Robert's Rules and the Previous Question Motion - dummies

Robert’s Rules and the Previous Question Motion

By C. Alan Jennings, PRP, PRP

How often have you come home from a meeting exhausted because you listened to the same points made over and over again? Robert’s Rules has a solution: the previous question subsidiary motion. Although the name doesn’t quite speak for itself, the previous question is a motion to end debate, allow no further discussion or subsidiary motions (except a motion to lay on the table, which outranks it), and take the vote on all pending motions.

Previous question is one of the easiest subsidiary motions to use because it’s not debatable, making it a quick decision. Because adopting it terminates members’ rights to speak or hear more information, the previous question requires a two-thirds vote. But very little can interrupt it, and when used properly, this motion can really save you and your group a lot of time because if two-thirds of voters are ready to stop debate and vote on the pending motion (or motions), it’s probably pointless to keep on with the debate.

The subsidiary motion of previous question (to end debate)

  • Can’t interrupt a speaker who has the floor.

  • Must be seconded.

  • Isn’t debatable.

  • Isn’t amendable, except as to whether it applies to the immediately pending motion or to an entire series of pending motions, such as pending amendments to a pending main motion.

  • Requires a two-thirds vote.

  • Can be reconsidered if adopted, but only if no part of the adopted order for the previous question has been executed. (If previous question fails, reconsideration is in order as long as no material debate has progressed on the motion or motions to which it was applied. If additional debate has occurred, a reconsideration vote is unnecessary. The previous question just needs to be renewed.)

The previous question is a motion to close debate that can only be made by someone who has been recognized by the chair. And it requires a two-thirds vote. If the previous question isn’t adopted, you continue with debate until the cows come home, or until nobody has anything else to say, whichever comes first.