In traditional Australian and UK meeting procedure, a curious procedure takes place when an amendment is proposed to omit words from a motion, including to omit words and substitute other words. Traditionally, the question proposed from the Chair, in either case, is:

That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question

In other words, the mover of the amendment would propose that the words should go, but the Chair puts the question in the form that the words should remain! The mover of the amendment must then vote against the question!

This tradition is said to have originated from times in the House of Commons of old, where the Ayes remained in the chamber while the Noes retired to a division lobby (now, of course, there are two lobbies, one for each side). Therefore, assuming most motions are moved by the government, and most amendments by the opposition, the government members could remain in the chamber to defeat the amendment. Upholding the question in the above form would also have the effect that no further amendment could be made to those words. (House of Representatives Practice p. 315)

The other effect of this form is that if the votes on the amendment were to be tied, the question would be negatived, and so the words would be omitted.1 Oestensibly, this could be said to be justified in that words in the motion should not stand unless a majority of the meeting agrees with them.

However, as a matter of principle, this traditional practice can lead to some strange results! Suppose an amendment were moved to omit all words after ‘That’ and substitute other words (i.e. to rewrite the entire motion). Traditionally, the question is put in two parts:

That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question

And then, if that is negatived:

That the words proposed be inserted

Suppose further that the votes are evenly divided on this amendment. In that case, the question ‘That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question’ is negatived, but the second question ‘That the words proposed be inserted’ is also negatived! The meeting is left with a meeting that only contains the single word ‘That’!

The Speaker of the House of Representatives has previously ruled that in such a situation where ‘what was left of the motion was meaningless’, the motion is dropped (House of Representatives Practice p. 311).

What a preposterous outcome! A tie in an amendment leads to the defeat of the entire motion!

The UK House of Commons rid itself of this procedure in 1967 (Erskine May para. 20.35), and the Senate has also done so, putting all amendments in the form ‘That the amendment be agreed to’. The House of Representatives, by contrast, is still living in the past. It does have a provision for putting amendments in that form (SO 122), but it may only be utilised if no member objects.

Needless to say, I am not a fan of this confusing and bizarre procedure, which is why my Model Standing Orders contain the following suggested provision at SO 29(3):

(3) At the conclusion of debate on an amendment, the Chair must put the question That the amendment be agreed to.


  • WRIGHT, B.C., ed. House of Representatives Practice. 6th edition. Canberra: Department of the House of Representatives, 2012.


  1. In a parliamentary setting, the Speaker might apply Denison's rule and cast a casting vote in favour of the question, against the amendment. However, this would not be able to be applied in settings where the Chair does not have a casting vote (which is my preference), as in the Senate.