Subsidiary Motions and their functions

A motion was moved and seconded, resolving that the club buy a computer system and related software to link all the sales outlets and administrative departments of the premises. In the ensuring debate words like "database", "RAM", "gigabytes", "LAN" and other computerise were flying around. Most of the members were lost, but knowing that when it comes to dollars and cents it was their money the assembly was talking about, so everyone was determined to put his two-cent worth of say. Lunchtime came and passed, and the end was nowhere in sight. "A hungry man is an angry man" so the saying goes. Soon nerves were beginning to fray and tempers flared. The members didn't want to go to vote yet because they were still not sure want they want. What can be done in such a situation? Well, the obvious thing to do is to move a subsidiary motion and there are seven such motions at the assembly's disposal. In this case, the subsidiary motion to refer to committee would the correct one to use.

What are subsidiary motions? Subsidiary motions are motions by which an original main motion may be modified, delayed, referred to a committee, or otherwise disposed of. There are seven subsidiary motions. The most commonly used subsidiary motion is the motion to amend, which we will deal with at length below. Now let us run through all the seven subsidiary motions and consider the situations when they can be used.

To postpone indefinitely: to kill a motion Recently, after an AGM a member said to me, "We should not have wasted out time discussing that motion. The Committee should have stopped it from being brought it to the assembly." That statement spoke volume of the lack of understanding of the member of the democratic procedure. In the first place, no committee should be allowed to bar a motion, which has been properly tabled. To do so would be to suppress the rights of the members. Secondly, the complaining member obviously was not aware the function of subsidiary motions.

If you consider a motion to be inappropriate, or you think that the assembly should not take a position on the question, or you just what to kill it and avoid a direct vote, then the motion to use is the motion to postpone indefinitely. It requires a majority vote to pass and if so passed the effect is to suppress it throughout the meeting, thus, killing it effectively.

So next time when you feel that a motion is not worth considering, you could short circuit the whole process by saying, "Mr. Chairman, I move that we postpone consideration of this motion indefinitely." If the majority agrees with you, then you would have save the assembly valuable time.

To amend: to modify a motion "Mr. Chairman, I move that we buy a coach." After this has been seconded another member who considered that merely saying "a coach" was too vague, moved to add the word "fifty-seat" before the word "coach". What he was doing was to move the subsidiary motion to amend. This is the most commonly used of all the subsidiary motions. However, because this motion call for the rewording of the original motion it can cause much confusion in the assembly as members get mixed up over the issue facing them and the implication of their vote.

Two debates and two votings _ The first thing to remember is that when there is an amendment to a motion there will be two debates and two votings.  The first debate and vote is about the acceptance of the modification of the wording, in this case to add the word "fifty-seat". At this juncture the concern is not whether to buy a coach, rather it is about whether we should debate on buying merely a coach (irrespective of size) or a fifty-seat coach.

Thus if you are in favour of considering a fifty-seat coach then you should vote in the affirmative, because a negative vote means you are not concerned about the size of the coach to be considered. Many members are uncertain at this point about the implication of their vote. They are afraid that if they vote "yes" it may mean that the organisation would have to fork out the money to buy the coach. Be rest assure that when you vote in the affirmative to the subsidiary motion to amend you merely agree to the modified version. You have not committed your organi sation to buying the coach yet.

That could come later If the majority votes for the addition of the word "fiftyseat" the motion before the assembly will now be: "that we buy a fifty-seat coach." If the majority votes in the negative then the motion as it was originally moved would become the main motion.  Once the vote is taken on the amendment, debate can now commence on the merit of buying a coach. When that comes to the vote, the question for the members is whether or not to commit the organization to buy the vehicle.

The subsidiary motion to amend is one of the greatest scourges of a meeting. But it is a very useful motion because many a time the motion as it was original phrased may not be appropriate or the original mover may have overlooked something. The assembly by means of this subsidiary motion can put it right; hence it is one of the most commonly used subsidiary motions. However, because of the different levels of debate and vote the assembly may get confused. A prudent Chair would take extra care to guide the members by reminding them of the issue before them at all time.

Next week we will look at the other five subsidiary motions and their functions.