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What is a Parliamentary Procedure?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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A parliamentary procedure is a set of rules that govern activities at the meetings of an organization or body. The purpose of such rules is to provide a framework for administering meetings in an orderly and productive fashion. Institutions such as legislatures commonly develop their own parliamentary procedure in the form of a set of bylaws, while smaller groups may adopt standardized procedures from a guidebook or another organization in their bylaws.

The term “parliamentary procedure” is a reference to the British Parliament, where this concept originated. Many of the rules that are key to parliamentary procedure come from the House of Commons. The cornerstone of parliamentary procedure is the provision of a mechanism to allow the voice of the minority to be heard and respected while still allowing the organization to conduct its business, which often ultimately means that the majority gets to make the decisions.

A parliamentary procedure spells out all of the processes that surround meetings. This includes the protocol for calling a meeting and the rules for handling the meeting from start to finish. At meetings, people can make motions to introduce new topics for action and the members of the organization can engage in discussion and debate to give those present a chance to have input. Then, people vote on motions to determine whether or not they will pass as proposed.

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The parliamentary procedure also has mechanisms that the minority can use to protect its rights. These include things such as the filibuster in the United States Senate. Such rules are designed to prevent situations where the majority has total control and does not respect or heed the minority. Minorities are sometimes in fact accused of abusing the tools at their disposal for gain.

The rules of conduct that govern meetings of a given organization are spelled out in the organization's bylaws. If changes need to be made, the members of the organization must vote on the changes just as they would on any other activity. In addition to establishing rules of conduct during meetings, the bylaws can also address ethical issues that may be of concern, along with other matters related to the integrity of the organization.

Books such as Robert's Rules of Order provide a basic framework for parliamentary procedure. Some organizations prefer to adopt the rules set out in a guidebook, rather than creating their own bylaws. Others may use such books as a starting point for creating their own rules of order and tailoring them to meet the needs of the parent organization.

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