Using the Motion to End Debate to Keep Meetings on Time

Michael TaliercioI am regularly asked how to keep a meeting from going on too long. While there are avariety of different procedural tools that can keep a meeting from running on forever, the motion to end debate (also known as the motion for the previous question) is probably one of the best procedural options available if your group utilizes Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.

Put simply, the motion to end debate is the motion that seeks to end discussion now and to take a vote on a pending question (or questions). The motion requires a second and then a two thirds vote to be adopted.  It is not a debatable motion.  If the motion is adopted, then the assembly moves to voting on the pending question (or questions).   If the motion for the previous question fails, then debate continues.

The motion to end debate is a good option, as it is very flexible and fast. If more than one question is pending, then you can move to end debate on either one or multiple questions.  As no discussion is allowed on a motion for the previous question, whether or not debate is ended is typically determined fairly quickly.  In addition while some methods of exercising control over how long a meeting takes are easier for the officers running the meeting (such as setting an agenda that is not overly long), any member of an assembly can move to end debate.  So, if you see that a small number of people are engaging in an extended discussion of an issue, then you can move to end debate.  If the rest of the assembly adopts the motion, then there will be a vote on the issue and meeting will keep moving along.

While this sounds extremely simple, there is a fair amount of confusion associated with the motion to end debate. First, you need to be recognized by the chair to make a motion to end debate. It is not proper to simply yell “question” or “previous question” from your seat.  Going along with that, you cannot interrupt another member when you are making a motion to end debate.  The chair will almost certainly not recognize you if you yell “previous question” from your seat while someone else is speaking. But, you can make a motion for the previous question after making a speech in debate yourself.   I would encourage you try a motion to end debate the next time you are in a meeting that is dragging on.  You might be surprised by the results!

If you have any questions about the motion for the previous question or any other motions in Robert’s Rules of Order, then I would encourage you to contact us.