266. Practical Suggestions.— As has been frequently said already, the general parliamentary law as laid down in this manual is amply sufficient for all ordinary assemblies. Most legislatures, with some rules for the order of business and some provisions changing the order of motions, could be safely conducted on the general law. The House of Representatives of the Fifty-first Congress had no other rules, except those relating to the number and duties of committees, from December 1st to February 16th, and were able to transact business satisfactorily, notwithstanding a high state of political feeling. Indeed, any one who has examined the rules of various State legislatures will see that a large part of the rules, so called, are but repetitions of the provisions of the general parliamentary law.
It remains, therefore, only to point out the dangers of abuse of the regulations of the general law, so that each assembly may see where amendments should be made.
267. Changes in Order of Business.— So far as the order of business is concerned nothing remains to be said. There have already been given orders of business suitable for all ordinary purposes outside of the legislative bodies of States. Only one caution need be added, and that is that no rules should be adopted calculated to smother or thrust aside unfinished business. Such rules would ruin any assembly for purposes of action. (See Secs. 260-263.)
There remains, then, only the order or rank of motions.
268. Change in Rank of Motions.— The danger attendant upon the rank which motions have in general parliamentary law arises principally from the unwillingness of men to forego debate even after full discussion. Representatives in Congress, and sometimes even Senators, do not finish when they have got through. To this natural desire for debate must be added the disposition, which has grown so much of late as to attract animadversion in all countries governed by the parliamentary system, the disposition to use debate to waste time, cause delay, and prevent action. Hence the prominence given to the previous question in all legislative bodies. Having public business to perform, and generally within a stated time, they have put on record the need of control of debate. This most of them have done in two ways, viz.: First, by establishing an order of motions which enables the assembly to cut off the motion to commit, both motions for postponement, the motion to amend, and all debate. This is done by giving precedence over all these other motions to the motion for the previous question. The rule needed to make this change is given in Secs. 264 and 265.
Where this rule exists, the previous question shuts off all the other motions, all debate, and brings the assembly to a vote, first on pending amendments and then on the main question.
Second, the previous question has been extended not only to the main question, but also to the various other motions which are debatable. Such a rule exists in the United States House (Rule XVII). A model on which such a change can be made if the assembly so desires would be as follows:
The previous question may be ordered upon all recognized motions or amendments which are debatable, and shall have the effect to cut off all debate and bring the assembly to a direct vote upon the motion or amendment on which it has been ordered.
269. Two-thirds Requirement.— So strong is the natural feeling in favor of debate that many assemblies adopt the rule requiring a two-thirds vote to order the previous question. Where party feeling does not exist, such a rule can do no harm, although probably unnecessary, since assemblies are always unwilling to cut off discussion, and this feeling is sufficient protection. Where party feeling, however, does exist, such a requirement would defeat the rule.
The English closure rule began by such a requirement as merely enabled the two parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, when united to suppress the Irish. But the demands of actual business have changed this to the simple requirement of a majority with the assent of the Speaker.