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.

History edit

English Parliament edit

The first instance of the "previous question" being used in the English Parliament dates back to 25 May 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 sitting (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 an immediate vote, while a negative vote on the previous question would end consideration of the main motion altogether for the day.[2][1]

United States Congress edit

House of Representatives edit

In In the United States House of Representatives, the previous question originally served the same purpose as it did in the English Parliament.[2] In the 1800s, the House of Representatives altered the rules governing the way the previous question could be used: in 1805, it was rendered undebatable, and in 1841, the fraction of votes needed to pass it was lowered from 2/3 to 1/2, allowing for it to be invoked by a simple majority.[2] These changes made it effectively equivalent of a motion of closure.[2]

Senate edit

In 1806, the United States Senate eliminated the previous question motion as part of a rules consolidation suggested by Aaron Burr.

Explanation and use edit

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 Procedure edit

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 Procedure edit

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 Congress edit

The previous question may be used to end debate on the proposal under consideration at the time the motion is made.[11] If any Member moves the previous question, the Speaker must immediately put the question on such motion. If a simple majority of Members present and voting votes in favour of the previous question, the main motion is immediately put up to a vote.

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 legislative bodies edit

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, in the Senate of Australia and in the Parliament of Canada, the previous question is used for its original purpose (that is, to postpone consideration of the question), while motions which have the aim of immediately ending debate are called closure motions.[1][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20]

United Kingdom edit

In the House of Commons, the previous question takes the form of a motion "that the Question be not now put"; its adoption results in debate on the main motion being postponed, while its rejection results in the main motion being immediately put up to a vote. A motion "that the question be not now put" is debatable and may be itself subject to a motion of closure.[1][21] 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".[21] As of 2023, the previous question has only been used three times since the end of the second world war.

See also edit

References edit

  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 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. ^ "Closure motions - Glossary page". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  15. ^ "Chapter 16 - Previous question". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  16. ^ "Chapter 31 - Conduct of Senators and rules of debate". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  17. ^ "Chapter 14 - Control and conduct of debate". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  18. ^ Puregger, Marjorie (1998). The Australian Guide to Chairing Meetings. Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-7022-3010-3.
  19. ^ "The Curtailment of Debate - The Previous Question". House of Commons of Canada. Retrieved 2022-11-27.
  20. ^ "The Curtailment of Debate - Closure". House of Commons of Canada. Retrieved 2022-11-27.
  21. ^ a b "House of Commons - Modernisation of the House of Commons - Fourth Report". Retrieved 2016-01-08.