House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
Previous PageNext Page

12. The Process of Debate

The principle underlying parliamentary procedure is that the minority should have its say and the majority should have its way.

Philip Laundy
(Parliaments in the Modern World, p. 95)


he process of debate begins when the Speaker, upon receipt of a motion in writing, duly seconded, submits it to the House and proposes the question to determine if the House wishes to adopt the motion. If the motion is one that is debatable, Members may then be recognized to make speeches. The process of debate ends after the motion has been considered, including amendments and sub-amendments, and the original or amended motion is reread by the Speaker and the question for its adoption is put to the House for a decision. The basic components in this process are the “motion” and the “question” — the motion being a proposal that the House do something or express an opinion with regard to some matter; the “question” being the mechanism used to ask the House if it agrees with the motion, first, when it is proposed by the Speaker and, second, when it is put to the House for a decision at the conclusion of debate.

As with all deliberative bodies, discussion in the House of Commons must always be relevant to some definite proposal (or motion). [1]  The House makes up its mind on these specific proposals by deciding on questions put to it by the Speaker. Without a motion and a question, there can be no debate. [2]  Once a question has been proposed by the Speaker, debate may take place. The Speaker has extensive powers to enforce the rules of debate — which are, in general, limitations on what may be said, when and by whom, and for how long — in order to guide the flow of debate and protect it from excess. [3]

During the process of debate, the House follows a basic sequence of steps: providing notice of the motion, moving and seconding the motion, proposing the question from the Chair, debating the motion, putting the question on the motion, and arriving at a decision on the motion. This chapter describes the steps of this sequence, including rules and practices of the House in connection with each one.

Top of documentPrevious PageNext Page