Reed's Parliamentary Rules
Reed's Parliamentary Rules
Chapter X -- Conduct of Business, Continued
Home | Index Previous | Next 

162. Privileged and Incidental Motions.— All the motions already enumerated and described except the main question are called subsidiary, because they tend to modify the position of the main question or the main question itself. They tend to the disposal of the main question by obtaining in various ways the opinion of the assembly. To refuse to consider the main question at all, to discontinue consideration until some other particular time, or to decline finally to continue its consideration, disposes of it indirectly. It is a rejection sometimes temporary, sometimes final. Although nominally these motions only change the position of the question, yet they are often equivalent to a direct adverse vote.

163. Review of Motions.— Before considering the other motions possible, it is well to pass in review those already described, and to submit a few suggestions generally. Let us first restate them in their order of precedence.

Subsidiary Motions

 First Rank.--

Question of consideration.

Second Rank.--

To lay on the table.

Third Rank.--

To postpone to a day certain.
To commit or recommit.
To postpone indefinitely.
For the previous question.

Fourth Rank.--

To amend.

        First Rank.— The question of consideration takes precedence of all other questions, but must be moved as soon as the question is stated by the presiding officer. If debate has begun, or any other motion has been put, then it will be too late to demand that the question of consideration shall be determined.

        Second Rank.— After the assembly has determined to consider the question, then a motion to lay on the table can be entertained, and has precedence of all other remaining subsidiary motions.

        Third Rank.— It will be seen that in the third rank there are placed four motions. They are placed together because they are of equal rank and neither can displace the other. The one first moved must be the one first disposed of before either of the others will be in order. For example, if a motion to postpone of either kind is pending, a motion for the previous question can not be received, nor a motion to commit. So if a motion to commit is pending, a motion to postpone can not be received. So, also, pending the previous question, a motion to commit or postpone would not be admissible.

       Fourth Rank.— To amend. The motion to amend has the last place and priority over no other motion.

164. Applicability of Subsidiary Motions to Each Other.— As a rule, subsidiary motions can not be applied to each other. The motion to amend or commit can not be applied to the motion to lay on the table, to the previous question, to the question of consideration, or to the motion to indefinitely postpone. The motion to commit can not be applied to the motion to amend or to the motion to postpone to a day certain. Nor can the previous question, or either of the postponement motions, be applied to each other or any of the other motions. But there are the following exceptions:

165. Exceptions.— A motion to amend can itself be amended, as can also the motion to postpone to a day certain, and the motion to commit. In the latter case the amendment may add instructions or change the committee.

166. Effect of Motions of Higher Rank Upon Those Over Which They Have Precedence When the Inferior Motions Are Pending.— The adoption of a superior motion while inferior motions are pending has the same effect upon them as it has upon the main question. If it is not adopted, the result is the same as if it had not been made, except that it can not again be offered until such lapse of time and change of condition as makes it a new motion. For example, a motion to commit adopted sends pending amendments to the committee as well as the main question. The previous question, when adopted, requires a vote on pending amendments first. A motion to lay on the table, if agreed to, carries to the table previous question, motion to commit, amendment or postponement, or any other motion which may be pending.

167. Privileged Motions.— The motions principal (or main question) and subsidiary already enumerated and described are motions relating strictly to the progress of the particular business before the assembly. This is true although a favorable vote on some of them, such as to lay on the table under the Congressional practice, to postpone indefinitely, and to refuse to consider, is to cause the main question to be lost indirectly. But it should always be remembered that the rejection of a proposition is just as much the progress of business as its acceptance. “No” just as properly expresses the will of an assembly as “yes.” A verdict for the defendant is just as much the progress of the business of a lawsuit as a verdict for the plaintiff.

There are, however, other motions, properly called privileged motions, which do not concern themselves with the progress of the main question, but with the existence of the assembly, the performance of its functions generally, its police and good order. They concern only incidentally the main question, which is for the moment before the assembly, and that only so far as they delay action by the taking up of the time. Yet these very motions, which do not concern the business before the assembly, have precedence over all others. This is because they are essential, not only to this particular business, but to the existence of the assembly itself as a working parliamentary body.

No assembly can work all the time; hence it must have the right to adjourn, and under certain circumstances to take a recess, and also to fix the time to which it will adjourn. So, also, an assembly, or one of its members, may be so attacked that the good effect of its action may be greatly impaired. Unless the attack can be repelled, the effect of its action may be lost. Hence arise questions of privilege, by the aid of which the assembly may set itself right with the community, or the member may have proper action taken to reinstate him in public confidence as a member. These privileged motions are as follows:

Privileged Motions

168. Privileged Motions.— First, motions to adjourn. Second, motions to fix the time to which the assembly shall adjourn. Third, motion for a recess. Fourth, questions of personal privilege relating to the assembly. Fifth, questions of personal privilege relating to the member.

In addition it should be said that there may emergencies arise so immediate that action must be taken because of them. A fire may break out, or some sudden danger may occur. In such an event the presiding officer must assume the responsibility of calling upon the assembly for immediate action, by putting motions otherwise not in order, trusting to the approval of the assembly afterward. These occasions are so rare, however, and the assembly so likely to be unanimous, that they hardly need mention.

The first three motions are called privileged motions, and the last two, questions of privilege.

169. Motion to Adjourn—Highly Privileged.— The motion to adjourn is a motion which enables the assembly to rest from its labors, and is highly privileged. It is frequently said that a motion to adjourn is always in order, but there are too many exceptions for the rule to be so succinctly laid down. A motion to adjourn can not take a member from the floor, can not interrupt the verification of a vote, and can not be entertained while an assembly is dividing. It can not be repeated until some business has intervened, and in the United States House of Representatives it yields to the presentation of a conference report.

170. Exception—When to Adjourn Would Be to Dissolve.— When an assembly has not fixed the day to which it shall adjourn, and it is not otherwise limited by law, an adjournment would be equivalent to a dissolution, and would have no privilege whatever over other motions. Indeed, unless some time in such cases has been fixed for the next meeting the motion to adjourn should not be entertained by the presiding officer, unless he puts it as a motion to dissolve, which would have no priority, and indeed none of the peculiarities of a motion to adjourn. It would be debatable. An ordinary motion to adjourn is, as its very name implies, a proposition to resume another day, and means an intermission. This motion for an intermission needs no debate. A proposition to destroy the assembly would evidently open up a wide field for debate.

171. Motion to Fix a Time to Which an Assembly Shall Adjourn.— This motion is, like the motion to adjourn, a motion highly privileged, when no time has been determined upon as the regular hour of meeting after each adjournment. Such a motion is in order as against any pending motion, including the motion to adjourn itself. It does not, however, have privilege over a motion for a recess already pending.

But if the assembly has already fixed the time for the regular meeting after adjournment, the motion to fix the time to which the assembly shall adjourn has no privilege or priority over pending motions.

172. Practical Observations.— In small and informal assemblies, a motion to adjourn, no time having been fixed for the next meeting, has frequently embodied in it a provision relative to the time to which the adjournment is to be had, such as a motion to adjourn to meet to-morrow at 10 o'clock a.m. Such a motion would be debatable, amendable, and privileged, but could not be repeated until some business had intervened. In case of anticipated contest, however, the two motions had better be kept separate, to avoid confusion.

173. Practical Suggestions.— Inasmuch as a motion to adjourn in a case where no day or date of reassembling had been fixed would, if carried, work a dissolution, whether so intended or not, and as fixing a date each day would be very inconvenient, the wisest thing for an assembly to do would be to fix as early as possible the time for meeting each day as long as the assembly is to continue. When the assembly is likely to take a recess each day, the time for that had better be decided upon as early as possible.

174. Motion for a Recess.— Where, by a special rule or order, the time has been fixed at which the session shall be resumed, the motion for a recess is, like the motion to adjourn, highly privileged, and is not amendable or debatable. Under other circumstances the motion is not privileged at all, and can be made only when there is no other business before the assembly. Where a recess has been ordered to begin at a future time, a motion to adjourn adopted before that time carries the assembly to the next regular session. (For Rule of House of Representatives, see Sec. 265.)

175. Effect of No Quorum on These Privileged Questions.— The motion to adjourn does not require the presence of a quorum. The other motions do. But there must be an exception in the case of the motion to fix a time to which it will adjourn, the assembly not having previously determined upon a time. In such a case the motion to adjourn to meet at a stated time must be in order, and determinable by whoever is present. Otherwise the assembly might be dissolved by less than a quorum.

In the French Chamber of Deputies, where a majority is a quorum, the order of business for the next day, and the next day of meeting itself, is fixed at the close of the preceding session. No quorum is required. This arises from necessity, and is sustained upon the view that the Chamber next session has power to alter the order of the day, or may adjourn if it does not want to sit.

176. Effect of an Adjournment.— The effect of an adjournment is simply to postpone to another day the question under consideration, if there were one, and after the reading of the journal the unfinished business of the preceding day would be in order as if no adjournment had taken place. This is true, of course, in the absence of special rules.

177. These Motions in the House of Representatives.— By special rules the motions to fix a day to which the House shall adjourn, to adjourn, and to take a recess have precedence of all other motions, and are always in order, the first and third being amendable and all not debatable.

In the Fifty-first Congress all three motions were relegated to their normal places under general parliamentary law. In all other Congresses of late years except the Fifty-first, the rules have been so construed that an infinite succession of these motions can be had, and the public business be made to cease at the will of a small minority of the House.

178. Questions of Privilege.— Questions of privilege are defined by the House of Representatives in a rule which is declaratory of general parliamentary law as, “first, those affecting the rights of the House collectively, its safety, dignity, and the integrity of its proceedings. Second, the rights, reputation, and conduct of members individually in their representative capacity.” Examples of breaches of privilege of the first class are disorder in the gallery, surrounding the assembly with soldiers or with a mob, divulging the secrets of the body, tampering with a bill. Examples of the second class are an offer to bribe a member, threats used toward a member by a witness, a duel between members.

179. Questions of Privilege, When in Order.— The questions of privilege among themselves take this order: First, questions which relate to the assembly itself; second, questions which relate to the member. A question concerning the whole House would have superiority over one concerning the member, but either takes precedence of all other motions except a motion to adjourn. They may even take a member from the floor, interrupting his remarks.

180. Questions of Privilege, to Whom Addressed.— Questions of privilege are in the first instance addressed to the presiding officer, who first decides whether the questions are questions of privilege. As soon as he is satisfied upon that point, he makes a ruling, which may be the subject of appeal. If the ruling be that the question presented is not a question of privilege, then the business before the assembly proceeds. If the question is decided to be a question of privilege, then it is for the assembly to take action, as upon any other question, by motion and subsidiary motions. After the assembly has disposed of the question of privilege, it resumes the business which was interrupted by the question.

181. Incidental Questions.— Besides the principal and subsidiary motions, and the privileged questions which are liable to interrupt them, there is another class of questions called incidental questions. As the name implies, these questions arise incidentally out of both the subsidiary and privileged motions, and are capable of interrupting either in proper cases. These are:

First, questions of order.

Second, reading of papers.

Third, withdrawal of a motion.

Fourth, suspension of a rule.

Fifth, division of the question.

Sixth, motions as to method of consideration.

182. The First Question of This Kind Is a Question of Order.— The assembly, and each member of it, is entitled to have the business proceed in order. The rules of the body itself and the rules of parliamentary law must be observed. The duty of the presiding officer at all times is to see that the business proceeds in proper order. If, however, for any reason he allows the assembly to wander from the rules, and from proper parliamentary procedure, the remedy is easy. If the business before the assembly is not being conducted in order, any member has a right to call the attention of the presiding officer and of the assembly to the fact, and thereby to cause the business to be transacted in order.

Questions of Order

183. How Disposed Of.— Whenever the presiding officer, or any member, calls attention to the fact that business is proceeding out of order, a correction can be made at once. If, however, the question of order be a disputed one, it is first decided by the presiding officer, subject to an appeal to the assembly.

184. Manner of Raising and Deciding Points of Order.— Whenever any member thinks that the business of the assembly is going on contrary to proper order, he rises in his place and addresses the Chair, saying, “Mr. Chairman: I rise to a point of order.” He is then asked to state his point of order, which he does. Thereupon, either with or without debate, at the pleasure of the Chair, the presiding officer decides the question of order. If an appeal, which is debatable, be taken, then the question is put as follows: “Shall the decision of the Chair stand as the judgment of the assembly?” If the point of order be overruled, then the business proceeds as before; if sustained, then the order of action is changed to conform to the decision.

185. Incidents of an Appeal on Point of Order.— If the vote be a tie, the Chair is sustained, because, although the question is put, “Shall the decision of the Chair stand as the judgment of the assembly?” nevertheless the decision stands unless overruled. The presiding officer, when a member of the assembly, has a right to vote.

While an appeal is pending no other appeal can be entertained. All questions of order arising under an appeal must be decided peremptorily by the Chair, whose conduct may afterward be the subject of action by the assembly.

186. Points of Order—Illustrations.— Perhaps questions of order can be better elucidated by illustrations. In the House of Representatives all bills containing appropriations of money must have their first consideration in Committee of the Whole. When, therefore, any bill appropriating money comes up for consideration in the House, any member may make the point of order that the bill must first be considered in committee. This point would stop all consideration until the bill has been considered in committee. If an amendment to an amendment to an amendment, or, in other words, if an amendment in the third degree be offered, a point of order will rule it out. So with an amendment offered after previous question ordered. In short, anything which varies from the regular order may be stopped by a point of order. As for points of order to preserve order, see Debate and Decorum.

187. Reading of Papers.— Whenever an assembly has to take final action upon a paper, any member has a right to have the paper read, in order that the assembly may know what it is voting upon. But if the paper is one on which a final vote is not being taken, it is usually not read, and if any member objects, the reading must be ordered by the assembly on motion, which motion shall be decided without debate. A paper which is not the subject on which the assembly is to deliberate and act can be read only in this way, except as part of the observations of a member in debate, and even then it must be subject to reasonable limitations.

188. Practice in the United States House of Representatives.— It would seem that a proposition on which a final vote was not to be taken, like a bill offered solely for the purpose of reference, could not be read except by order of the House, but the practice where the bill was offered in open House has been otherwise.

189. Withdrawal of a Motion.— After a motion has been submitted to the assembly by the presiding officer, it is then in the possession of the assembly, and can not be withdrawn except by its consent. A motion for leave to withdraw by the member introducing it can, however, be made, which must be decided without debate.

190. Withdrawal of Motion in House of Representatives.— By special rule of the House a motion in possession of the House may be withdrawn by the mover at any time before a decision or amendment.

191. Suspension of Rules.— Under general parliamentary law there can be no suspension of rules unless the rules themselves provide for suspension. When they do so provide, the suspension can only take place in accordance with the provision. Hence it is not possible to state any general rule for the offering of such a motion. If the rule relating to suspension should be general, and simply say, for example, that the rules could be suspended on a vote of two-thirds, then the motion would be an incidental one, and be in order while the main question was pending, like any other incidental motion, and would be decided without debate.

192. Suspension of Rules in House of Representatives.— In the House of Representatives the rules can be suspended only on the first and third Mondays of each month and on the last six days of a session. To obtain a suspension of the rules there must be first a recognition of the member by the Speaker for that purpose, for the motion is not a privileged one, always in order, and there must also be a “second,” if demanded by a majority of the House ascertained by tellers. While the motion to suspend is pending but one dilatory motion can be entertained, and that is the motion to adjourn, and that but once.

193. Division of the Question.— The nature of this motion has been described in Section 151. It proposes to divide the question so that a separate vote may be taken on each substantive proposition. It must state the propositions into which it is proposed to divide the question. This motion is in order even after the previous question has been ordered.

194. Motions as to Methods of Consideration.— These motions when adopted constitute a sort of special rule applicable to the particular question under discussion, and are made only when there have been no rules established on the subject. Where rules have been established of course no special rule can be adopted in opposition without unanimous consent. These motions as to methods of consideration being in order at almost any stage, and relating as they do to limitation of debate and the order of action on the part of the assembly, give the body a control so complete of its business that but little is left to be desired. By means of them the assembly can limit debate and prescribe its course of action.

195. Practical Suggestions.— These questions of procedure can be, and ordinarily are, settled in the most informal manner, on suggestion of the Chair or of the member in charge of the question. It is only in rare cases, where no agreement can be reached, that the motions referred to are made, and when made should be decided without formal debate.