Amendments to motions

How to move

An amendment is a subsidiary motion moved in the course of debate upon a principal motion, with the object of either modifying the question in such a way as to increase its acceptability or presenting to the House a different proposition as an alternative to the original question. Amendments may be moved by:

  • omitting certain words; and/or
  • inserting or adding words.[125]

An amendment may not be moved to certain questions and motions:

  • the motion for the adjournment of the House;[126] and
  • the procedural questions and motions listed in standing order 78.

With these exceptions, an amendment may be moved to any other question, after it has been proposed by the Chair, provided that the amendment is relevant to the question to which the amendment is proposed.

An amendment must be in writing and must be signed by the mover and (if a seconder is required—see below) a seconder.[127] Notice is not required of an amendment, but notice has been given on occasion.[128] The modern practice is to have an amendment printed and circulated to Members to enable it to be assessed before the question on it is put to the House, although this is not required by the standing orders. In the absence of a Member who has circulated an amendment, another Member, with the proposer’s permission, may move it on his or her behalf.[129]

Any amendment must be moved before the mover of a motion speaks in reply to the original question.[130] The Member speaking in reply cannot propose an amendment.

Restrictions on Members in moving and speaking to amendments

A Member cannot move an amendment:

  • to his or her own motion[131] unless he or she does so by leave;[132]
  • if debate on a question has been closed by the mover speaking in reply;[133]
  • if he or she has already spoken to the main question,[134] or the original question and an amendment;[135] or
  • if he or she has seconded the motion (even formally) which he or she proposes to amend.[136]

It is a strictly observed parliamentary rule that, except when a reply to the mover is permitted (or during the consideration in detail stage of a bill or consideration of Senate amendments or requests), a Member may not speak more than once to the same question, unless he or she has been misquoted or misunderstood in regard to a material part of a speech, when he or she may again be heard to explain the correct position. Accordingly, when a Member speaks to a motion and resumes his or her seat without moving an amendment that had been intended, the Member cannot subsequently move the amendment, as he or she has already spoken to the question before the House.

If a Member has already spoken to a question, or has moved an amendment to it, he or she may not be called to move a further amendment, but may speak to any further amendment which is proposed by another Member.

A Member who moves or seconds an amendment cannot speak again on the original question after the amendment has been disposed of, because he or she has already spoken while the original question was before the House and before the question on the amendment has been proposed by the Chair.

When an amendment has been moved, and the question on the amendment proposed by the Chair, a Member speaking subsequently is considered to be speaking to both the original question and the amendment. Accordingly, the Member cannot speak again to the original question after the amendment has been disposed of.

A Member who has already spoken to the original question prior to the moving of an amendment may speak to the question on the amendment but must confine his or her remarks to the amendment.

A Member who has spoken to the original question and an amendment may speak to the question on any further amendment but must confine his or her remarks to the further amendment.

Seconder required

A seconder is required for an amendment except in the following cases:

  • an amendment moved by a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary;[137]
  • an amendment moved during the consideration in detail stage of a bill;[138]
  • an amendment moved during the consideration of Senate amendments.[139]

A Member who has already spoken to the original question may not second an amendment moved subsequently.[140] An amendment moved, but not seconded, must not be debated and is not recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.[141] An amendment has lapsed after the seconder, by leave, withdrew as the seconder.[142]

The seconder has the right to speak to the amendment at a later period during the debate,[143] or may choose to speak immediately after seconding the amendment.

Closures and expiry of time during moving of amendment

While a Member is moving an amendment, the motion ‘That the Member be no longer heard’ may not be moved, but a Member speaking to an amendment he or she has moved may be so interrupted. The closure motion ‘That the question be now put’ may be moved while a Member is moving an amendment. If this is agreed to, the question on the original question is then put immediately.[144] The motion for the closure of question may also be moved while the Member who has seconded an amendment is addressing the House and, once again, the closure applies to the original question as, in both cases, the question on the amendment has not yet been proposed from the Chair.[145] Similarly, if the time allowed for a debate expires before the question on an amendment has been stated, the question before the House is the original one.[146]

Amendment in possession of House

Once an amendment is moved and seconded, the question on the amendment must then be proposed by the Chair. It is then in the possession of the House.

Form and content of amendment

Relevancy

An amendment must be relevant to the question which it is proposed to amend.[147] The only exception to this rule is that an irrelevant amendment may be moved to the question ‘That grievances be noted’.[148]

Intelligible and legible

An amendment proposed to be made, either to the original question or to a proposed amendment, must be framed so that, if it is agreed to, the question or amendment, as amended, would be intelligible and internally consistent.[149] The Chair has refused to accept an illegible amendment.[150]

Length

An amendment should not be accepted by the Chair if, when considered in the context of the motion proposed to be amended, and with regard to the convenience of other Members, it could be regarded as of undue length. It is not in order for a Member to seek effectively to extend the length of his or her speech by moving a lengthy amendment, without reading it, but relying on the fact that the amendment would be printed in Hansard.[151] The Chair has directed a Member to read out a lengthy second reading amendment in full and for the time taken to do so to be incorporated into the time allocated for his speech, giving as the reason that the amendment was larger than that which would normally be accommodated and that he did not want lengthy amendments to become the norm.[152]

Consistency

An amendment must not be moved which is inconsistent with a previous decision on the question.[153] The Chair having been asked whether a proposed amendment upon an amendment was inconsistent with an amendment already agreed to, the Speaker stated that as the proposed amendment was an addition and did not cut down on the words agreed to, he could see no alternative but to accept it.[154] After an amendment proposing to limit the application of a motion (granting precedence to government business by making it apply only after a certain date) had been negatived, a further amendment seeking to impose a lesser limitation (an earlier date) was ruled to be in order.[155]

Same amendment

The Speaker may disallow any motion or amendment which he or she considers is the same in substance as any question already resolved in the same session[156] (see page 298).

Amendment to earlier part of question

The standing orders provide that an amendment may not be moved to an earlier part of a question after a later part has been amended, or after an amendment to a later part has been proposed, and the proposal has not, by leave, been withdrawn.[157] It has been the practice to interpret this rule so as to allow an amendment back to the point in the motion where the last amendment was actually made. If an amendment to a later part of the motion has been moved but not yet decided, it may be withdrawn, by leave, to allow a new amendment to an earlier part of the motion—that is, either back to previously decided amending words, or back to the beginning of the motion if there aren’t any.[158]

Leave of the House has been granted to allow an amendment to be moved to an earlier part of the question. When notice has been given of amendments or Members have declared their intention of moving amendments, the Chair has declined to put the question on an amendment in a form which would exclude the moving of other amendments. The Chair has divided an amendment into parts and submitted only the first part so as not to preclude other Members from submitting amendments which they had expressed a desire to propose.[159] When several Members have proposed to move amendments to an earlier part of a motion, the Chair has declined to submit an amendment to a later part until these amendments were disposed of.[160] When notice has been given of amendments proposing to add words to a motion, the Chair has given precedence to an amendment proposing to omit all words after ‘That’ with a view to inserting other words.[161]

Amendment to words already agreed to

Only an amendment which adds other words may be moved to words which the House has resolved stand part of the question or which have been inserted in, or added to, a question.[162]

Direct negative

Although there is no reference in the standing orders to an amendment which is a direct negative of the question before the House, the House has followed the parliamentary rule that such amendments are not in order if they are confined to the mere negation of the terms of a motion. The proper mode of expressing a completely contrary opinion is by voting against a motion without seeking to amend it.[163] Many amendments are moved which seek to reverse completely the thrust of motions. Whilst it may be claimed that such amendments are out of order as direct or expanded negatives, they usually seek to put an alternative proposition to the House and so are in order (see below). A working rule for determining whether an amendment is a direct negative is to ask the question whether the proposed amendment would have the same effect as voting against the motion. If it would, it is a direct negative.

Omission of all words

It is not in order to move for the omission of all words of a question without the insertion of other words;[164] the initial word ‘That’ at least must be retained. Amendments have been moved to omit all words after ‘That’[165] without the substitution of other words in their place. On one such amendment being successful, the Speaker agreed with the proposition that the omission of the words was the same as if the motion had been directly negatived and it was so recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.[166] On another occasion, words having been omitted from a motion with a view to inserting other words, and two proposals to insert other words having been negatived, the Speaker drew attention to the fact that what was left of the motion was meaningless. He then said that he presumed the House would not desire him to put the question. The House agreed with this assessment.[167]

Alternative propositions

Amendments may be moved, however, which evade an expression of opinion on the main question by entirely altering its meaning and object. This is effected by moving the omission of all or most of the words of the question after the word ‘That’ and substituting an alternative proposition which must, however, be relevant to the subject of the question.

This practice of the House has been supported since 1905 when, on a motion that an Address be presented to the King expressing the hope that a measure of home rule be granted to Ireland, an amendment was moved to omit all words after ‘That’ in order to insert words to the effect that the House declined to petition His Majesty either in favour of or against a change in the parliamentary system which then prevailed in the United Kingdom. Having been asked for a ruling as to whether the amendment was in effect a negative of the motion, the Speaker stated that the amendment was in order as it came between the two extremes of either declaring in favour of the petition (motion) as it stood or negating the proposal altogether.[168]

Other relevant rulings have been:

  • In 1949, a want of confidence motion having been moved in the Deputy Speaker (listing four reasons), an amendment was moved to omit all words after ‘That’ with a view to inserting words ‘this House declares its determination to uphold the dignity and authority of the Chair … The Chair dismissed a point of order that the amendment was a direct negative of the motion and ruled it in order.[169]
  • In 1970 an amendment was moved adding words to a motion to take note of a paper (relating to Commonwealth–State discussions on off-shore legislation) which expressed a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet for their failure to honour a commitment made to the States. This was accepted as a want of confidence amendment. To this amendment a further amendment (to omit words with a view to inserting other words) was moved declaring that the House did not believe there had been any failure on the part of the Government to honour any commitments; that the House acknowledged that when the Government decided to change its policy it did not, at that time, inform the States of the change, and the House was of the opinion that this had led a Member (a former Cabinet Minister) into believing that an undertaking he had given to the States had been dishonoured. A point of order was taken that the amendment was a direct negative of the proposed amendment. The Speaker ruled that it was not a direct negative and not materially different in form from amendments moved and accepted in previous years. The ruling was upheld by the House when a motion of dissent was negatived.[170]

Following the latter ruling, as subsequent comment showed, there was some misunderstanding of the practice on which the ruling was based. Speaker Aston made a statement referring to relevant precedents and practice in the House of Representatives and the House of Commons—that is, on the acceptability of amendments proposing alternative propositions.[171] There have been a number of subsequent precedents.[172] It is now not uncommon for motions critical of or censuring the Government or a Minister to be amended by way of an alternative proposition changing the target of the criticism or censure to the Opposition or Leader of the Opposition—see ‘Censure of a Member or Senator’ (page 325) and ‘Censure of the Opposition’ (page 326).

Other restrictions

Certain matters that cannot be debated except on a substantive motion cannot be raised by way of amendment, nor can an amendment infringe upon the sub judice rule.[173]

An amendment has been ruled out of order on the ground that it:

  • was frivolous;[174]
  • was tendered in a spirit of mockery;[175]
  • was ironical;[176]
  • did not comply with an Act of Parliament;[177] or
  • concerned a matter which was the exclusive prerogative of the Speaker.[178]

Order of moving amendments

Each proposed amendment must be disposed of before another amendment to the original question can be moved.[179]

An amendment may not be moved to words already agreed to, except by way of an addition, or moved to an earlier part of a question after a later part has been amended or such an amendment has been proposed (and not by leave been withdrawn)[180]see page 309. Members may thus be precluded from moving proposed amendments because they have not received the call early enough and other decisions of the House or amendments have effectively blocked their proposals. This problem is overcome by the circulation of amendments beforehand, which assists the Chair in allocating the call. However, it has been ruled that prior circulation of a proposed amendment does not confer on a Member any right to the call and that the Member first receiving the call has the right to move his or her amendment.[181]

In cases where a number of amendments have been foreshadowed to a particular motion, standing orders have been suspended to enable a cognate debate on the motion and the circulated amendments, and, at the conclusion of the debate, to enable the Chair to put questions on the circulated amendments such as were capable of being put, in the order determined by the Chair.[182]

Withdrawal of proposed amendment

A proposed amendment may be withdrawn, by leave.[183] Amendments may be withdrawn temporarily, and then moved again at a later stage.[184] An amendment has been moved subject to the temporary withdrawal of another amendment.[185]

Amendment to proposed amendment

Amendments may be moved to a proposed amendment as if the proposed amendment were an original question.[186] In effect not only is the original question temporarily superseded but so is the question on the first amendment. The questions put by the Chair deal with the first amendment as if it were a substantive question itself and with the second amendment as if it were an ordinary amendment. An amendment to a proposed amendment is moved after the question ‘That the amendment be agreed to’ has been proposed by the Chair. The effect of moving the subsidiary amendment is to interpose a further question ‘That the amendment to the proposed amendment be agreed to’.[187] The latter question must be disposed of before the question on the primary amendment is put to the House.

Putting question on amendment

The standard practice is for the question on an amendment to be put in the form ‘That the amendment be agreed to’,[188] despite the traditional alternatives technically available in the standing orders—see below.

When the House considers Senate amendments to bills, the question ‘That the amendment be agreed to’ is put when it is proposed that the House accept a Senate amendment. When it is proposed that the House reject a Senate amendment, the question ‘That the amendment be disagreed to’ is put.[189] This is the only context in which the ‘disagree to’ form is used.

Question on amendment—traditional forms

The traditional practice was for a question to be put in a form reflecting the purpose of the proposed amendment, as follows:

  • if the purpose of a proposed amendment is to omit certain words, the Chair puts the question ‘That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question’;[190]
  • if the purpose of a proposed amendment is to omit certain words in order to insert or add other words, the Chair first puts the question ‘That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question’ and if this is resolved in the affirmative, the amendment is disposed of. If the question is resolved in the negative, the Chair must then put the question ‘That the words proposed be inserted (added)’;[191]
  • if the purpose of the proposed amendment is to insert or add certain words the Chair puts the question ‘That the words proposed be inserted (added)’;[192]
  • if no Member objects, the Chair may put the question ‘That the amendment be agreed to’ in place of the question or questions stated above.[193]

In 2011, as part of a wider review, the Procedure Committee reported that it saw merit in trialling the shortened form ‘That the amendment be agreed to’ for all amendments.[194] Following the report the Speaker made a statement to the House, noting that the traditional process for putting the question on amendments proposing to omit words had its advantages, but that it had caused confusion, and, in a finely balanced House, could lead to a meaningless outcome. He announced that he intended to use the simplified form for the remainder of the Parliament and would ask all occupants of the Chair to do the same. It would remain open to any Member to object and require the traditional form to be used in a particular case.[195]

In subsequent Parliaments the use of the simplified form has become standard. Although, for the moment, still provided for under standing order 122(a), the traditional forms of putting the question on amendments can probably be considered obsolete. Discussion of their history and use, and perceived advantages and disadvantages, may be found in earlier editions (6th edition at pages 314–6).

Main question put as amended

When amendments have been made, the main question is then put as amended.[196] The fact that an amendment has been made does not necessarily preclude the moving of a further amendment, providing it is in accord with the standing orders, nor does it preclude debate on the main question, as amended, taking place.[197] With the concurrence of the House the Chair has declined to put the question on a motion, as amended, when it had been amended so that what remained of the motion was meaningless.[198] On another occasion, the effect of an amendment was seen as having negatived a motion, as only the word ‘That’ remained.[199]

When amendments have been moved but not made, the main question is put as originally proposed.[200] Debate may then continue on the original question or a further amendment moved, providing it is in accord with the standing orders.[201]

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