Parliamentary Procedures

Parliamentary procedures are followed by almost all organized policy making groups in transacting business. These procedures consist of a set of rules which are based upon certain principles. These principles provide that the conduct of the group is both democratic and efficient. Thus, parliamentary procedures are simply a standardized code of everyday good manners applied to a special situation created when a large number of people gather together in a business meeting to take some form of group action.

The most important principles are:

  1. Parliamentary rules exist to provide an orderly way of conducting the group's business.
  2. The majority rules and the procedures enable the group to act when a majority desires action.
  3. Parliamentary rules provide for the protection of the minority; the minority has a right to be heard and to become the majority.
  4. All members have equal rights, privileges, and obligations.
  5. Full and free discussion of every question is guaranteed.
  6. Only one question can be considered at a time. Every member has a right at all times to know what question is under consideration.
  7. The most direct procedures to achieve the group's purpose and to insure prompt action should be followed.
  8. The minimum essential officers for the conduct of business are a presiding officer and a secretary, or clerk. The presiding officer conducts the meeting and sees that the rules are observed. The secretary makes a written record of what is done.
  9. Customs of formality that are followed by the presiding officer and members under parliamentary procedure serve to maintain the chair's necessary position of impartiality and help to preserve an objective and impersonal approach.
    1. The president or chief officer of an organized group who presides at its meetings is addressed as "Mr. President" or "Madam President," "Mr. Moderator" or "Madam Moderator," "Mr. Chairman" or "Madam Chairwoman," "Mr. Chairperson," or "Madam Chairperson," or some other appropriate title. The presiding officer refers to himself or herself in the third person: "The Chair rules that..." or "The Chair is pleased to report that..."
    2. Members address only the chair or address each other through the chair. They generally should try to avoid mentioning a member's name whenever the person involved can be described in some other way, such as, "Mr. Chairperson, may I ask the member to explain..." Before a member can make a motion or speak in debate, the member must "obtain the floor;" that is, the member must be recognized by the chair as having the exclusive right to be heard at that time. To claim the floor, a member addresses the chair and, if recognized, has the floor to speak.
    3. The general procedure for the conduct of business is as follows:
      1. A member addresses the chair and seeks recognition.
      2. The chair recognizes the member to speak.
      3. The member states the motion.
      4. The chair calls for a second.
      5. If seconded, the motion is restated by the chair.
      6. The chair conducts the debate on the motion.
      7. The chair puts the question to a vote.
      8. The chair announces the voting result.
    4. The maker of the motion is assigned the floor first in debate, if that person claims it before anyone else has been recognized. In debate, each member has the right to speak twice on the same question on the same day, but cannot take a second speech on the same question so long as any member who has not spoken on the question desires the floor. Without the permission of the assembly, no one can speak longer than permitted by the rules of the body—or, in a non-legislative assembly, that has no rule of its own relating to the length of speeches, longer than ten minutes.
  10. Committees, as understood in parliamentary law, are bodies that are subordinate instruments of an assembly, or are accountable to a higher authority in some other way not characteristic of an assembly. Committees have no minimum size, but are often, though not necessarily, very small; a committee could consist of one person. Committee members are elected or appointed by (or by direction of) an assembly to consider, investigate, or take action on certain matters or subjects, or to do all these things. A large committee generally follows parliamentary procedure much as an assembly does. Most parliamentary rules apply, with certain modifications, to permit greater flexibility and informality.
  11. The group can act only on a motion properly made and seconded, with only minor exceptions. Motions have a definite order of precedence depending on the relative urgency of each and the effect they have on the group's business. A motion of higher precedence may be made when any motion is pending, and those of higher rank must be disposed of first. Motions are of four types: privileged, subsidiary, incidental, and main:
    1. Privileged motions have precedence over all other motions since they are related to the welfare of the group as a whole rather than to any particular motion before the group. They fall within a list of precedence.
    2. Subsidiary motions yield precedence to the privileged motions and take precedence over main motions. Because subsidiary motions are concerned with the disposal or modification of a main motion, they must be disposed of before the main motion to which they apply. They fall within a list of precedence.
    3. Incidental motions do not properly fall within the list of precedence, since they usually arise out of business before the assembly. They may be proposed at any time, and must be decided as they arise. They fall within no list of precedence among themselves.
    4. Original main motions and incidental main motions differ principally in the nature of their subject matter. Original main motions bring business before the group, and incidental main motions bring a question again before the group. These motions are of the lowest rank and take precedence over no others. They fall within no list of precedence among themselves.
  12. Motions can also be classified according to purpose or special situation.
    1. To modify motion: To amend (Subsidiary)
    2. To suppress debate or hasten action:
      1) Call for orders of the day (Privileges)
      2) Previous question (Subsidiary)
      3) Limit debate (Subsidiary)
      4) Suspend rules (Incidental)
      5) Take from the table (Main)
      6) Make special order of business (Main)
    3. To delay action:
      1) To lay on the table (Subsidiary)
      2) Postpone to a definite time (Subsidiary)
      3) Refer to committee (Subsidiary)
    4. To prevent action:
      1) Postpone indefinitely (Subsidiary)
      2) Object to consideration (Incidental)
      3) Withdraw a motion (Incidental)
    5. To consider more carefully:
      1) Extend debate (Subsidiary)
      2) Divide question (Incidental)
      3) Committee of the whole (Incidental)
    6. To change a decision:
      1) Reconsider (Main)
      2) Rescind (Main)
    7. To maintain rules and order:
      1) Question of privilege (Privilege)
      2) Question of order (Incidental)
      3) Appeal from decision of chair (Incidental)
      4) Parliamentary inquiry (Incidental)
      5) Request for information (Incidental)
    8. To close a meeting:
      1) To fix time of next meeting (Privileged)
      2) Adjourn (Privileged)
      3) Recess (Privileged)

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