Principles of parliamentary procedure

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Principles of parliamentary procedure guide the development of its rules.


Demeter writes:

TSC states that "The purpose of parliamentary procedure is to facilitate the transaction of business and to promote cooperation and harmony."[1]


Demeter's Manual identifies five great principles underlying the rules of parliamentary law:[2]

  1. Order; that is there must be orderly procedure.
  2. Equality; that is, all members are equal before the rule or law.
  3. Justice. That is, "justice for all."
  4. Right of the minority to be heard on questions.
  5. Right of the majority to rule the organization.

Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR) states that "these rules are based on a regard of the rights of the majority, of the minority, especially a strong minority–greater than one third, of individual members, of absentees, and of all these together. The means of protecting all of these rights in appropriate measure forms much of the substance of parliamentary law, and the need for this protection dictates the degree of development that the subject has undergone."[3]

Mason's Manual cites ten principles that govern procedure in group decision making:[4]

  1. The group must have the authority to take the actions it purports to take;
  2. there must be a meeting of the decision-making group;
  3. a proper notice of the meeting must be given to all members of the group;
  4. there must be a quorum present at the meeting;
  5. there must be a question before the group upon which it can make a decision;
  6. there must be an opportunity to debate the question;
  7. the question must be decided by taking a vote;
  8. there must be a majority vote to take an action or decide a question;
  9. there must be no fraud, trickery or deception resulting in injury to another member;
  10. and to be valid, any action or decision of a body must not violate any applicable law or constitutional provision.

TSC recognizes several fundamental principles of parliamentary procedure as well. These include equality of rights; majority decision; minority rights; the right of discussion; the right of information; and fairness and good faith.[5]

Under RONR, it is also viewed as desirable to protect against instability arising from, for instance, slight variations in attendance. For this reason, the requirements for changing a previous action are greater than those for taking the action in the first place.[6] A motion to rescind, repeal or annul or amend something already adopted, for instance, requires a two-thirds vote, a majority with previous notice, or a majority of the entire membership.[7] However, under The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, a repeal or amendment of something already adopted requires only the same vote (usually a majority) and notice that was needed to adopt it in the first place.[8] The philosophy is that "As a general rule, fewer than a majority should not be authorized to decide anything, and more than a majority should not be required for most decisions"; the book further states that the problem with situations in which a supermajority is required is that "the minority, not the majority, controls."[9]

Rather than memorizing specific attributes of motions, sometimes it is easier to remember principles. If a motion can be made in more than one form, it is amendable; otherwise it is unamendable. A question is not debatable when it is a simple procedural motion that can be understood by the members without debate. A speaker may be interrupted whenever the needs of the body require it, because the concern of the body outweighs the convenience of a member. Actions in which a member has the right to question or demand need not be seconded.[10]


RONR states that cumulative voting "must be viewed with reservation since it violates a fundamental principle of parliamentary law."[11] All the major parliamentary procedure manuals (RONR, TSC, Demeter, Mason, etc.) contain commentary on the principles; and as the presiding officer and parliamentarian are expected to be reasonably familiar with the contents of their organization's parliamentary authority, they are likely to be exposed to these points of view. Thus, there is potential for even the nonbinding principles to influence an organization's leadership.

Moreover, RONR states that rules that embody fundamental principles of parliamentary law cannot be suspended, even by unanimous consent or an actual unanimous vote. An assembly cannot suspend the rules that allow only one question to be considered at a time; nor can it extend the right to vote to nonmembers, or authorize absentee or cumulative voting by suspending the rules.[12] A bylaw amendment would be required to take such action. Likewise, rules protecting absentees or a basic right of the individual member cannot be suspended.[12][13]


The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure states:[14]

George Demeter writes:[2]


  1. TSC, p. 7
  2. 2.0 2.1 Demeter, George (1969). Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, Blue Book, p. 4–6
  3. Robert, Henry M. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th ed., p. li
  4. National Conference of State Legislatures (2000). Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, p. 2–4
  5. TSC, p. 7–10
  6. RONR, p. li
  7. RONR, p. 306
  8. TSC, p. 43
  9. TSC, p. 130
  10. Mason, p. 1–5
  11. RONR, p. 444
  12. 12.0 12.1 RONR, p. 263
  13. TSC, p. 85
  14. Sturgis, Alice (2001). The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, 4th ed., p. 2,7