In Australian and UK meeting procedure, there is a rule relating to the order in which amendments may be moved, known as the ‘prior amendment’ rule. Citrine's The ABC of Chairmanship describes this as follows:
when an amendment has been moved to alter the latter part of a motion no amendment can be moved later in the discussion to alter the first part. … It does not matter whether the amendment to the last half was carried or not. Even if it was lost, no amendment could then be moved to any word or words in the original motion in front of the word [proposed to be amended] – not even the alteration of one word could be permitted. (p. 43)
Erskine May outlines essentially the same rule for UK parliamentary proceedings at paragraph 20.42. The Australian House of Representatives has a corresponding Standing Order (SO 123), as do many state legislatures.
To illustrate the effect of this rule, let us suppose there is a motion That the committee authorise the expenditure of up to $30 for a new lamp. A quick-moving committee member catches the eye of the Chair, and moves an amendment to add ‘from Ikea’ at the end of the motion. The prior amendment rule means that even if the amendment is now defeated, no amendments can be moved to the motion at all.1 The committee may well have preferred to raise or lower the amount of expenditure, or perhaps to purchase multiple lamps, or specify a particular type of lamp, and yet the prior amendment rule would not allow these amendments.
As you may have surmised from my tone, I find this rule baffling. There is no such prohibition against prior amendments in Robert's Rules, and the Americans seem to do just fine,2 as does the Australian Senate, which does not appear to observe this rule.
A refreshingly sensible perspective on this matter is provided in Horsley's Meetings, noting the convention that amendments are taken in the order they affect the words of the motion, but also acknowledging that ‘a Chair may prefer to deal with amendments in the order received’ (p. 130), and so it appears that there is no legal requirement to observe the prior amendment rule. It goes on to remark:
The standing orders of some bodies stipulate that an amendment may not be moved to any part of a motion preceding a point already amended. It would be usual for standing orders of such a type also to require that written notice of motion and of any proposed amendments be lodged prior to the debate. (p. 131)
(The ABC of Chairmanship does not require such notice, giving rise to the absurd situation illustrated above.)
In my opinion, a meeting should be permitted to amend a motion in any way it damn well pleases, and it is not the role of the Chair or the Standing Orders to second-guess what the meeting may well very reasonably wish to do. Accordingly, my Model Standing Orders contain the following suggested provision:
30 No restrictions on prior amendments, etc.
An amendment may be moved to any part of a motion, notwithstanding that that part, or any other part, of the motion may have previously been amended.
(Note that this also displaces the traditional rule that an amendment may not be moved to words inserted or resolved to stand part of the question, which is perhaps a more debatable choice, but a middle-ground is of course possible.)
- CITRINE, Walter. The ABC of Chairmanship. 4th edition. Norman CITRINE and Michael CANNELL, eds. London: Fabian Society, 2016.
- LANG, Anthony David. Horsley's Meetings: Procedure, Law and Practice. 7th edition. Australia: LexisNexis, 2015.