduct of debate". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  19. ^ Puregger, Marjorie (1998). The Australian Guide to Chairing Meetings. Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-7022-3010-3.
  20. ^ "The Curtailment of Debate - The Previous Question". House of Commons of Canada. Retrieved 2022-11-27.
  21. ^ "The Curtailment of Debate - Closure". House of Commons of Canada. Retrieved 2022-11-27.