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Parliamentary procedure

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Rows and rows of people are assembled circularly in a huge chamber at the European Parliament
The European Parliament during a plenary session in 2014

Parliamentary procedures are the accepted rules, ethics, and customs governing meetings of an assembly or organization. Their object is to allow orderly deliberation upon questions of interest to the organization and thus to arrive at the sense or the will of the majority of the assembly upon these questions.[1] Self-governing organizations follow parliamentary procedure to debate and reach group decisions, usually by vote, with the least possible friction.

In the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other English-speaking countries, parliamentary procedure is often called chairmanship, chairing, the law of meetings, procedure at meetings, the conduct of meetings, or the standing orders. In the United States, it is referred to as parliamentary law, parliamentary practice, legislative procedure, rules of order, or Robert's rules of order.[2]

Rules of order consist of rules written by the body itself (often referred to as bylaws), usually supplemented by a published parliamentary authority adopted by the body. Typically, national, state or provincial and other full-scale legislative assemblies have extensive internally written rules of order, whereas non-legislative bodies write and adopt a limited set of specific rules as the need arises.


The term parliamentary procedure gets its name from its use in the parliamentary system of government.[3]

In the 16th and 17th century, the parliaments of England began adopting rules of order.[4] In the 1560s, Sir Thomas Smyth began the process of writing down accepted procedures and published a book about them for the House of Commons in 1583.[4] Early rules included:

  • One subject should be discussed at a time (adopted 1581)[4][5]
  • Personal attacks are to be avoided in debate (1604)[4]
  • Debate must be limited to the merits of the question (1610)[4]
  • Division of a question into parts to be voted on separately (1640)[4]

Westminster procedures[edit]

The Westminster parliamentary procedures are followed in several Commonwealth countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa, as well as in the Republic of Ireland.

In Canada, for example, the House of Commons uses House of Commons Procedure and Practice as its primary procedural authority. Others include Arthur Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, Sir John George Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, and Erskine May's The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament from Britain.[6]

American procedures[edit]

The rules of the United States Congress were developed from parliamentary procedures used in Britain.[7] Many nations' legislatures follow American parliamentary procedure,[citation needed] including Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico and South Korea.


The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (1957) states[8] that each of the European Parliament, Council of the European Union, and European Commission adopt their own rules. For the Parliament, these are the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament.

The procedures of the Diet of Japan moved away from the British parliamentary model, when in Occupied Japan, there were efforts to align Japanese parliamentary procedures with American congressional practices.[9] In Japan, informal negotiations are more important than formal procedures.[10]

In Italy, written rules govern the Houses of the Parliament. The Constitutional Court judges the limits beyond which these regulations cannot go, exceeding the parliamentary or political function (judgement n. 120 of 2014)[11] and on their bad application when a law is passed.[12]

Parliamentary authority usage patterns[edit]

Parliamentary procedure is based on the principles of allowing the majority to make decisions effectively and efficiently (majority rule), while ensuring fairness towards the minority and giving each member or delegate the right to voice an opinion.[13] Voting determines the will of the assembly. While each assembly may create their own set of rules, these sets tend to be more alike than different. A common practice is to adopt a standard reference book on parliamentary procedure and modify it through special rules of order that supersede the adopted authority.

A parliamentary structure conducts business through motions, which cause actions. Members bring business before the assembly by introducing main motions. "Members use subsidiary motions to alter a main motion, or delay or hasten its consideration."[14] Parliamentary procedure also allows for rules in regards to nomination, voting, debate, disciplinary action, appeals, and the drafting of organization charters, constitutions, and bylaws.

Organizations and civic groups[edit]

Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised[15] aspires to be a comprehensive guide: "New editions have marked the growth of parliamentary procedure as cases occurring in assemblies have pointed to a need for further rules or additional interpretations to go by."[16] Robert's Rules of Order The Modern Edition[17] and The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure[18] aspire to be concise. "This book is a basic reference book but does not claim to be comprehensive. For most organization and for most meetings, it will prove very adequate."[19] "Alice Sturgis believed that confusing or unnecessary motions and terminology should be eliminated. Her goal was to make the process simpler, fairer, and easier to understand, and The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure did just that ..."[20]

A common text in use in the UK, particularly within trade unions, is Walter Citrine's ABC of Chairmanship.

In English-speaking Canada, popular authorities include Kerr & King's Procedures for Meeting and Organizations. The Conservative Party of Canada uses Wainberg's Society meetings including rules of order to run its internal affairs.

In French-speaking Canada, commonly used rules of order for ordinary societies include Victor Morin's Procédures des assemblées délibérantes (commonly known as the Code Morin)[21] and the Code Confédération des syndicats nationaux.


Legislative assemblies in all countries, because of their nature, tend to have a specialized set of rules that differ from parliamentary procedure used by clubs and organizations.

In the United Kingdom, Thomas Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament (often referred to simply as Erskine May) is the accepted authority on the powers and procedures of the Westminster parliament. There are also the Standing Orders for each House.[22]

Of the 99 state legislative chambers in the United States (two for each state except Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature), Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure governs parliamentary procedures in 70; Jefferson's Manual governs 13, and Robert's Rules of Order governs four.[23] The United States Senate follows the Standing Rules of the United States Senate, while the United States House of Representatives follows Jefferson's Manual.

Mason's Manual, originally written by constitutional scholar and former California Senate staff member Paul Mason in 1935, and since his death revised and published by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), governs legislative procedures in instances where the state constitution, state statutes, and the chamber's rules are silent.[24][25][26]

According to the NCSL,[25] one of the many reasons that most state legislatures use Mason's Manual instead of Robert's Rules of Order is that Robert's Rules applies best to private organizations and civic groups that do not meet in daily public sessions. Mason's Manual, however, is geared specifically toward state legislative bodies.


In the United States, individuals who are proficient in parliamentary procedure are called parliamentarians (in other English-speaking countries with parliamentary forms of government, "parliamentarian" refers to a member of Parliament).

Several organizations offer certification programs for parliamentarians, including the National Association of Parliamentarians and American Institute of Parliamentarians. Agriculture teachers who coach teams in the parliamentary procedure contest of the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America) can earn the title Accredited Parliamentarian. Parliamentarians perform an important role in many meetings, including counseling organizations on parliamentary law, holding elections, or writing amendments to the constitution and bylaws of an organization.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert 2011, p. l.
  2. ^ Bliss, Edwin (1993). The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (Third ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. p. xx. ISBN 0-07-062522-0. The term 'Robert's Rules of Order' is commonly used today as a synonym for parliamentary procedure.
  3. ^ Robert III, Henry M.; et al. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-306-82019-9.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Robert, Henry M.; et al. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press. pp. xxxiii–xxxiv. ISBN 978-0-306-82020-5.
  5. ^ Slater, Victor Louis. (2002). The Political History of Tudor and Stuart England: A Sourcebook, p. 72. ISBN 9780203995402
  6. ^ "Parliamentary Procedure – General Article – Compendium of Procedure Home – House of Commons. Canada". Parliament of Canada. 2011. Archived from the original on Feb 4, 2010. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  7. ^ Jefferson, Thomas. (1820). A manual of parliamentary practice for the use of the Senate of the United States, p. vi.
  8. ^ "Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Part 6, Title I, Chapter 1, Section 1, Articles 232, 240, and 249". EUR-Lex. 2016-06-07. Retrieved 2024-06-11.
  9. ^ Reischauer, Edwin O. and Marius B. Jansen. (1977). The Japanese Today: Change and Continuity, p. 250.
  10. ^ Mulgan, Aurelia George. (2000). The Politics of Agriculture in Japan, p. 292.
  11. ^ The "functionalist" criterion (set by the Bill, on the initiative of Senator Maritati: Bill n. 1560/XVI) identified – inside parliamentary Institutions – acts of political bodies which, on the one hand, are not linked to the functions (legislative, political address or inspection) but which, on the other hand, are not classified as high-level administration: Buonomo, Giampiero (2014). "Il nodo dell'autodichia da Ponzio a Pilato". Golem Informazione. Archived from the original on 2016-03-24. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  12. ^ (in Italian) G. Buonomo e M. Cerase, La Corte costituzionale ancora irrisolta sul ricorso delle minoranze parlamentari (ord. n. 17/2019), Forum di Quaderni costituzionali, 13 febbraio 2019.
  13. ^ Robert 2011, p. li
  14. ^ Sturgis, Alice (1993). The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (Third ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. p. 16. ISBN 0-07-062522-0.
  15. ^ Robert, Henry (2020). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (12th ed.). New York: Public Affairs, Hachette Book Group. ISBN 978-1541736696.
  16. ^ Robert, Sarah (1981). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (1981 ed.). Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman and Company. p. preface, pg. ix. ISBN 0-673-15471-8.
  17. ^ Patnode, Darwin (1989). Robert's Rules of Order the Modern Edition. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 0-425-11690-5.
  18. ^ Sturgis, Alice (1988). The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. ISBN 0-07-062522-0.
  19. ^ Patnode, Darwin (1989). Robert's Rules of Order The Modern Edition. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group. p. 17. ISBN 0-425-11690-5.
  20. ^ Sturgis, Alice (1988). The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (Third ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. p. xxi - "To the Reader" preface, by Edwin C. Bliss. ISBN 0-07-062522-0.
  21. ^ Code Morin at University of Victoria; retrieved 2013-1-13.
  22. ^ "Standing Orders". UK Parliament.
  23. ^ Using Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure: The Advantages to Legislative Bodies, National Conference of State Legislatures.
  24. ^ See, for example, Standing Rules of the California Assembly, in HR 1, 2007-08 Regular Session.
  25. ^ a b National Conference of State Legislatures web site
  26. ^ National Conference of State Legislatures (2000). Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure. Denver, CO: NCSL. ISBN 1-58024-116-6.

External links[edit]