Business people attending meeting; person asking for parliamentary help

How to Ask for Parliamentary Procedure Help During a Meeting

This is a quick guide on the motion called Parliamentary Inquiry.

The Skinny

  • What motion should you use to obtain information on a matter of parliamentary procedure or regarding the rules of your organization?
    Use the motion called Parliamentary Inquiry.
  • What should you say?
    Say this: “I have a parliamentary inquiry.”
  • When can you make this motion?
    You can make this request when no motion is on the floor or when the question is connected to a motion that is on the floor and none of the following motions are pending: Call for the Orders of the Day, Raise a Question of Privilege, Recess, Adjourn, or Fix the Time to Which to Adjourn.
  • Can you interrupt another speaker to make this motion?
    Yes, if the request requires immediate attention.
  • Does someone have to say, “Second” after this motion is proposed?
  • Can people debate the pros and cons of this motion?
  • How many votes does this motion need to pass?
    No vote is taken when handling this motion. The Chair either answers the request or facilitates its answer.

An Example

  • The group is considering a main motion that deals with a large real estate purchase, and Member A moves to refer the motion to the Property Committee.
  • Member B wishes that the group could consider amending the motion first because she thinks it might have a better chance of being adopted and she would hate to see the adoption of the motion get delayed by its being sent to a committee. But she doesn’t know if the motion to amend is permissible at this stage of the meeting.
  • Member B rises, interrupts the member on the floor, and says, “Madame Chair, I have a parliamentary inquiry.”
  • The Chair says, “What is your question?”
  • Member B replies, “Is a motion to amend allowed right now?”
  • The Chair, after consulting with the parliamentarian if necessary, replies, “No, the motion to amend is not in order because the motion to refer to committee is currently pending. If the motion to refer to committee fails, then the motion to amend will be in order.”
  • Once the question is answered, business continues at the same place where it was before Member B asked her question.

What the Pros Know

  • The Chair is required to answer parliamentary inquiries—she cannot ignore them. And she is also required to assist members in making motions that are appropriate and in understanding the effects of a motion. The Chair is not, however, required to answer hypothetical questions.
  • If the Chair does not know the precise answer to a parliamentary inquiry, it is important for the group to remember that an inexperienced or less knowledgeable Chair can feel significant pressure in a moment like this. Graciousness can go a long way in helping the Chair to maintain order while she tries to respond efficiently and fairly. These are core principles of parliamentary procedure. Badgering the Chair or showing off one’s own knowledge of the rules is never helpful or appropriate. When the Chair is unsure about the answer, though, she should (1) answer to the best of her ability in the moment, keeping in mind the fundamental principles of parliamentary procedure; (2) work to locate the precise answer as quickly as possible; (3) continue her own learning in matters of parliamentary procedure over time, beginning with basics and then diving deeper to gain both knowledge and skill; and (4) consider discussing with the group the possibility of hiring a professional parliamentarian for periodic consultation, board training, or ongoing help.

Where to Learn More