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House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

9 - Motions

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Progress of motion in House

Motion moved

A Member must not move a motion unless he or she has given notice of the motion and the notice has appeared on the Notice Paper, unless he or she has leave of the House, or unless as otherwise specified in the standing orders.[68] A Member cannot move a motion while another Member is speaking,[69] except a closure motion pursuant to standing order 80 or 81. A Member cannot move a motion on behalf of another Member,[70] except that a motion standing in the name of a Minister may be moved by any other Minister.[71] Any motion before the House must be disposed of (or withdrawn—see page 302), or debate on the motion adjourned, before another (substantive) motion can be moved.[72]

While a Member is formally moving the terms of a motion allowed under the standing orders, a motion ‘That the Member be no longer heard’[73] may not be moved, but such a motion may be moved after the Member has formally moved the motion and is speaking to it. A motion ‘That the question be now put’ may only be moved after the principal motion has been moved (and, where necessary, seconded) and the question has been proposed from the Chair.[74]

Motion seconded

After the mover of a motion has resumed his or her seat, if a seconder is required, the Chair calls for a Member to second the motion. If a motion is not seconded when a seconder is required it must not be debated, and it is not recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.[75] The Chair is not entitled to propose the question on a motion to the House until it has been moved and, if required, seconded.[76]

Because a Minister in proposing business to the House is assumed to have the backing of the Government, it has been the continuing practice of the House that motions (and amendments) moved by Ministers do not require a seconder,[77] and this exemption is now a provision of the standing orders.[78] The Chief Government Whip does not require a seconder to move motions relating to the sitting arrangements or conduct of business of the House or Federation Chamber.[79] A seconder is not required in the Federation Chamber when a private Member rostered to have regard to government interests moves a motion to vary the order of government business.[80] Also it is not the practice to require a seconder for most procedural motions,[81] or for motions in respect of the various stages of a private Member’s bill except the motion for the second reading.[82] The contemporary practice in the case of privilege motions is that, because of their special nature, possibly only affecting an individual Member, the Chair does not call for, or insist upon, a seconder. Similar considerations could be seen as applying to motions to grant leave of absence to a Member, where the practice is not to require a seconder if the motion is moved by a party leader other than a Minister. A motion moved during the consideration in detail stage of a bill, or during consideration of Senate amendments, need not be seconded.[83]

Seconders are specifically required for motions without notice to suspend standing orders and motions of dissent to a ruling of the Speaker.[84] In the case of a motion of condolence, a seconder is always called for to indicate the general support of the House, even though the motion is moved by a Minister. Motions of condolence are traditionally seconded by the Leader of the Opposition; the name of the seconder is recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

When a Member seconds a motion (or amendment) without speaking to it immediately, he or she may reserve the right to speak later during the debate.[85] For practical reasons it is the practice of the House for the Chair not to insist that the seconder of the motion be the same Member who signed the notice of motion.

Motion dropped

A motion not seconded (if seconding is required) is dropped and no entry is made in the Votes and Proceedings.[86] In certain circumstances, interruptions may occur before a motion is seconded or the question is proposed by the Chair, which would also result in the motion being dropped. These circumstances are the Speaker adjourning the House because of a count out or grave disorder. In these cases the matter may be revived by renewal of the notice of motion.

A motion may also be dropped if, for some reason, the time permitted by standing order 1 for a whole debate expires before the question has been proposed from the Chair. For example, a motion for suspension of standing orders has been dropped, the question not having been proposed to the House, because the time for the debate was taken up by proceedings resulting from a motion of dissent.[87]

A motion to suspend standing orders moved during debate of another item of business is dropped if a closure of the question before the House is agreed to before the question on the suspension motion is proposed from the Chair.[88]

In some cases a motion may also be dropped because of the automatic adjournment provision. If, for example, the mover, or the seconder, is speaking to a motion to suspend standing orders, and is interrupted by the automatic adjournment provisions, the motion is dropped,[89] unless the motion for the adjournment is immediately negatived in order to allow debate on the motion to continue.

However, if the mover or seconder of a substantive business motion or amendment is still speaking to the motion or amendment at the time of interruption by the automatic adjournment provisions, the motion or amendment is not dropped. The motion or the motion and amendment are set down automatically as an order of the day for the next sitting.[90] This action is pursuant to the provision of standing order 31(c) that ‘any business under discussion and not disposed of at the time of adjournment shall be set down on the Notice Paper for the next sitting’. In this context an item of business is treated as ‘under discussion’ even if the question has not yet been put from the Chair.

If the mover or seconder of a private Member’s motion is still speaking to the motion at the expiry of the time available, the Member is given leave to continue his or her remarks by the Chair, and the motion is set down automatically as an order of the day for the next sitting. The motion is not dropped in these circumstances.[91]

Question proposed—motion in possession of House

Standing order 117 provides that once a motion has been moved and seconded (if necessary), the Speaker shall propose the question to the House. Once the question has been proposed by the Chair the motion is deemed to be in possession of the House and, with the exception of those motions which under standing order 78 may not be debated, open to debate. The House must dispose of the motion in one way or another before it can proceed with any other business. It cannot be withdrawn without the leave of the House or altered, even to correct an error, except by leave of the House or by amendment.[92]

If the terms of a motion do not appear on the Notice Paper or have not been previously circulated in the Chamber, the Chair usually proposes the question in the full terms of the motion, otherwise the simple form ‘That the motion be agreed to’ may suffice. If the terms of a question or matter under discussion have not been circulated among Members, a Member, at any time, except when another Member is addressing the House, may request the Speaker to state the question or matter under discussion.[93]

The normal position is that the mover of a motion, with the exceptions in standing order 1 and subject to any determination by the Selection Committee in respect of private Members’ business, may speak for a maximum of 20 minutes and any other Member for 15 minutes. When speaking in reply the mover may speak for 15 minutes only.

Withdrawal of motion

A motion can be withdrawn by the Member who moved it[94] in the case of a private Member’s motion or by a Minister in the case of a government motion. However, after the question on a motion (or amendment) has been proposed from the Chair, the motion (or amendment) is in possession of the House, and cannot be withdrawn without leave of the House.[95] A motion has been withdrawn, by leave, before being seconded.[96] A Member has withdrawn a motion to suspend standing orders, the question not having been stated to the House.[97] When leave was not granted to withdraw a motion of dissent from a ruling of the Chair, standing orders were suspended to enable the Member to move a motion for the withdrawal of the motion.[98] Where an amendment has been proposed to a question, the original motion cannot be withdrawn until the amendment has been first disposed of by being agreed to, withdrawn, or negatived, as the question on the amendment stands before the main question.[99]

In the case of a matter of special interest a Minister, without leave, may withdraw the motion at the expiration of the time allotted to the debate by previous order of the House.[100] On the one occasion that a matter of special interest has been considered the motion was withdrawn by a Minister other than the mover. The withdrawal meant that an amendment which had been moved to the motion was automatically lost.[101]

Question superseded or dropped

The principal means by which a question may be superseded is by way of amendment. Once an amendment is moved and the question on the amendment proposed to the House the original question is temporarily superseded. If the amendment is negatived, the original question is again proposed to the House. If the question on the amendment is agreed to, the Chair must then propose the question ‘That the motion, as amended, be agreed to’, the original question having been superseded. If the question ‘That the bill be now read a second (or third) time’ is superseded by an amendment omitting the word ‘now’ and substituting the words ‘this day six months’ being agreed to, the bill is regarded as finally disposed of.[102]

In certain circumstances questions may be dropped. If the Speaker adjourns the House following a count out the order of the day (or motion) under discussion becomes a dropped order. An order dropped in these circumstances may be revived on motion after notice or by leave[103] (see page 301 regarding motions dropped).

Question deferred

The question before the House may be deferred by the House agreeing to the adjournment of the debate and setting a time for its resumption. The automatic adjournment provisions automatically defer any question in the possession of the House. The deferred item of business is set down on the Notice Paper for the next sitting, but if a Minister requires the question for the adjournment of the House to be put immediately and the adjournment is negatived, consideration of the interrupted question is immediately resumed at the point at which it was interrupted. Consideration of an item of private Members’ business which the Selection Committee has determined should continue on another day is deferred when the debate concludes or the time expires. Consideration of a matter before the House at the time of interruption for Question Time is also deferred.[104]

A question in the Federation Chamber may be deferred by the motion ‘That further proceedings be conducted in the House’,[105] by the Federation Chamber being unable to reach agreement on a matter and reporting the question back to the House as ‘unresolved’, or by interruption in order that an adjournment debate may be held (see page 305).

Consideration of question interrupted

Consideration of a question may be interrupted by a motion arising out of a matter of order, a motion to suspend standing orders, or a matter of privilege. As these matters have their own question or requirement, they must be resolved first by the House. Such an interruption is of a temporary nature and once resolved consideration of the original question is resumed.

Motion declared urgent

The limitation of debate or ‘guillotine’ procedure applies to motions per se as well as motions connected with the passage of a bill.[106] The only precedent for this procedure in relation to a motion was in 1921 when a motion was declared urgent merely as a precaution to ensure that a vote was taken by a certain time.[107]

Once a motion of any kind has been moved a Minister may at any time declare it to be urgent and, on such a declaration being made, the question ‘That the motion be considered an urgent motion’ is put immediately without amendment or debate. If the question is agreed to, a Minister may move immediately a motion specifying times for the motion. The provisions for the motion for the allotment of time are the same as for a bill. At the end of the time allotted, the Chair puts immediately any question already proposed from the Chair followed by any other question required to dispose of the urgent motion. A motion ‘That the question be now put’ may not be moved while a motion is under guillotine.[108]

Complicated question divided

A Member may move that a complicated question be divided.[109] Relevant precedents for divided questions are:

  • a complex motion to endorse in principle certain sections of a Standing Orders Committee report and amend other standing orders as recommended;[110]
  • a motion for leave of absence to two Members;[111]
  • a motion to ratify a report of a conference on dominion legislation;[112]
  • a motion proposing a conference to select the site of the Federal Capital;[113]
  • motions proposing the appointment of a select,[114] and a joint select committee;[115] and
  • a motion that a Printing Committee report, recommending that certain papers be printed and that the House reconsider its decision to print a paper, be agreed to.[116]

The usual procedure is that, following the suggestion of a Member, the Chair ascertains, either on the voices or by division, whether it is the wish of the House that the question be divided as suggested.[117]

Standing orders have been suspended to allow separate questions to be put on two distinct propositions contained in the two paragraphs of a motion. To suit the convenience of the House the question on an amendment to the original motion which related only to paragraph (2) of the motion was put after the question on paragraph (1) had been put and agreed to.[118] Standing orders were suspended in this instance because it was not considered that the motion could be regarded as complicated.

Question put and result determined

Once debate upon a question has been concluded—by no Member rising to speak, the mover of the original question having spoken in reply, the House agreeing to the motion ‘That the question be now put’, or the time allotted under guillotine or the standing orders having expired—the Chair must put the question to the House for decision.[119] The question is resolved in the affirmative or negative, by the majority of voices, ‘Aye’ or ‘No’. The Speaker then states whether the ‘Ayes’ or the ‘Noes’ have it and, if the Speaker’s opinion is challenged, the question must be decided by division of the House.[120] Decisions in the Federation Chamber can only be decided on the voices—if any Member dissents from the result announced by the Chair, the question is recorded in the minutes as unresolved and reported back to the House for decision there (see below).

Apart from the occasions when a motion has been withdrawn, there have been other occasions when the Chair has not put the question, for example when an amendment to omit words has made the motion meaningless (see page 311).

Consideration in the Federation Chamber

The range of motions which can be moved in the Federation Chamber (formerly the Main Committee)[121] is limited, as the Federation Chamber can only consider matters referred to it by the House.[122] Such matters are confined to the second reading and consideration in detail stages of bills, and orders of the day for resumption of debate on any motion.[123] Motions referred for debate are not resolved in the Federation Chamber, in accordance with the philosophy that it is a forum for debate of such matters and not their determination. The House may require matters referred to be returned to the House.[124]

Unless otherwise provided in the standing orders, Federation Chamber procedure in respect of motions is the same as that applying in the House.[125] Where the standing orders ‘otherwise provide’ it is to reflect the principle that the House itself is the proper forum for the resolution of contentious matters.

A unique feature of Federation Chamber procedure is the provision for unresolved questions. Decisions in the Federation Chamber are taken only ‘on the voices’. If any Member dissents from the result announced by the Chair—that is, in situations which would cause a division in the House—the Federation Chamber must report the matter back to the House as ‘unresolved’.[126] In practice, in some circumstances it may make no sense for the House to determine an unresolved question—for example, on a motion that a Member speaking on the adjournment be no longer heard—and in such a case the matter is not put to the House.[127] The House has suspended standing orders to permit debate on a bill to continue in the Main Committee (now Federation Chamber) regardless of any unresolved questions.[128] When an unresolved question that the question be now put has been referred to the House and resolved in the negative, debate on the question has continued in the House.[129]

Any Member may move without notice, at any time,[130] in relation to a bill or other order of the day being considered ‘That further proceedings be conducted in the House’. No seconder is required. This motion must be put without amendment or debate, and the bill or order of the day must be returned to the House (anyway) in the event of the Federation Chamber being unable to resolve the question.[131]

The standing orders are orders of the House and motions to suspend them may not be moved in the Federation Chamber, which is a subsidiary body. Any decision taken in the Federation Chamber is subject to the approval of the House.


68. S.O. 111. See Ch. on ‘Order of business and the sitting day’ for the order in which the Chair calls on motions.
69. VP 1974–75/338; H.R. Deb. (21.11.1974) 3899.
70. However, this has been done by leave, e.g. VP 2002–04/1648. Standing orders have been suspended to permit a private Member’s bill to be presented by another Member, VP 2002–2004/510.
71. H.R. Deb. (15.6.1918) 6206.
72. H.R. Deb. (17.3.1944) 1563–4.
73. S.O. 80.
74. S.O. 81.
75. S.O. 116(a).
76. H.R. Deb. (4.5.1978) 1814.
77. H.R. Deb. (21.9.1909) 3608. This practice was formally extended to Assistant Ministers in 1972, VP 1970–72/1009–10; Standing Orders Committee report, PP 20 (1972) 1, 6–7; and, in 1990, to Parliamentary Secretaries, VP 1990–92/38, 1083–4.
78. S.O. 116(b).
79. S.O. 116(c). The exemption was originally provided by resolution of the House in 1994, VP 1993–95/982–3.
80. That is, the Member performing the role equivalent to that of the Duty Minister in the House, usually a committee chair, e.g. H.R. Deb. (23.6.2010) 6474.
81. For example, the following motions: that a Member be heard now (S.O. 65(c)), that a Member be further heard (S.O. 75), that the debate be now adjourned (S.O. 79(a)), that a Member be granted an extension of time (S.O. 1), that the question be now put (S.O. 81), that a Member be no longer heard (S.O. 80) and that the business of the day be called on (S.O. 46(c)).
82. E.g. H.R. Deb. (26.9.1974) 1859; H.R. Deb. (17.10.1974) 2507–9; H.R. Deb. (28.10.2010) 1990.
83. S.O.s 151, 159.
84. S.O.s 47, 87.
85. S.O. 70.
86. S.O. 116(a), e.g. second reading amendment not seconded, H.R. Deb. (13.10.2003) 21260; motion for suspension of standing orders not seconded, H.R. Deb. (22.6.2011) 6910.
87. VP 1998–2001/1936; see also VP 2010–2011/539 (time taken up by divisions on procedural motions).
88. H.R. Deb. (12.8.2004) 32979–80.
89. H.R. Deb. (2.4.1981) 1316. The motion to suspend standing orders moved immediately prior to the automatic adjournment was dropped.
90. E.g. VP 2010–12/177.
91. E.g. VP 1987–89/978; VP 1996–98/1327.
92. H.R. Deb. (11.11.1913) 3008–9.
93. S.O. 67. E.g. H.R. Deb. (10.6.1999) 6655–6; H.R. Deb. (25.9.2008) 8689. The Speaker has directed the Clerk to read the terms of a matter under discussion, H.R. Deb. (7.12.1904) 8016.
94. See also ‘Withdrawal or removal of notice’ at p. 296.
95. S.O. 117(b).
96. VP 1970–72/127.
97. H.R. Deb. (20.9.2007) 95.
98. VP 1929–31/302.
99. May, 24th edn, p. 402.
100. S.O. 50.
101. VP 1974–75/815–17.
102. S.O.s 146, 155(b); and see Ch. on ‘Legislation’.
103. E.g. VP 1993–96/2360.
104. S.O. 97.
105. S.O. 197(a).
106. S.O. 83.
107. VP 1920–21/498–500; H.R. Deb. (21.4.1921) 7663. The declaration was made on a motion to print a paper relating to the League of Nations mandate for the German possessions in the Pacific.
108. For full discussion on the limitation of debate procedure see Ch. on ‘Legislation’.
109. S.O. 119.
110. VP 1970–72/242–3.
111. VP 1906/55.
112. VP 1929–31/748.
113. VP 1903/144.
114. VP 1905/136.
115. VP 1978–80/366.
116. VP 1920–21/659.
117. H.R. Deb. (18.11.1959) 2822. A Member objecting to a suggestion that a question be divided, the Speaker has ruled that the motion be voted on as submitted, H.R. Deb. (18.12.1914) 2269.
118. VP 2002–04/1550–2, H.R. Deb. (30.3.2004) 27592–5.
119. S.O. 117(c).
120. S.O. 125. For a full discussion of division procedures see Ch. on ‘Order of business and the sitting day’.
121. The Main Committee was renamed the Federation Chamber from 27 February 2012 (VP 2010–12/1179).
122. S.O. 183. Members’ statements may also be made and adjournment debates may take place.
123. S.O. 183. Before 2004–07 only motions moved in connection with committee and delegation reports and motions to take note of papers were provided for. The Address in Reply debate was also referred (VP 1998–2001/129)—the motion ‘That the Address (reported by the Address in Reply Committee) be agreed to’, being regarded as a motion in connection with a committee report. Restrictions on Main Committee (Federation Chamber) business were circumvented by the device of presenting and moving to take note of a range of documents to enable debate or further debate on various matters to be referred. Examples of this practice included copies of motions moved (and already passed) in the House (VP 2002–04/691, 1064, 1233–4, 1552), and copies of announcements of the death of a former Member or other notable person, to provide, in effect, the opportunity for a condolence debate (VP 2002–04/1401, 1428, 1713).
124. S.O. 197, e.g. VP 2008–10/881.
125. S.O. 185.
126. S.O. 188(b), e.g. VP 1993–95/2470, 2478, 2504–5, 2516; VP 1996–98/380, 387; VP 2008–10/1750.
127. E.g. VP 1998–2001/2034—matter not referred to House. VP 2002–04/386; H.R. Deb. (29.8.2002) 6192–3—several unresolved questions not put to House; statement by Speaker (standing orders had been suspended to allow progress despite unresolved questions).
128. VP 1996–98/551–5. The context was the referral to the Main Committee of a bill which many Members wished to debate in the House. Subsequent proceedings (suspended because of disorder, VP 1996–98/765) emphasised the extent to which Main Committee operations depended on general co-operation. VP 2002–04/357–8, 367; H.R. Deb. (26.8.2002) 5676–88 (on this occasion debate continued despite a series of unresolved questions on procedural matters).
129. VP 2002–04/742.
130. In practice, this motion is not moved so as to interrupt a Member’s speech.
131. S.O. 197, e.g. VP 1993–95/2470, 2477; but see VP 1996–98/273 (question put again and negatived).