Cloture or closure is a concept in parliamentary procedure, which is the backbone of government in many nations of the world. If a motion for cloture passes, debate on the topic at hand must end, and a vote is taken immediately. The concept can be used to defeat filibusters, and it is also used to move voting along, or to avoid the introduction of amendments which are not relevant to the bill at hand. The process of cloture in most parliamentary bodies is closely outlined in their rules of conduct.
Consideration of a bill is an important part of the lawmaking process, and it can get quite lengthy. When a bill becomes a law, there are a number of steps involved. All of these steps are designed to solicit input so that the bill is as fair as possible, and so that everyone feels that their questions have been addressed. In some cases, people who are opposed to a law will start a filibuster, a delaying tactic which is designed to prevent the passage of a law, or to dramatically change it.
While filibusters certainly do have their place in lawmaking, they can also bring the operations of government to a halt. In some cases, the right to filibuster has also been severely abused, as was seen in the United States during the Civil Rights era. Without the option of cloture, a filibuster could potentially stretch on for weeks, if a team of dedicated lawmakers was willing to tag-team to create a solid filibuster.
The French National Assembly was the birthplace of cloture, which is also sometimes called a “guillotine,” since it cuts off debate. In 1887, the concept crossed the English Channel, and it was adopted by the British Parliament. In either House, a motion for cloture passes with a majority vote. In the House of Commons, however, the speaker can deny the motion if he or she feels that the concerns of the minority have not been addressed.
In the United States, which has a long history of filibuster in the Senate, cloture was not adopted until 1917, with Rule 22. If a motion for cloture is put forward in the Senate, it requires a three fifths vote to pass, and there can be no more than 30 hours of debate on the topic after the motion for cloture passes. In this sense, cloture is used to limit debate and to hasten a vote, rather than to cut off debate entirely.