The routine method by which Parliament proceeds about its business is to have a motion for consideration placed before the House by a Member of Parliament. The Standing Orders permit Members of Parliament to move motions which allow matters relating to public policy to be raised in Parliament. A motion is a formal proposal moved by one Member of Parliament in accordance with the Standing Orders that the House do something, order something done or express an opinion with regard to some public matter. A motion is achieved by the process of debate which occurs between the moving of a motion and gives rise to the question to be decided by the House. This is the habitual process followed by the House when transacting its business.
The term “debate” is used to describe the contributions of Members of Parliament to proceedings in Parliament. Motions are essential element of Parliamentary daily proceedings such that all business to be considered by the House is introduced by a motion.
Types of Motions
Parliamentary motions can be classified either as substantive or subsidiary motions. The following are descriptions that can be applied to the various types of parliamentary motions:
1. Substantive motion: Motions are substantive if they can stand independently by making a statement and seeking agreement by the House. They are amendable and must be phrased in such a way as to enable the House to express agreement with what is proposed. Substantive motions can give rise to subsidiary motions.
2. Subsidiary motion: Subsidiary motions, also known as ancillary motions, are procedural in nature and are derived from the content of a substantive motion or are dependent upon it, for example an amendment to the original motion.
Rules on noticing motions
There are several stages and rules prescribed in the Standing Orders which must be observed in the process of moving and debating Parliamentary motions through the House. The first stage is to give notice of the motion so that other Members of Parliament, Ministries and the general public are aware of the matter being raised. All motions should be moved after a notice has been given and at least three clear days has elapsed. No motion may be moved twice in the same session. Members are also required not to comment on matters, which are before the courts (subjudice). The Standing Orders limits on the length of individual speeches or debate on motions. In terms of Standing Orders 51.7 no Member may speak for thirty (30) minutes in any debate.
How motions are moved and debated
A motion is proposed by a Member of Parliament for the consideration of the whole House when he or she is called by the Speaker to do so. The Speaker calls the mover of the motion by name to take the floor. This is how the mover obtains the floor. The mover of the motion must upon being called by the Speaker rise in his place and move the motion to debate. The Member who proposed the motion formally moves the motion by briefly stating its terms. After moving the motion and the mover takes his or her seat to allow the Speaker to propose the question for debate by reading out the motion as it appears on the day’s Order Paper. This is how the Speaker opens the floor for debate. Members of Parliament who wish to debate the motion would then obtain the floor by catching the Speaker’s eye. The mover of the motion may reply after all other Members present have had an opportunity of addressing the Assembly and before the question is put, the Minister responsible for the public matter raised by the motion is given the opportunity to reply to the debate and state the government position.
A motion is adopted if it receives the support of the majority of the Members present in the House at the time the decision on it is made. So at the end of the debate, the Speaker will put the question under debate to a vote to determine the decision of the House. Votes may be taken by voice, head count or electronically. If agreed to, the motion then becomes a decision or resolution of the house. A member who is speaking (debating) is allowed to continue without disturbance, except on only two points. The first, which requires the agreement of the Member who is speaking to give way, is an intervention to seek clarification of what has been said. The second is a point of order, which is a question raised by a member as to whether a violation of procedure has occurred. The Speaker will give an immediate ruling on this and the member who was speaking can then continue. The Speaker will always be wary of those who try to make debating points under the disguise of points of order.
An amendment to a motion is done through a new motion moved by the Member holding the floor to change or modify the original motion that is under consideration in order to make it more acceptable to the House. It is required in terms of the Standing Orders that an amendment to a motion be submitted in writing to the presiding officer to ensure that it is proposed to the House exactly as worded by the mover. An amendment to a motion may seek: To leave out one or more of the words of the motion, to insert one or more words in the motion, or to add one or more words at the end of the motion. The debate on the main motion is set aside and the amendment is debated until it has been decided, whereupon debate resumes on the main motion. An amendment to a motion is also debated and may again be amended. The amendment to a motion must be voted upon and if agreed to the original motion must be debated or voted as amended.
The role of Speaker in the debating of motions
The Speaker of the National Assembly plays a very important role in the debating of Parliamentary motions. It is the duty of the Speaker to scrutinize all motions submitted by Members of Parliament to ensure that they comply with the provisions of the Standing Orders. The rules for the form and content of motion, which the Speaker applies in vetting motions noticed are set out in the Standing Orders. Part of the responsibility of the Speaker, as the presiding officer is to ensure that debates on all motions are cogent and do not waste the time of the House. The Speaker achieves this by being very strict on irrelevancies and repetitions by those debating.
The House considers the motion by discussing its pros and cons and finally to decide whether a majority of the House agrees with it. Motions are a very important tool available for all Members of Parliament to raise issues of public or national importance. Motions are therefore an effective way of keeping contrasting views in the public eye.