Cloture (// KLOH-chər) is a motion or process in parliamentary procedure aimed at bringing debate to a quick end. It is also called closure or, informally, a guillotine. The cloture procedure originated in the French National Assembly, from which the name is taken. Clôture is French for "ending" or "conclusion". It was introduced into the Parliament of the United Kingdom by William Ewart Gladstone to overcome the obstruction of the Irish nationalist party and was made permanent in 1887. It was subsequently adopted by the United States Senate and other legislatures.
In Australian parliaments, the term "cloture" is never used. The procedure by which finite debating times for particular bills are set, or protracted debates are brought to a close, is always referred to as a "guillotine". Generally, a minister will declare that a bill must be considered as urgent, and move a motion to limit debating time. The declaration and motion may refer to a single bill, or to multiple bills or packages of bills. A guillotine motion may not be debated or amended, and must be put to a vote immediately.
In Canada, cloture is referred to as "closure". Closure in Canada was adopted by the House of Commons in 1913 by Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden. The new closure rule was immediately tested by the government only a few days after its adoption during debate at the Committee of the Whole stage of the Naval Aid Bill.
The first cloture in Hong Kong was introduced in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong on 17 May 2012, by Tsang Yok-sing (President of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong), to abruptly halt filibuster during debate at the Committee of the Whole stage of the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2012. The motion to end debate was submitted by Council member Philip Wong Yu-hong some time after 4 am Hong Kong time, after a marathon session that lasted over 33 hours. Wong stood up and suggested that legislatures in other countries have a procedure called "cloture motion", and suggested Council President should end debate immediately. President Tsang agreed and said that he considered ending debate even without Wong's suggestion because he would not allow debate to go on endlessly. Cloture is not defined by any rule or precedent of the Legislative Council. Tsang made reference to Standing Order 92, which stated "In any matter not provided for in these Rules of Procedure, the practice and procedure to be followed in the Council shall be such as may be decided by the President who may, if he thinks fit, be guided by the practice and procedure of other legislatures". Standing Order 92 therefore may implicitly gives Council President discretion on whether he should or should not follow the cloture rules of other legislatures, but this is up to debate. Legislative Council President Tsang chose to end debate without calling for a cloture vote, which is questionable. Council member Leung Kwok-hung then stood up and said that he had never heard of cloture without a vote anywhere else and suggested there should have been a cloture vote.
Cloture was again invoked by Tsang Yok-sing on 13 May 2013 to halt debate of the 2013 Appropriation Bill.
In the New Zealand House of Representatives, any MP called to speak may move a closure motion. If the length of the debate is not fixed by standing orders or the Business Committee, the Speaker may decide to put the closure motion to a vote, which is carried by a simple majority.
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A motion for cloture (closure) may be adopted in both the House of Commons and in the House of Lords by a simple majority of those voting. In the House of Commons, at least 100 Members must vote in favour of the motion for closure to be adopted; the Speaker of the House of Commons may choose to deny the closure motion if he or she feels that insufficient debate has occurred, or that the procedure is being used to violate the rights of the minority. The government often imposes a timetable on legislation in advance by way of a programme motion, under which debate automatically ceases when the allotted time expires. In the House of Lords, the Lord Speaker does not possess an equivalent power. Programme motions are often referred to as "guillotines" but never as clotures.
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A similar procedure was adopted in 1917 by the Senate of the United States. This was invoked for the first time on November 15, 1919, during the 66th Congress, to end filibuster on the Treaty of Versailles.
The Senate's cloture rule originally required a supermajority of two-thirds of all senators "present and voting" to be considered filibuster-proof. For example, if all 100 Senators voted on a cloture motion, 67 of those votes would have to be for cloture for it to pass; however if some Senators were absent and only 80 Senators voted on a cloture motion, only 54 would have to vote in favor. However, it proved very difficult to achieve this; the Senate tried eleven times between 1927 and 1962 to invoke cloture but failed each time. Filibuster was particularly heavily used by Democratic Senators from Southern states to block civil rights legislation.
In 1975, the Democratic Senate majority, having achieved a net gain of four seats in the 1974 Senate elections to attain a strength of 61 (with an additional Independent Senator caucusing with them for a total of 62), reduced the necessary supermajority to three-fifths (60 out of 100). However, as a compromise to those who were against the revision, the new rule also changed the requirement for determining the number of votes needed for a cloture motion's passage from those Senators "present and voting" to those Senators "duly chosen and sworn". Thus, 60 votes for cloture would be necessary regardless of whether every Senator voted. The only time a lesser number would become acceptable is when a Senate seat is vacant. For example, if there were two vacancies in the Senate, thereby making 98 Senators "duly chosen and sworn", it would only take 59 votes for a cloture motion to pass.
The new version of the cloture rule requiring three-fifths (60%) rather than two-thirds (66.7%) approval, which has remained in place since 1975, makes it considerably easier for the Senate majority to invoke cloture. Even so, a successful cloture motion is uncommon.
The U.S. House of Representatives does not have a similar procedure.
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The three-fifths version of the cloture rule does not apply to motions to end filibusters relating to Senate Rule changes. To invoke cloture to end debate over changing the Senate Rules, the original version of the rule (two-thirds of those Senators "present and voting") still applies.
The procedure for "invoking cloture", or ending a filibuster, is as follows:
- A minimum of sixteen senators must sign a petition for cloture.
- The petition may be presented by interrupting another Senator's speech.
- The clerk reads the petition.
- The cloture petition is ignored for one full day during which the Senate is sitting (called a "Legislative Day"). For example, if the petition is filed on Monday, it is ignored until Wednesday. (If the petition is filed on a Friday, it is ignored until Tuesday, assuming that the Senate did not sit on Saturday or Sunday.)
- On the second Legislative Day after the presentation of the petition, after the Senate has been sitting for one hour, a "quorum call" is undertaken to ensure that a majority of the Senators are present. However, the mandatory quorum call is often waived by unanimous consent.
- The President of the Senate or President pro tempore presents the petition.
- The Senate votes on the petition; three-fifths of the whole number of Senators (sixty if there are no vacancies) is the required majority; however, when cloture is invoked on a question of changing the rules of the Senate, two-thirds of the Senators voting (not necessarily two-thirds of all Senators) is the requisite majority. This is commonly referred to in the news media as a "test vote".
After cloture has been invoked, the following restrictions apply:
- No more than 30 hours of debate may occur on the bill in question.
- No Senator may speak for more than one hour.
- No amendments may be moved unless they were filed on the day in between the presentation of the petition and the actual cloture vote.
- All amendments must be relevant to the debate.
- Certain procedural motions are not permissible.[which?]
- The presiding officer gains additional powers in controlling debate[which?].
- No other matters may be considered until the question upon which cloture was invoked is resolved.
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- Loevy, Robert D. (1997). The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Passage of the Law that Ended Racial Segregation SUNY Press. p. 29.
- "What is Rule 22?", Rule22 Blog, 5/28/2011.
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