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Rules: Motions


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General Motions

What are motions? Motion debates (debates on a particular question in the form of a single sentence starting with “That this House...”) express the opinion of the House. Anyone can raise a motion debate, with a few restrictions, but if you cross the line (and that seldom happens), we’ll close debate. A straightforward restriction is that motions should be of the form “that this House…” (for example: “That this House believes the Secretary of State for Silly Affairs should stand on his head.”)

Who can introduce motions? Anyone can introduce a motion by posting their motion and an introductory speech. However, that is as far as a motion will go unless it is allocated time for debate and a vote. One day after a motion is introduced, the Prime Minister or Leader of the House may kill it by announcing that "Time will not be allocated for debate on this matter" if it has not already been moved via an Opposition Day or at the discretion of the Speaker. If by 48 hours after introduction the motion has been neither killed nor allocated time, it will be moved to Westminster Hall where members are free to continue the debate but it might not be noticed and certainly won't be voted upon. If you are confused about getting your motion debated, ask a member of the A-Team.

How do motions get allocated time? Motions can be allocated time for debate and a vote via a variety of mechanisms.

  • Government motions (motions introduced by a minister) are automatically assumed to be allocated time for debate and debate opens for four days immediately following the minister tabling the motion giving their introductory speech.
  • In the case of a motion introduced by anyone else, the Prime Minister or Leader of the House may move that the motion be debated by announcing that "Time will be allocated for division on this matter".
  • In the case of a motion introduced by an opposition member, the Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Leader of the House, or the leader of one of the minor parties may use one of their Opposition Days and announce that "As this is an Opposition Day, time will be allocated for division on this matter".
  • At the discretion of the chair a motion may be scheduled for a debate and vote - this will generally only occur in exceptional circumstances or if the government is particularly lax in putting an agenda before the House of Commons.

How does debate work? Once a motion is allocated time for debate and a vote, it is moved to four days of debate followed by a vote. During debate, MPs may make speeches and propose amendments to the motion. There is a proud tradition of the Government amending Opposition Day motions to make them favourable to the government - so that is obviously allowed. Likewise, for non-Opposition Day motions, the Government has tools to speed uncomfortable debates through. In general, the rules for debate are:

  • Any member may table an amendment to a motion. The sponsor of the motion may accept or reject the amendment. If the sponsor rejects the amendment, then the Speaker may decide to allow the amendment to a vote at the conclusion of debate. However, this is not guaranteed - it is more likely to be granted a vote of there is significant support for the amendment voiced.
  • The Leader of the House may force a division on any amendment by moving that the amendment be sent to division, including on an Opposition Day. This is the mechanism that the government can use to amend Opposition Day motions.
  • For any non-Opposition Day motion (excluding the special motions outlined below), the Leader of the House may end debate on a motion prematurely by stating "I pray the House do now divide on this matter". This is known as a guillotine and immediately brings debate to a close. The Speaker will then proceed to the consideration of any amendments that they selected for a vote followed by a final vote on the motion.

General Debate with Indicative Votes

The House may occasionally use a feature by which it entertains a general debate on a topic followed by a series of non-binding, indicative votes. These votes are conducted using ballot papers, which will be provided by the Speaker. These debates and votes are used to allow MPs to indicate their support or opposition to a number of options (some mutually exclusive) that are considered simultaneously. Indicative votes were used on the topics of Lords Reform and Brexit.

Triggering Indicative Votes: A general debate with indicative votes may be triggered in one of several ways. The Leader of the House may schedule time for a general debate with indicative votes - this does not require a vote of the House. Alternatively, a member may propose a motion calling for indicative votes (see language below), which may be considered in the form of an Opposition Day, selected by the Speaker for debate at the discretion of the chair, or moved as an amendment to a motion already allocated time for division.

  • To propose a motion calling for indicative votes, the following language shall be used: "That this House shall, at its next sitting day, consider one or several non-amendable motions expressing the desires of the House regarding [topic of the proposed debate (ie, "alternative ways forward regarding the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union")] during which time the House shall indicate its support or opposition to measures proposed by ballot."

Proposing Motions: If the Government brings forward a series of indicative votes, then the Leader of the House will select the motions that will be voted upon. If a motion for indicative votes is passed, the Speaker will open a call for members to present motions expressing the will of the House. individual MPs will be able to present motions to the Speaker, who shall select as many as they desire for consideration. The authors of the motions shall be notified if their motion was selected or not.

  • Motions should generally take the form of: "That this House endorses [text of proposal (ie, "a second confirmatory referendum on Brexit, in which remain is an option")]." If you are concerned about language, consult your fellow party members or the A-Team.

General Debate: Once the Speaker has selected amendments, he will open a general debate on the topic including all of the motions to be considered. During the first 24 hours, all of the members selected to present motions will be allowed to give a speech introducing their motion. This will be followed by three days of debate on all of the motions combined. In the event of a series of indicative votes called by the Government, the Leader of the House will introduce all of the motions in the first 24 hours or will specify other members to introduce motions.

Indicative Votes: Following the conclusion of the debate, the Speaker will make ballot papers available with instructions on how MPs should cast their ballots. MPs not voting (and their supporters) will be considered to have not been present for the vote. Any motions agreed to will be deemed to express the opinion of the House and will not be binding upon the Government.

Special Motions and Rules

There are a number of motions that are technically considered "special" based on the procedures that they entail.

Queen's Speech/Address in Reply: The Queen's Speech occurs during the State Opening of Parliament and presents the Government's agenda for the Parliamentary term. It is generally structured as a list containing the phrases "My government will...", "My ministers will...", and so on and so forth while listing a series of policy items. The A-Team will set a deadline for the Speech, which must be sent by the Prime Minister to the A-Team by that time. Once the A-Team has the speech, it will be posted and the debate on the Address in Reply will open. There are some specific rules for the Address in Reply:

  • The first speech will be given by the Leader of the Opposition, who will have 24 hours after the speech is posted by the A-Team to post their speech.
  • The second speech will be given by the Prime Minister, who will have 24 hours after the Leader of the Opposition posts their speech to post their reply.
  • Debate will then open for contributions from all MPs - in particular, responses are expected by the leaders of the minor parties. This segment of debate will last for 72 hours and be followed by an immediate vote.
  • If the Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister is unavailable for some reason, they may designate an alternative frontbench member to give their speech. Missing their designated response time will be very bad for their party.

Motion of No Confidence: This is a very specific motion under the terms of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2011 that, if passed, forces the resignation of the government and triggers a general election (assuming that a motion of confidence is not subsequently passed). Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act this is technically the only motion of confidence that can bring down a government; while convention suggests that failure to pass the Humble Address or secure supply should result in the resignation of the government and the calling of an election, this is no longer a legal obligation. The rules for a motion of no confidence are as follows:

  • The Leader of the Opposition may introduce a motion of no confidence at any time by notifying the Speaker (on Discord in the #house-floor channel) 24 hours in advance of introducing the motion. This will be considered a privileged motion that is automatically granted a debate and does not require the use of an Opposition Day. Once the Leader of the Opposition posts the motion, the Prime Minister (or their designee) will have 24 hours to respond. Following the Prime Minister's response debate will automatically open for three days. If the Leader of the Opposition is tabling a motion of no confidence, it is considered a significant event and the Prime Minister is expected to respond.
  • The leaders of any of the minor parties may move a motion of no confidence by using an Opposition Day only. The normal rules for a debate on a motion shall apply.
  • In order to have an impact under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, the language that must be used for a motion of no confidence is: "That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government."

Motion of Confidence: The flip-side of a motion of no confidence, a motion of confidence has a very specific meaning under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2011. Following a vote of no confidence, there will be a three day period during which an alternative government may attempt to be formed. In the event that a new government is formed, the Prime Minister will move a motion of confidence, which will be subject to a 48 hour debate and 24 hour vote. If the motion passes, the government will be allowed to continue. If it fails, the government will fall and a general election will be held.

  • The language that must be used for such a motion is: "That this House has confidence in Her Majesty's Government."

Humble Address: A Humble Address is a special class of motion that obligates the Government to present documents to the House based on the constitutional notion that all ministers act at the command of the Sovereign. This is a rarely used motion, as it involves the Crown in politics and that is something that is generally to be avoided. That said, if one wants to compel the Government to present documents to the House of Commons, including Civil Service advice or legal advice given to the Government, then one would make a Humble Address.

  • The language that must be used for such a motion is: "That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to direct Ministers to lay before this House, within [48-72 hours], [description of documents to be provided].
  • In general, we expect that the Government will not move a Humble Address forward. As such the only ways to move them forward are via an Opposition Day or at the discretion of the Speaker (which will only occur if the Speaker is particularly upset at the Government).

Prayer Motion: A prayer motion is a special class of Humble Address used by the House of Commons to negate Statutory Instruments enacted by the government. Once the Government publishes a Statutory Instrument it is generally presumed to become law (unless it requires an affirmatory procedure, in which case the government will table a motion). This can be prevented within six days of being published by passing a prayer motion. The rules governing prayer motions are as follows:

  • Prayer motions may only be offered by the Leader of the Opposition, the responsible shadow minister (ie, the Shadow Home Secretary may file a prayer motion regarding an SI tabled by the Home Secretary), or the leaders of the minor parties. The motion should be made before the Speaker in the #house-floor channel on Discord.
  • The language that must be used for such a motion is: "That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that [the instrument (ie, "The Funny Hats (Exclusion of Bowlers) Order 2017")] be annulled".
  • Following the motion being made, the Speaker will ask members to indicate their support for the motion (including allowing members to write the Speaker privately to indicate support). If the Speaker feels that the motion may have a majority in favour, he will call an immediate vote with no debate.

Standing Order 24 Substantive Motion: This is a truly exceptional motion which allows the House to seize control of the agenda from the Government and move a bill through the stages of a Parliamentary debate. Such a motion will only be granted time for debate by the Speaker if all of the criteria for an emergency debate are met (the issue is "urgent, important, and specific") and the passage of legislation is the only remedy available to the House of Commons. This was the mechanism used when the House of Commons took control of the agenda from Boris Johnson in September 2019 regarding Brexit. The rules regarding this mechanism are as follows:

  • An MP seeking to make a substantive motion under Standing Order 24 must petition the Speaker on Discord (in the #house-floor channel) for leave to introduce the motion. If the Speaker agrees, the MP will be able to introduce a motion (see below for text) before the House in the Motions forum, which will be granted a 48 hour debate followed by a 24 hour vote by the Speaker. After the request is made, the Speaker may consult with the Leader of the House, the Shadow Leader of the House, and the leadership of the minor parties regarding whether such a motion should proceed (ie, it will only be allowed to proceed if the Speaker judges that it is likely to succeed).
  • The language that should be used for such a motion is: "That this House has considered the matter of [the pressing issue] and accordingly makes provision as set out in this order that on the next sitting day of the House Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order) shall not apply and that the Speaker shall call a Member to move the motion that the [Name of Bill (example: Funny Hats Bill 2017)] be now read a second time as if it were an order of the House and that proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken for a period of [24 to 96 hours - this sets the time for debate for the bill]."
  • The substantive effect of such a motion is that, if passed, the MP the introduced the bill specified by the motion will be able to immediately move it to second reading and will serve as the Leader of the House for the Day of that debate. The debate shall proceed for the amount of time specified and then will move immediately to a vote.
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