House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

9 - Motions

Right click over the text to activate a context menu for House of Representatives Practice and Procedures. (Note: on iPad Safari this function is activated by a finger press and holding down for several seconds.)


A notice is a declaration of intent to the House by a Member to either move a motion or present a bill on a specified day. A notice must contain the terms of the motion or the long title of the bill. The standing orders are applied and read to the necessary extent as if a notice of presentation of a bill were a notice of motion (see also Chapter on ‘Legislation’).

Motions requiring notice

It can generally be said that substantive motions require notice, whereas subsidiary motions do not. However, whether a motion requires notice or not depends to a large extent upon practical considerations relating to the efficient operation of the House, and the standing orders and practice of the House have been developed accordingly.

It is normal meeting procedure for notice to be given of motions proposed to be moved. This action alerts interested persons and avoids the possibility of business being conducted without the knowledge or due consideration of interested parties. The standing orders provide that a Member must not move a motion unless he or she has given a notice of motion and the notice has appeared on the Notice Paper, or he or she has leave of the House, or as otherwise specified in the standing orders.[5] It is further provided that a notice of motion becomes effective only when it appears on the Notice Paper.[6] When notice is required, the terms in which a motion is moved must be the same as the terms of the notice. (However, there are mechanisms by which the terms of a notice may be altered – see page 295.)

A motion for the purpose of rescinding a resolution or other vote of the House during the same session requires seven days’ notice; however, to correct irregularities or mistakes, one day’s notice is sufficient, or the corrections may be made at once by leave of the House.[7]

A notice of motion appearing under government business is usually moved on the first sitting day that it appears on the Notice Paper, and is normally debated immediately. On the other hand, a notice given by a private Member appears under private Members’ business and, because not all such notices are dealt with, may remain on the Notice Paper without consideration until removed (see Chapter on ‘Non-government business’) or until the Parliament is prorogued or the House is dissolved, when it will lapse.

Motions moved without notice

The standing orders and practice of the House permit certain substantive motions to be moved without notice. The following are some examples:

  • Address to the Queen or the Governor-General (in case of urgency only);
  • Address of congratulation or condolence to members of the Royal Family;
  • motion of thanks or motion of condolence;
  • a motion declaring that a contempt or breach of privilege has been committed;
  • referral of a matter to the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests;
  • a specific motion in relation to a committee report;
  • a proposal dealing with taxation, for example, a customs or excise tariff proposal;
  • leave of absence to a Member;
  • leave of absence to all Members, prior to a long adjournment; and
  • a motion fixing the next meeting of the House.

From time to time other substantive motions have been moved without notice or leave of the House, for example:

  • The Speaker having informed the House of the presentation of a resolution of thanks to representatives of the armed services after World War I, a motion that the record of proceedings of the occasion be inserted in Hansard was moved and agreed to.[8]
  • The Speaker having sought the direction of the House on a matter, a motion clarifying the practice of the House was moved and agreed to.[9]
  • Two motions for the commitment of offenders found guilty of a breach of privilege were moved together and agreed to.[10]

Subsidiary motions which are moved without notice include:

  • adjournment of House;
  • Member be heard now;
  • Member be further heard;
  • Member be no longer heard;
  • Member be granted an extension of speaking time;
  • adjournment of debate;
  • further proceedings (on item of Federation Chamber business) be conducted in the House;
  • adjournment or suspension (under S.O. 187(b)) of Federation Chamber;
  • question be now put;
  • business of the day be called on;
  • guillotine (questions relating to urgency and the allotment of time);
  • allotment of time for debate on a matter of special interest;
  • dissent from ruling;
  • postponement of a government notice of motion;
  • postponement of order of the day;
  • discharge of order of the day on order of day being read;
  • motions on the various stages of bills, including questions in the consideration in detail stage, and motions arising from messages from the Senate and the Governor-General;
  • motion by Minister to take note of document;
  • document be made a Parliamentary Paper;
  • suspension of a Member after naming; and
  • suspension of standing or sessional orders.

The standing orders require a dissent motion to be submitted in writing,[11] and for practical reasons this is also expected by the Chair in the case of other subsidiary motions of any length or complexity, such as an allotment of time under a guillotine or a motion to suspend standing orders.[12]

Giving notice

A notice of motion is given by a Member delivering it in writing to the Clerk at the Table. It may specify the day proposed for moving the motion (which may be the next day of sitting or any other suitable day[13]) and must be authorised by the Member and a seconder. A notice which expresses a censure of or no confidence in the Government, or a censure of any Member, has to be reported to the House by the Clerk at the first convenient opportunity.[14] Other notices are not reported to the House. A notice is not regarded as having been received until delivered to the Clerk in the Chamber and thus cannot be received when the House is not sitting. A notice lodged on a non-sitting day or outside the Chamber—for example, with the Table Office or with the Clerk of the Federation Chamber—is taken to the Chamber at the first opportunity.

A Minister has referred to the terms of a notice, which he handed to the Clerk, during an answer to a question.[15]

Member absent

If a Member is absent, another Member, at his or her request, may give a notice of motion on behalf of the absent Member. The notice must show the name of the absent Member and the signature of the Member acting for him or her.[16] However, a Member may not lodge a notice while on leave, nor may another Member give a notice on his or her behalf.

Member suspended

In 1984 the Speaker held that to allow a suspended Member to hand notices to the Clerk for reporting to the House would not accord with the intention of the House in suspending the Member.

Notices of matters sponsored by more than one Member

The standing orders make provision for notices from individual Members only. In a situation where two or more Members have jointly sponsored a private Member’s bill, the notice has been given by one of the Members concerned, and that Member has presented the bill, but the bill has been printed with the names of both or all sponsoring Members as sponsors.[17]

Need for seconder

The standing orders require that a notice of motion must be signed by the Member proposing the motion and a seconder.[18] For practical reasons the Chair does not insist that the actual seconder of the motion be the same Member who signed the notice of motion as seconder. A notice of motion given by a Minister, a Parliamentary Secretary or, in certain circumstances, the Chief Government Whip does not require a seconder (see page 300). In 1992 the Procedure Committee recommended that standing orders be amended to allow Members to lodge a notice of motion without the need for a seconder. No action was taken on the recommendation.[19]

If the Member who has signed a notice as a seconder formally withdraws his or her support the notice is removed from the Notice Paper.

The act of seconding a notice indicates support for the motion being put to the House and debated; it does not necessarily indicate support for the motion.

Contingent notice

Contingent notices are notices conditional upon an event occurring in the House which in fact may not eventuate. The practice of using contingent notices has operated from the very beginnings of the House, a contingent notice appearing on the first Notice Paper issued.[20]

In practice, the significance of the procedure is that a motion to suspend standing orders moved pursuant to a contingent notice only needs to be passed by a simple majority, whereas the same motion moved without notice would require an absolute majority.

A set of contingent notices, each for the purpose of facilitating the progress of legislation, are normally given in the first week of each session. For example:

Contingent on any bill being brought in and read a first time: Minister to move—That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the second reading being made an order of the day for a later hour.[21]

The use of these contingent notices is discussed in the Chapter on ‘Legislation’. Contingent notices of motion are not now mentioned in the standing orders, nor do they form part of UK House of Commons practice. However, the contingent notices to aid the passage of legislation have been lodged as a matter of course for a considerable time. Because the device of a contingent notice may cut across or defeat the normal operation of certain standing orders, which generally have been framed for sound reasons and which provide safeguards against hasty or ill-considered action, any extension of its use is questionable.[22]

Order on the Notice Paper

As a general rule notices are entered on the Notice Paper, in priority of orders of the day, in the order in which they are received.[23] There are important provisos however in that:

  • In relation to government business, the Leader of the House can arrange the order of notices on the Notice Paper as he or she thinks fit[24] and, as government business has priority on all sitting days, government notices will normally take priority over notices given by private Members.
  • In relation to private Members’ business, the Selection Committee can cause changes to the order of private Members’ notices on the Notice Paper as a result of arranging the order of private Members’ business for each sitting Monday.[25] Private Members’ notices not called on after eight sitting Mondays are removed from the Notice Paper.[26]

Subject to these provisos, notices appear on the Notice Paper as Notice No. 1, 2, 3, and so on, and must be called on and dealt with by the House in that order, before the orders of the day are called on. If it is desired not to proceed with a notice or with notices generally, an appropriate postponement motion may be moved, without notice.[27] However, in the case of private Members’ business, as a notice is the possession of the Member who gave it, notices may only be taken otherwise than according to the order of precedence determined by the Selection Committee by:

  • withdrawal of the notice, before being called on, by the Member who gave the notice (S.O. 110(c));
  • postponement by motion moved (without notice) by the Member who gave the notice (S.O. 112), or
  • the Member not moving the motion when it is called on, or the Member, or another Member at his or her request, setting a future time for moving the motion (S.O. 113).[28]

Notice amended or divided by Speaker

The Speaker must amend any notice of motion which contains inappropriate language or which does not conform to the standing orders.[29] See ‘Authority of the Speaker to amend or disallow’ at page 296.

The Speaker may divide a notice of motion which contains matters not relevant to each other.[30] This would not necessarily be done in the House.[31] See also ‘Complicated question divided’ at page 304.

Notice altered by Member

A Member may alter the terms of a notice of motion he or she has given by notifying the Clerk in writing in time for the change to be published in the Notice Paper.[32] The altered notice becomes effective only after it appears on the Notice Paper.[33] An amended notice must not exceed the scope of the original notice. Provided that these rules are observed a notice may be altered at any time after it has been given. When a notice has been amended, the fact that it has been amended is indicated on the Notice Paper after the notice, together with the date that the alteration was made.[34]

Leave has also been granted to amend a notice when it has been called on to be moved.[35]

Withdrawal or removal of notice

A Member may withdraw a notice of motion he or she has given by notifying the Clerk in writing before the motion is called on.[36] The withdrawal of a notice is effective immediately notification is received. The Clerk is not required to announce the withdrawal of a notice to the House but may do so if it affects the programming of business before the House.

A notice of motion is also withdrawn from the Notice Paper, with immediate effect, if the Member who gave the notice does not move the motion when it is called on,[37] unless he or she, or another Member at his or her request, sets a future time for moving the motion.[38] However, once the question on the motion has been proposed from the Chair it is in possession of the House and cannot be withdrawn without leave.[39]

Under standing order 42 the Clerk removes from the Notice Paper any item of private Member’s business which has not been called on for eight consecutive sitting Mondays.

5. S.O. 111.
6. S.O. 108.
7. S.O. 120 (see page 319).
8. VP 1920–21/184.
9. VP 1954–55/180; H.R. Deb. (28.4.1955) 230–1.
10. VP 1954–55/269–70; H.R. Deb. (10.6.1955) 1629.
11. S.O. 87.
12. H.R. Deb. (15.9.2008) 7362.
13. H.R. Deb. (29.5.1908) 11702.
14. S.O. 106(c), e.g. H.R. Deb. (22.5.2012) 5073.
15. H.R. Deb. (29.3.2004) 27401, 27511.
16. S.O. 107.
17. E.g. Protection of Australian Flags (Desecration of the Flag) Bill 2003, sponsored by 2 Members, H.R. Deb. (18.8.2003) 18671–3, VP 2002–04/1085; Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011, sponsored by 3 Members, H.R. Deb. (4.7.2011) 7271–4, VP 2010–22/713. (Senate S.O. 76(4) provides for joint notices.)
18. S.O. 106.
19. PP 102 (1992).
20. NP 1 (21.5.1901) 1.
21. VP 1985–87/1071.
22. For examples of other contingent notices relating to specific occasions or items of business see NP 145 (8.12.1971) 11529; NP 180 (15.8.1972) 14646; NP 45 (5.12.1974) 4942, VP 1974–75/422; NP 84 (16.2.2006) 3769.
23. S.O. 108.
24. S.O. 45.
25. S.O.s 41, 222.
26. S.O. 42.
27. See Ch. on ‘Order of business and the sitting day’.
28. E.g. VP 1996–98/ 1902; VP 2008–10/939.
29. S.O. 109(a).
30. S.O. 109(b).
31. H.R. Deb. (23.10.1975) 2447.
32. S.O. 110(a).
33. S.O. 108.
34. NP 91 (4.4.1979) 4984; NP 92 (5.4.1979) 5011. This is also a case of where a notice, first given over a year earlier, was altered by omitting all words after ‘That’ and substituting other words as subsequent events had overtaken the purpose of the original notice. The amendment was considered acceptable as it covered the same subject matter, together with subsequent events. A proposal to substitute words which had no relationship to the original notice would not have been in order.
35. E.g. VP 1973–74/124; VP 1998–2001/1118; VP 2004–07/602 (12.9.2005), 1150 (29.5.2006); VP 2010–12/1016 (31.10.2011).
36. S.O. 110(c). A private Member’s notice may be withdrawn even after it has been accorded priority by the Selection Committee.
37. S.O. 113. E.g. VP 1983–84/915; VP 2008–10/1768.
38. E.g. VP 1996–98/1902; VP 2004–07/1106.
39. H.R. Deb. (19.3.1908) 9352; S.O. 117(b).