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Tuesday, 2 June 1970


Mr SPEAKER - As the House will recall, the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) on 15th May moved that the House take note of a ministerial statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) with reference to Commonwealth-State talks on off-shore legislation. To this motion the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) moved an amendment and' to this amendment an amendment was moved by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Howson). A point of order was raised that the latter amendment was a direct negative. I did not uphold the point of order and a motion of dissent from my ruling was moved. The motion of dissent was negatived.

Subsequent comment both inside and outside the House showed some misunderstanding of the parliamentary practice in regard to the nature and scope of amendments and some lack of knowledge of the precedents and parliamentary procedures on which the ruling was based.

As the moving of. amendments is a fundamental parliamentary proceeding and is therefore of great importance, I have prepared a statement dealing wilh the precedents and the practice in this House and in the United Kingdom House of Commons which I feel will be of considerable interest and which I think shows that the proceedings that day and the procedure followed were consistent with established parliamentary practice. This practice allows an amendment intended to evade an expression of opinion upon the main question by entirely altering its meaning and objects and which effects this by first moving for the omission of words with a view, if this is agreed, to the substitution of an alternative proposition.

The statement makes clear the meaning of 'direct negative' and 'expanded negative' in the parliamentary context and will, I hope, do much lo clear up the confusion which exists in this matter. As the statement is somewhat lengthy, I propose to have it incorporated in Hansard. It is as follows:

On 15th May 1970 Mr Snedden, the Leader of the House, moved that the House take note of a paper relating to off-shore legislation. To this motion, Or Patterson moved an amendment which expressed lack of confidence in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet because they failed to honour a commitment. To this amendment, an amendment was moved by Mr Howson declaring that the House did not believe there had been any failure on the part of the Government to honour any commitment, etc.

A point of order was raised that the latter amendment was a direct negative of the first amendment. The Chair ruled against the point of order and this was upheld by the House when it negatived a motion of dissent from the Ruling of the Chair. A fuller statement of the proceedings is given in the Appendix to these notes.

Subsequent events show that there is a considerable misunderstanding of the parliamentary practice in regard to the nature and scope of amendments, and a lack of knowledge of the precedents and parliamentary procedures on which the ruling of the Chair was based. lt is necessary to say at the start that the only requirement of the Standing Orders of the House is that an amendment must be relevant to the question which it is proposed to amend. There is no reference to direct' or 'expanded' negative and, in accordance wilh standing order I , resort, in this context, is had to the practice of the House of Representatives or to the practice of the United Kingdom House of Commons as declared in Mays 'Parliamentary Practice'. Although there are a few exceptions, the overwhelming evidence is that amendments intended to evade an expression of opinion upon a question by entirely altering its meaning and object are allowed and that an amendment which puts forward an alternative proposition, even though it be a fundamental alteration, is in order.

The 17th edition of May at pages 406-7 refers to amendments intended to evade an expression of opinion upon the main question by entirely altering its meaning and object, and says that this is effected by moving the omission of all or most of the words of the question after the word 'That' at the beginning, and by the substitution of an alternative proposition (-which must, however, be relevant to the subject of the question).

May goes on to say that in the case of amendments of this type the proposal of the question That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question' places before the House two alternative propositions, contained in the motion and in the amendment respectively, between which, the House has to make a preliminary choice before deciding finally to agree to either of them. Consequently, if the words proposed to be left out are ordered not te stand part of the question, this vote does not by itself express a decision against the motion, but only a preference for taking a decision upon the alternative proposition contained in the amendment. If, however, the words of the amendment are added, and the main question, so amended, is agreed to, the original motion may be regarded as having been negatived by implication. This depends both upon the fact that the amendment has been agreed to and upon the fact that its terms are such as to imply disagreement with the motion.

A motion, from which all or most of the words after 'That' have been left out without other words having been added, has not in strictness been decided and may be submitted again in substance to the decision of the House. So also can a motion which has been superseded by a temporising or noncommittal amendment, or by a conditional prohibition, as soon as that condition has ceased to operate.

But a motion which has been superseded by a 'hostile' amendment, i.e., one which contains a conflicting or incompatible proposition, cannot be repeated in the same session. Even when such an amendment has not been fully agreed to by the House, the fact that the words which it proposed to leave out have been omitted has been treated in practice as equivalent to a decision against the original, motion. It is important to observe that the question whether the proposition contained in a superseded motion has been decided depends, not upon the fact that its words have been omitted, but rather upon the nature of the amendment by which the motion has been superseded.

There are many precedents of this mode of dealing with a question, which is a recognised parliamentary form. The proposed amendment should not be confined to a mere negation of the terms of the motion, as the proper mode of expressing a contrary opinion is by voting against a motion without seeking to amend it.

An earlier edition of May (10th edition at pages 270-1), when dealing with amendments intended to evade an expression of opinion upon the main question by entirely altering its meaning and object says that there are many precedents of this mode of dealing with a question, and that the best known in parliamentary history are those relating to Mr Pitt's administration, and the Peace of Amiens, in 1802.

On 7th May 1802 a motion was made in the Commons for an address, 'expressing the thanks of this house to His Majesty for having been pleased to remove the Right Hon. W. Pitt from his councils;' upon which an amendment was proposed and carried, which left out all the words after the first, and substituted others in direct opposition to them, by which the whole policy of Mr Pitt was commended. Immediately afterwards an address was moved in both Houses of Parliament, condemning the Treaty of Amiens, in a long statement of facts and arguments; and in each House an amendment was substituted, whereby an address was resolved upon which justified the treaty.

This edition of May went on to say that the practice had often been objected to as unfair, but that the objection was unfounded as the weaker party must always anticipate defeat in one form or another. If no amendment is moved, the majority can negative the question itself and affirm another in opposition to the opinions of the minority. Other interesting cases in the House of Commons are: 24/11/1902- -Journals, p. 492.

Motion - That this House approves the policy embodied in the convention relating to sugar signed at Brussels on the 5th day of March 1902. . . .

The amendment, which proposed to leave out all the words after 'House', with a view to the- insertion of the words 'declines to approve of the convention relating to sugar signed at Brussels on the 5th day of March, 1902', was held to be in order. 1/11/1956- Journals, pp. 428-9. Motion - 'That this House deplores the action of Her Majesty's Government in resorting to armed force against Egypt in clear violation of the United Nations Charter. . . .

The Prime Minister moved the following amendment which was agreed to - Omit all words after 'House', insert 'approves of the prompt action taken by Her Majesty's Government designed to bring hostilities between Israel and Egypt to an end. . . .

The 17th edition of May, p. 418, states that the Speaker has ruled that an amendment that was merely an expanded negative could not be proposed. The meaning of the words expanded negative' in the parliamentary context and the fact that this ruling is not inconsistent with the practice dealt with in these notes can be shown by reference to one of the instances cited by May, as follows:

Commons Parliamentary Debates 1938- 39, Vol. 343, columns 856, 904, 906.

Motion (Minister of Transport) - 'that the Contract ... for the maintenance of transport services in the Western Highlands . and for the conveyance of mails ... be approved'.

Amendment (Mr Weir) to omit approved' and insert 'disapproved' with a view to Article 2 (which empowers the Minister to nominate a person to serve on the Board of Directors of the contractors) being altered so as to empower him to nominate two persons'.

The Minister staled that this amendment would have the effect of cancelling the whole 'of the recommendations that had been put in regard to the contract and would involve ils ceasing and that the whole of the financial arrangements would come to an end.

Mr Speakersaid he had ruled out another amendment as il was a wrecking amendment which would negative the motion but put nothing in its place. The amendment now proposed would, of course, negative the motion but it suggests that the Government should bring in an altered contract. This amendment was perfectly in order.

In the House of Representatives, relevant precedents are: 22/10/1920- Voles and Proceedings 391:

Motion - That the Government bc censured for their failure to make provision for the payment of 5s per bushel cash at railway sidings for this season's wheat.

Amendment agreed to - Omit all words after 'Government', insert ', having guaranteed the producer 5s per bushel at sidings for this season's wheat, should arrange for payment of same on delivery by cash and certificates, such certificates to be repayable in such' instalments and at such periods as recommended by the Central Wheat Board. . . .' 6/5/1936 - Votes and Proceedings p. 590-

Motion - That this House censures the Commonwealth Government for its failure to promote the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia. . . .

Proposed amendment - That the words 'censures the Commonwealth Government for its failure' be omitted with a view to inserting in place thereof the words 'approves the action of the Commonwealth Government' - Ruled out of order as it was a direct negative of the motion.

Another amendment agreed to - Omit all words after 'House', insert notes the action taken by the Commonwealth Government to promote the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia . . .' 8/9/ 1949- Votes and Proceedings p. 381 -

Motion - Thai this House has no further confidence in Mr Deputy Speaker on the grounds

Amendment agreed to after ruling that it was not a direct negative - Omit ill words after 'That', insert 'this House declares its determination to uphold the dignity and authority of the Chair, an.l deplores the fact thai the Deputy Speaker while carrying out his duties with ability and impartiality, has not at all times received the support from all Members which he is entitled to expect in maintaining that dignity and authority'. 9.' Al 1970 - Vo:cA and Proceedings p. SI -

Motion - That the Leader of the House should be censured for his mishandling of (he business of the House and his repeated failure to honour agreement" made between the Government and the Opposition.

Amendment proposed - Omit all words after 'That', insert 'the Leader of the Opposition should be censured for hi-, failure to respond to Mr Speaker's request that he use his influence wilh the honourable member for Wills to obey the decision of the House directed to him by Mr Speaker . . .'

Point of order raised that the amendment was not relevant to the motion which it proposed to amend.

Ruling - That the amendment was relevant to the circumstances of the case and to the substance of the matter.

Dissent from ruling negatived.

Amendment agreed to; motion as amended agreed to. 17/11/1 964 - Votes and Proceedings p. 235.

Consideration of Senate's request for amendment - Motion - That the requested amendment be not made.

Proposed amendment - That the word 'not' be omitted from the motion.

Ruling - that the proposed amendment was out of order as it was a direct negative of the motion. 13/8' 1903 - Votes and Proceedings p. 93.

Electoral distribution motion - That this House approves of the proposed distribution of the State of South Australia . . .

Amendment moved - That the word approves' be omitted with a view to the insertion of the word 'disapproves' in place thereof. (References to other electoral distribution motions where . amendments moved expressing 'disapproval' and calling for' a fresh- redistribution or expressing other views were moved to approval' motions -

1912/165-6; 1922/45; 1932-34/901, 903-4; 1934-37/607; 1962-63/ 340-1; 1968-69/216-9; 322-3.)

lt will be seen that the amendment moved by Mr Howson to the amendment moved to the motion by Dr Patterson, the procedure followed, and the proceedings as a whole were consistent with established parliamentary practice which allows an amendment intended 'to evade an expression of opinion upon the main question by entirely altering its meaning and object' and which effects this by first moving for the omission of words with a view, it th,s is agreed, to the substitution of an alternative proposition.

Appendix 15 May 1970 - Motion re off-shore legislation - Want of confidence amendment - Amendment to amendment.

Motion (Mr Snedden) - That the House take note of the paper.

Amendment (Mr Patterson) - That the following words be added to the motion: and that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House because they failed to honour a commitment made to the States by the previous Minister for National Development, acting for and on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, that there would be further consultation with the States before the Commonwealth government introduced any legislation on the territorial sea and continental shelf.'

Amendment to amendment (Mr Howson) -

That all words after "and' be deleted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: that this House does nol believe that there has been any failure on the part of the Government to honour any commitments.

The House acknowledges that when the Government decided to change its policy on Off-Shore authority by legislating to take control from the lowwater mark to Continental Shelf, the Government did not, at that time, inform the States of this change in the policy which had been the subject of consultations between the Minister for National Development and State Ministers.

It is of the opinion that it is this fact which has led to the honourable member for Farrer feeling justified in believing that an undertaking that there would be further consultations, which he gave to the Stales, has been dishonoured'.

Point of order raised (Mr Whitlam) that Mr Howson's amendment was a direct negative of the amendment moved by Dr Patterson.

Ruling - Speaker Aston ruled that Mr Howson 's amendment was not a direct negative and was not materially different in form from amendments which have been moved, and accepted, in previous years.

Dissent from ruling moved (Mr Barnard) - negatived on division.


Mr Bryant - Mr Speaker, will it be possible, at some stage, to debate your statement?


Mr SPEAKER - I would not think so at this stage. The House has made a decision on the matter, by vote of the House. This is a statement thai I have made for the information of honourable members to clarify the situation. The House voted on the motion to dissent from my ruling.


Mr Bryant - ls it possible 10 move that the statement be noted?


Mr SPEAKER - No.







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