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Chapter 4 - Debating the Motion

Every member has the right to debate or to discuss business that is introduced to the assembly in the form of a main motion. Only a motion to limit debate or to close debate (which is accomplished through a motion called previous question) can take away or limit this right, and either motion must have a two-thirds vote. (See Chapter 7, "Limit or Extend the Limits of Debate" and "Previous Question.")

The assembly can make an informed decision from the facts and persuasive arguments that members present only through discussion. Members should never be tempted to gavel through an issue (rush through a motion without any discussion) in an effort to save time or silence the opposition.

In his book Parliamentary Law, Henry Robert gives a word to the wise when he states,

Where there is radical difference of opinion in an organization, one side must yield. The great lesson for democracies to learn is for the majority to give the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority to their views, gracefully to submit and to recognize the action as that of the entire organization, and cheerfully to assist in carrying it out, until they can secure its repeal.

This chapter explains the rules of debate and the circumstances under which debate can be limited. It also lists those motions that are debatable and those that are not.


Even though members have the right to debate, established parliamentary rules concerning the privileges of debate exist:


Members can put limits on debate and even stop the debate altogether. To do so, members must make a motion. The presiding officer cannot cut off the debate as long as one member wishes to rise and speak. Neither can one member stop the debate by yelling out "Question" or "It's time to take a vote."

Only the motion to limit debate can limit debate; and debate can be closed only by the motion previous question or close debate. These motions need a second, are not debatable, and require a two-thirds vote to adopt. A rising (but not counted) vote is required. (For more details about these motions, see Chapter 7.)


Not all motions are debatable. Some motions are debatable in some situations and not in others. It is important to study the chapters on motions (Chapters 6 through 10) to understand what each motion is and the reasons why some motions are debatable and some aren't. The following is a list of debatable and nondebatable motions.


Main motion

Postpone indefinitely


Refer to a committee

Postpone to a certain time

Appeal from the decision of the chair


Amend something previously adopted

Reconsider Recess (as an incidental main motion)

Fix the time to which to adjourn (as an incidental main motion)


Limit or extend the limits of debate

Previous question (close debate)

Lay on the table

Take from the table

Call for the orders of the day

Raise a question of privilege

Recess (as a privileged motion)


Fix the time to which to adjourn (as a privileged motion)

Point of order

Withdraw a motion

Suspend the rules

Object to consideration of the motion

Division of the assembly

Division of the question

Incidental motions relating to voting, when the subject is pending

Dispense with the reading of the minutes

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