House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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12. The Process of Debate

Moving a Motion

A Member launches the process of debate in the Chamber by proposing or moving a motion. Where notice of a motion has been given, the Speaker will first ensure that the Member wishes to proceed with moving the motion. If the sponsor of a motion chooses not to proceed with a motion (either by not being present [191]  or by being present but declining to move the motion), then the motion is not proceeded with and is dropped from the Order Paper, unless allowed to stand at the request of the government. [192]  If the sponsor wishes to proceed and nods in agreement, the Speaker then ascertains whether there is a seconder. All motions in the House require a seconder; [193]  if none is found, the Speaker will not propose the question to the House and no entry appears in the Journals as the House is not in possession of it. [194]  Any Member may act as a seconder, even for government motions which may be moved only by Ministers. [195]  Once a motion is moved and seconded, it is still not properly before the House — that is, it may not be debated — until it has been proposed and read from the Chair. [196] 

For motions which do not require notice, a Member will typically move the motion at the end of his or her speech. Before recognizing another Member on debate, the Speaker first asks if there is a seconder for the motion. If there is a seconder, and after the motion is received in writing, the Speaker proposes and reads the motion to the House.

The provision that a motion be in writing applies to all motions, whether or not they require notice, as well as to amendments and sub-amendments, both in the House and its committees. When notice of a motion has been given, the provision for it to be in writing is automatically met since the text of the motion appears on the Order Paper. In all other instances when the motion does not appear on the Order Paper or has not been printed and distributed to Members, the Speaker must receive a written copy of the motion before proposing it to the House prior to debate. The Member will also affix his or her signature to the text of the motion.

Before reading a motion to the House, it is the Speaker’s duty to ensure that the motion is procedurally in order. This is done by verifying that the notice requirement (if any) was satisfied; that the wording of the motion corresponds with the notice; and that it contains no objectionable or irregular wording. Any part of a motion found out of order will render the whole motion out of order. [197]  If the Chair finds the form of the motion to be irregular, he or she has the authority to modify it in order to ensure that it conforms to the usage of the House. [198]  This is usually done with the concurrence of the mover. [199]  If a motion is ruled out of order, a Member may move it again after the necessary corrections have been made and the notice requirements satisfied; it is then treated as a new motion.

In ruling a motion out of order, the Speaker informs the House of the reasons and quotes the Standing Order or authority applicable to the case. [200]  The motion is not proposed to the House and is dropped from the Order Paper.

If the motion is found to be in order, and has been moved and seconded, the Speaker proposes the motion to the House. Once the Speaker has read the motion in the words of its mover, it is considered to be before the House. Every motion found to be in order and proposed from the Chair is entered in the Journals. (See Figure 12.2, Moving a Motion.)

Figure 12.2 – Moving a Motion
Image depicting, in a series of boxes linked by lines, the steps required for moving a motion. It includes giving notice of a motion, moving the motion and the steps which follow after a motion is moved.

The motion is read in English and in French by the Speaker; if the Speaker is not familiar with both languages, he or she reads the motion in one language and directs the Clerk to read it in the other. [201]  In practice, the provision that all motions be read in their entirety is regularly relaxed, particularly for lengthy motions. The Speaker will read the first words and then ask, “Shall I dispense (with reading the entire text)?”, to which the response from Members is usually affirmative. [202]  Likewise, the provision that all motions be read in both languages is also regularly relaxed, given the existence of simultaneous interpretation on the floor of the House and the immediate availability of the text of the motion in both official languages on the Order Paper or Notice Paper. When a motion does not appear on the Order Paper or has not been printed and distributed, Members may request at any time during debate that the Chair read the question aloud, so long as no Member speaking to the matter is thereby interrupted. [203] 

After a motion has been proposed to the House, the Speaker recognizes the mover as the first to speak in debate. If the mover chooses not to speak, he or she is nonetheless deemed to have spoken (by nodding, the Member is considered to have said “I move” and this is taken as speech in the debate). [204]  The Member who seconds a motion is not required to speak to it at this point, but may choose to do so later in the debate. The one exception occurs during the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, when it is traditional for the seconder to be recognized to speak immediately after the mover has spoken. [205]

The Rule of Anticipation

The moving of a motion was formerly subject to the ancient “rule of anticipation” which is no longer strictly observed. According to this rule, which applied to other proceedings as well as motions, a motion could not anticipate a matter which was standing on the Order Paper for further discussion, whether as a bill or a motion, and which was contained in a more effective form of proceeding. [206]  (For example, a bill or any other Order of the Day is more effective than a motion, which in turn has priority over an amendment, which in turn is more effective than a written or oral question.) If such a motion were allowed, it could indeed forestall or block a decision from being taken on the matter already on the Order Paper.

While the rule of anticipation is part of the Standing Orders in the British House of Commons, it has never been so in the Canadian House of Commons. Furthermore, references to attempts made to apply this British rule to Canadian practice are not very conclusive. [207] 

The rule is dependent on the principle which forbids the same question from being raised twice within the same session. It does not apply, however, to similar or identical motions or bills which appear on the Notice Paper prior to debate. [208]  The rule of anticipation becomes operative only when one of two similar motions on the Order Paper is actually proceeded with. [209]  For example, two bills similar in substance will be allowed to stand on the Order Paper but only one may be moved and disposed of. If the first bill is withdrawn, the second may be proceeded with. If a decision is taken on the first bill, the other may not be proceeded with. A point of order regarding anticipation may be raised when the second motion is proposed from the Chair, if the first has already been proposed to the House and has become an Order of the Day.

An exception has been allowed, however, in the case of an opposition motion on a Supply day related to the subject matter of a bill already before the House. Under the normal application of the rule, the Chair would refuse the motion because it ranks as inferior to a bill. The Speaker has nonetheless ruled that the opposition prerogative in the use of an allotted day is very broad and ought to be interfered with only on the clearest and most certain procedural grounds. [210] 

At one time, Members were also prohibited from asking a question during Question Period if it was in anticipation of an Order of the Day; this was to prevent the time of the House being taken up with business to be discussed later in the sitting. [211]  In 1975, the rule was relaxed in regard to questions asked during Question Period when the Order of Day was either the Budget debate or the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, as long as questions on these matters did not monopolize the limited time available during Question Period. [212]  In 1983, the Speaker ruled that questions relating to an opposition motion on a Supply day could also be put during Question Period. [213]  In 1997, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs recommended, in a report to the House, that questions not be ruled out of order on this basis alone. [214]  The Speaker subsequently advised the House that the Chair would follow the advice of the Committee. [215] 

Withdrawal of Motion

Once a motion has been proposed from the Chair, it is in the possession of the House and may be debated. A Member who has moved a motion may request that it be withdrawn, but this can only be done with the unanimous consent of the House. [216]  If any Member objects or rises to speak to the original motion, the Speaker deems that unanimous consent has been withheld. Conversely, if no dissenting voice is heard, the Speaker declares the motion withdrawn and an entry to that effect appears in the Journals. Any motion thus withdrawn may again be put on notice and moved at a later date; [217]  it will be treated as a new motion. An amendment and a sub-amendment may also be withdrawn in this manner. [218] 

Similarly, a Member wishing to withdraw his or her motion, amendment or sub-amendment and to alter or replace it with another must request and obtain unanimous consent to do so. [219]  However, no motion or amendment may be withdrawn if an amendment or sub-amendment to it is before the House. Members have received the consent of the House for the withdrawal of motions (or amendments) moved by other Members. [220] 

The term “withdraw” is commonly used when Members seek to remove a motion from the consideration of the House after it has been moved and has been ordered for further consideration (as in the case of a bill awaiting second reading). In such cases, since the item is subject to an order of the House, it cannot be withdrawn until the order of the House has been discharged. [221]  The House must first consent to the discharge of the order and then to the withdrawal of the item.

Dividing a Motion

When a complicated motion comes before the House (for example, a motion containing two or more parts each capable of standing on its own), the Speaker has the authority to modify it and thereby facilitate decision-making for the House. When any Member objects to a motion that contains two or more distinct propositions, he or she may request that the motion be divided and that each proposition be debated and voted on separately. The final decision, however, rests with the Chair. On a related matter, the Speaker has ruled that the practice of dividing substantive motions has never been extended to bills and that the Chair has no authority to do so. [222]

The matter of dividing a complicated motion has arisen in the House on at least three occasions. In 1964, a complicated government notice of motion was divided and restated when the Speaker found that the motion contained two propositions which many Members objected to considering together. [223]  In 1966, faced with a similar request, the Speaker ruled against taking such an action, stating that only in exceptional circumstances should the Chair make this decision on its own initiative. [224]  In 1991, in response to a request to divide a motion dealing with pro-posed amendments to the Standing Orders, the Speaker undertook discussions with the leadership of the three parties in the House, subsequently ruling that, for voting purposes, the motion would be divided into three groupings, in addition to the paragraphs relating to the coming into force of the motion. [225] 

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