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Wednesday, 28 July 1920


Mr RYAN (West Sydney) .- I move -

That Mr. Deputy Speaker's ruling - that a motion "That the questionbe now put" can be received before the question itself has been proposed or stated to the House by Mr. Deputy Speaker - he disagreed to.

I regret the circumstances which have led to the absence of Mr. Speaker (Sir Elliot Johnson) from his place this afternoon. It is somewhat of an anomaly that if my motion is agreed to it will uphold the ruling of Mr. Speaker, and if it is defeated, Mr. Speaker's ruling will be overruled by the House, and that of Mr. Deputy Speaker (Hon. J. M. Chanter) upheld. I hope that honorable members will approach the matter entirely free from any preconceived ideas upon it, because it is of great importance that the rights of honorable members to discuss questions within the Standing Orders should be preserved. The ruling given by Mr. Speaker is undoubtedly right, and I invite Mr. Deputy Speaker to compare the various standing orders bearing on the matter. Before the discussion is ended - it need not be long - I hope that Mr. Deputy Speaker will alter his opinion as to the time when a closure motion may be put. The standing order under which the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) moved " That the question be now put," is on page 71 of the Standing Orders, and reads as follows: -

After any question has been proposed, either in the House or in any Committee of the whole, a motion may be made by any member rising in his place, and without notice, and whether any other member is addressing the Chair or not, " That the question be now put," and the motion shall be put forthwith and decided without amendment or debate.

I invite attention to the first few words, "After any question has been proposed." Those words define the time when an honorable member may move " That the question be now put"; that is to say, when any question has been proposed. Mr. Deputy Speaker's ruling leads us to this peculiar position, that a motion, " That the question be now put," may be taken when there is actually no question before the House to be put. The language of the standing order is quite clear. It says, "After any question has been proposed." The matter to be decided by us now is, "When, is a question proposed?" and "Who proposes a question?" The Chair is the only person who. can propose a question. No honorable member can do so. I invite the attention of Mr. Deputy Speaker to the difference between a "motion " and a " question," and refer him to standing order 120, which provides -

When a motion has been made and seconded, a question thereupon shall be proposed to the House by Mr. Speaker.

The word "proposed" applies to the statement of the question to the House by the Chair, and not to the intention formed in the mind of an honorable member to move a particular motion. Comparison of the two standing orders shows that the question is proposed by the Chair, and in that regard the word " stated " is synonymous with " proposed." But the actual proposal comes when the motion has been moved and seconded according to standing order No. 120. A glance at these two standing orders furnishes ample evidence and, I am sure, also proof to any unbiased person that the ruling given on this matter on a former occasion by Mr. Speaker is right. I hope, therefore, that honorable members will hesitate, particularly in his .absence, to overrule a ruling which is obviously right. There are many ways of meeting the suggestion which you make that, if the motion may not be moved " That the question be now put," then there is no means - if the House be so minded - of preventing an honorable member from proceeding with bis remarks. There is ample machinery provided in the Standing Orders. The Prime Minister may move, " That the honorable member be no longer heard," and, if a majority is of opinion that it has listened sufficiently long to the honorable member who . is speaking it can vote him down. But your ruling leads to the extraordinary position that an honorable member speaking, and intimating that he intends to move something, may have that matter put to the House, although there is not another honorable member who is prepared to second it. A motion can not be put to the House unless some honorable member has seconded it. I hold that there is a difference between a proposed motion and a proposed question. You, sir, would elevate the position of a proposed motion to the same position as if it were a question to be decided by .the House. If you confine yourself to the interpretation of the Standing Orders to which I have referred - and they are as plain as the English language can be - I submit that you will come to the conclusion that you committed an error in your ruling. But I refer you also to May (10th edition, pp. 265, 266) in order to point out what is meant by the word " proposed." May lays down that questions are proposed "byMr. Speaker -

In the Commons, when the motion has been - seconded, it merges in the question, which is proposed by the Speaker to the House, and read by him; after which the House is in possession of the question.

And until the House is in possession of the question it is absurd to suggest that any honorable member may move " That the question be now put." Let me carry my argument a little further. May (page 276) also lays down when an amendment may be moved. This has a bearing and throws light upon the question - that is, if it is necessary to shed light upon the obvious. May says -

The time for moving an amendment is after a question has been proposed by the Speaker, and before it has been put.

So there is a difference between proposing a question and the putting of the question. But, before any honorable member can invoke the closure, there must be the question proposed by the Chair ; and the motion is then to bring it to a decision - which is the putting of the question. I would again refer you, sir, to May (page 213), where there is reference to the time of the closure -

A closure motion may therefore be sanctioned by .the Chair, either immediately upon, or within a few minutes after, the proposal to the House of the question to be closed.

I ask honorable members to closely examine those words. Of course, I know, and no doubt you, sir, also know, as do honorable members generally, that the closure is moved very often in the middle of an honorable member's speech, and, perhaps, after he has indicated that he intends to move something. The closure in such cases is moved in order to prevent tha't honorable member from developing his intention into a question by having it put through the Chair. Some honorable member - generally a Minister - rises and moves " That the question be now put." Of. course, the honorable member who was originally speaking is then prevented from having his intended motion developed into a question. But before that procedure can be adopted there must be some question before the Chair.


Mr Hughes - There was a question before the Chair on this occasion, because the honorable member said "I move."


Mr RYAN - The fact that an honorable member gets up in this House and says " I move," does not make it a question, unless some other honorable member also gets up and says " I second it."

After all, sir, your ruling arises from "a confusion and from a misunderstanding of the technical meaning of the word " proposed," as used in the Standing Orders. If you will read them carefully you will find that the word " proposed," used with regard to a question, is employed with regard to the stating of the question by Mr. Speaker.

We all know the special circumstances which gave rise to the ruling in question. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) was moving to postpone the Orders of the Day until after the consideration of notice of motion No. 1, Government business.


Mr Watkins - Did the honorable member actually move it?


Mr RYAN - No ; he indicated that he was going to move it. But, whether he did actually move it or not does not affect my argument, because it only becomes a question when it has been seconded and isproposed from the Chair. The matter is one of- great importance, and I hope honorable members will see the necessity for settling it irrespective of which side of the House they may be found, because we may sit on one side of this Chamber to-day and on the other side to-morrow. It is necessary that we should be able to uphold the rights of honorable members.. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), when he moved his motion, was out of order. Evidently he had become very anxious, for some reason or other, to prevent the honorable member for Dalley from proceeding with his very eloquent and forcefully impressive speech with respect to the War Precautions Act and industrial unrest. The Prime Minister used the first instrument at his hand when he rose and moved "That the question be now put."' I submit that the House should not hesitate to disagree with your ruling; but I hope, rather, sir, that you will reconsider your decision and render one which will be in conformity with the decision of Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) on this matter, which is obviously right.







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