House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 12. The Process of Debate - Contents and Introduction

12. The Process of Debate

Picture of the arch moulding and corbels on the northeast wall of the Confederation Hall


*    Debatable and Non‑debatable Motions

*    Classification of Motions

Figure 12.1  Classification of Motions

*    Substantive Motions

*    Subsidiary Motions

*    Privileged Motions


*      Subamendments

Superseding Motions

*      The Previous Question

*      Dilatory Motions

Motions to Proceed to the Orders of the Day

Motions to Proceed to Another Order of Business

Motions to Postpone Consideration of a Question Until a Later Date

Motions to Adjourn the Debate

Motions to Adjourn the House



*    Notice in Writing

Removal of Notice

Alteration to Notice

*    Oral Notice

*    No Notice

*    Publication of a Special Order Paper and Notice Paper

*    Specific Notice Requirements

Forty-Eight Hours’ Notice

Twenty-Four Hours’ Notice

One Week’s Notice

One Hour’s Notice

Rules Similar in Effect to Notice



Figure 12.2  Moving a Motion

*    The Rule of Anticipation

*    Withdrawal of Motion

*    Dividing a Motion



*    Termination of Debate

*    Putting the Question

Figure 12.3  Putting the Question

On Division

Voice Vote

Requirement to Vote

Private Interest

*    Recorded Divisions

Length of Bells

Appearance of the Whips

Deferred Divisions

*    Calling the Vote and Announcing the Results

Conducting a Party Vote

Conducting a Row-by-Row Vote

Free Votes

Announcing the Results

Application of Results to Votes Held Successively

Pairing of Members

The Casting Vote

Decorum During the Taking of a Vote

Points of Order and Questions of Privilege

Corrections in a Vote

A Decision Once Made Must Stand

The Issue of Electronic Voting



*    Limitations on the Use of Unanimous Consent

*    Role of the Speaker

*    Decision Not a Precedent


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)

The 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 it. If the motion is debatable, Members may then be recognized to make speeches. The process of debate ends after the motion and any proposed amendments and subamendments have been considered. The original or amended motion is reread by the Speaker and the question for the adoption of the motion is put to the House for a decision. The most basic components of 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 in all deliberative bodies, discussion in the House of Commons must always be relative to a definite proposal (or motion).[1] The House responds to such 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 enjoys extensive powers to enforce the rules of debate. These rules include, in general, limitations on what may be said, when and by whom it may be said, and for how long each debater may speak. The intent of such rules is to guide the flow of debate and to protect it from excess.[3]

During the process of debate, the House follows a basic sequence of steps: providing notice of a 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 in this sequence, and discusses the rules and practices of the House applicable to each.

[1] Stewart, J.B., The Canadian House of Commons: Procedure and Reform, Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1977, p. 34.

[2] Redlich, J., The Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form, Vol. III, translated by A.E. Steinthal, New York: AMS Press, 1969 (reprint of 1908 ed.), p. 51.

[3] For further information, see Chapter 13, “Rules of Order and Decorum”.

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