In parliamentary procedure, cloture ( // KLOH-chər) is a motion or process aimed at bringing debate to a quick end. It is also called closure or, informally, a guillotine. The cloture procedure originated in the French National Assembly, from which the name is taken. Clôture is French for "ending" or "conclusion". It was introduced into the Parliament of the United Kingdom by William Ewart Gladstone to overcome the obstruction of the Irish nationalist party and was made permanent in 1887. It was subsequently adopted by the United States Senate and other legislatures.
The first cloture in Hong Kong was introduced in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong on 17th May, 2012, by Tsang Yok-sing (President of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong), to abruptly halt filibuster during debate at the Committee of the Whole stage of the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2012. The motion to end debate was submitted by Council member Philip Wong Yu-hong some time after 4 am Hong Kong time, after a marathon session that lasted over 33 hours. Wong stood up and suggested that legislatures in other countries have a procedure called "cloture motion," and suggested Council President should end debate immediately. President Tsang agreed and said that he considered ending debate even without Wong's suggestion because he would not allow debate to go on endlessly. Cloture is not defined by any rule or precedent of the Legislative Council. Tsang made reference to Standing Order 92, which stated "In any matter not provided for in these Rules of Procedure, the practice and procedure to be followed in the Council shall be such as may be decided by the President who may, if he thinks fit, be guided by the practice and procedure of other legislatures.". Standing Order 92 therefore may implicitly gives Council President discretion on whether he should or should not follow the cloture rules of other legislatures, but this is up to debate. Legislative Council President Tsang chose to end debate without calling for a cloture vote, which is questionable. Council member Leung Kwok-hung then stood up and said that he had never heard of cloture without a vote anywhere else and suggested there should have been a cloture vote.
As a source of reference, in 1917, United States Senate adopted a cloture rule (Rule 22), at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote. It is therefor questionable that Tsang Yok-sing halted the filibuster without extensive deliberation and consensus.
The first closure in Canada was introduced in the House of Commons, 1913, by Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden. The new closure rule was immediately tested by the government only a few days after its adoption during debate at the Committee of the Whole stage of the Naval Aid Bill.
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A motion for cloture may be adopted in both the House of Commons and in the House of Lords by a simple majority of those voting. In the House of Commons, at least 100 Members must vote in favour of the motion for cloture to be adopted; the Speaker of the House of Commons may choose to deny the cloture motion if he or she feels that insufficient debate has occurred, or that the procedure is being used to violate the rights of the minority. The government often imposes a timetable on legislation in advance by way of a programme motion, under which debate automatically ceases when the allotted time expires. In the House of Lords, the Lord Speaker does not possess an equivalent power. Programme motions are often referred to as "guillotines" but never as clotures.
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A similar procedure was adopted in the United States. This was invoked for the first time on November 15, 1919, during the 66th Congress, to end filibuster on the Treaty of Versailles.
The cloture rule originally required a supermajority of two-thirds of all senators "present and voting" to be considered filibuster-proof. For example, if all 100 Senators voted on a cloture motion, 67 of those votes would have to be for cloture for it to pass; however if some Senators were absent and only 80 Senators voted on a cloture motion, only 54 would have to vote in favor. However, it proved very difficult to achieve this; the Senate tried eleven times between 1927 and 1962 to invoke cloture but failed each time. Filibuster was particularly heavily used by Democratic Senators from Southern states to block civil rights legislation.
In 1975, the Democratic Senate majority, having achieved a net gain of four seats in the 1974 Senate elections to a strength of 61 (with an additional Independent caucusing with them for a total of 62), reduced the necessary supermajority to three-fifths (60 out of 100). However, as a compromise to those who were against the revision, the new rule also changed the requirement for determining the number of votes needed for a cloture motion's passage from those Senators "present and voting" to those Senators "duly chosen and sworn". Thus, 60 votes for cloture would be necessary regardless of whether every Senator voted. The only time a lesser number would become acceptable is when a Senate seat is vacant. (For example, if there were two vacancies in the Senate, thereby making 98 Senators "duly chosen and sworn", it would only take 59 votes for a cloture motion to pass.)
The new version of the cloture rule, which has remained in place since 1975, makes it considerably easier for the Senate majority to invoke cloture. This has considerably strengthened the power of the majority, and allowed it to pass many bills that would otherwise have been filibustered. (The Democratic Party held a two-thirds majority in the 89th Congress of 1965, but regional divisions among Democrats meant that many filibusters were invoked by Southern Democrats against civil rights bills supported by the Northern wing of the party). Some senators wanted to reduce it to a simple majority (51 out of 100) but this was rejected, as it would greatly diminish the ability of the minority to check the majority.
The three-fifths version of the cloture rule does not apply to motions to end filibusters relating to Senate Rule changes. To invoke cloture to end debate over changing the Senate Rules, the original version of the rule (two-thirds of those Senators "present and voting") still applies.
The procedure for "invoking cloture," or ending a filibuster, is as follows:
After cloture has been invoked, the following restrictions apply:
The ability to invoke cloture was last attained by a US political party in the 111th Congress, by the Democrats, with the help of two independents.