Writing motions – how to and how not to do it

Guidance on how to write motions for the NUJ delegate meeting.

You need to have the current rule book handy when you want to write a motion.

Almost every motion recommended out of order by the standing orders committee (SOC) has fallen foul of one of the existing rules. And the rules often interlock.

For example, if you want to table a motion about membership, whether it is who is eligible to join, contribution rates or what rights and duties we have as members, you need to familiarise yourself with up to nine different rules. If possible, get hold of a final agenda from a previous delegate meeting (DM) to see what form motions take – it can save you and us a lot of time!

Read your rule book and, if in doubt, ask SOC for advice.

Choose your targets

Another common mistake is that motions are "not in a proper form". This means that, because it is DM, all motions must acknowledge that. So they should start "This DM…" Motions should address the right body. A motion cannot instruct or ask DM to do anything itself – DM is a conference, not an organisation. So a motion might say "This DM instructs the NEC…"

You can instruct the NEC to do most things, BUT there are exceptions. For example, under the rules, it has sole authority to decide whether or not to spend money on legal advice and litigation and only the NEC can call members out on strike.

You cannot instruct the editor of the Journalist to publish specific items, for, under the rules, the editor has editorial independence. Nor can you instruct the appeals tribunal or the union's charities to do anything. But, you can frame a motion that asks them or strongly requests them to take particular action.

You need to be sure of your facts too. SOC sometimes recommends motions out of order if they appear to be "contrary to the facts". So do check that the body you want to praise or censure was actually responsible for the action that prompted your motion.

Motions for DM need to be issues that require a decision by DM or its approbation or censure.  Motions submitted that merely “note” or “welcome” will be recommended out of order as “no decision of DM required”.

Sub it!

Avoid jargon and ensure that your motion contains all the relevant information necessary for it to be understood. Make sure it says what you intend, and will make sense to fellow journalists who may not have heard about the issue you are raising. The more clearly expressed your motion is, the less likely SOC are to recommend it out of order as “Void for uncertainty of meaning”. Don’t write a speech. A concise motion is much better than one which contains all the arguments.  You can make those at DM.

Try to avoid the particular. The Rule Book says DM concerns “matters of general policy”. By all means use a particular instance, but try to make the motion more general – find out if others have the same problem.

After your branch or council has approved a motion for tabling for DM, check it twice before you send it in. You know what it means; SOC might not. SOC will change spelling, grammar, rule numbering and minor textual errors, but can’t make changes requiring guesswork on what it thinks you might mean. If there is an error, you will have to table an amendment when you see the Preliminary Agenda.

As with subbing any copy, spell out initials and explain organisations, legislation or anything that other members/readers may not be familiar with.

Rule Changing Motions

Do not try to write the text of proposed new rules. Other branches and councils need to know the principle you are suggesting and it's against Rule 22 (d) to write it in textual form. What is needed is sufficient detail for the NEC to know exactly what you mean - enough from which to write a rule. That's SOC's test, and that's what's meant when a rule change motion is recommended "Void for uncertainty of meaning". The SOC may understand what you mean, but a clear rule could not be written based on the motion.

There is a specific style for rule change motions. The NEC must be instructed to change the rules. The following should open all rule change motions: "This DM instructs the NEC to amend the rules to give effect to the principle that …" You don't have to name the rule or rules in question, but it may help other branches and councils to understand what you are trying to change.

Finally, remember you may only change the NUJ rules by tabling a motion in the preliminary agenda. It's too late when you get to the amendment stage, and you cannot change the rules either by late notice motion or emergency motion (Rule 22 (c)).

Holding motions

If you know that something is going to happen before DM, but after the closing date for motions, it may be useful to table a “holding motion”. It could say something along the lines of: “This DM notes the recommendation of the Committee on Ancient Monuments.” Then, when you know exactly what the Committee has said, amendments from yourself and maybe others, can give a more detailed reaction.

Missed the deadline?

Then it's too late. But, once you have the Preliminary Agenda, you may find that other tabling bodies have touched on the issue and you can then submit an amendment to address your concerns. But don't stretch the meaning of the original motion too far as this will be considered "widely new matter" and recommended out of order.

Late Notice Motions

Late Notice Motions may include motions on the Annual Accounts and may be submitted up to the deadline given in the DM timetable. They must be agreed by a quorate meeting of your tabling body and they MUST involve decisions which cannot be taken other than by a delegate meeting.

Late Notice Motions must relate to events that have occurred since the latest date for the receipt of motions. You will be expected to convince SOC that there is a strong case for a Late Notice Motion (LNM); do include in the motion the date when the event occurred.

The deadline for Late Notice Motions is noon on 18th April 2018. However, they can be submitted any time after the close of motions. In order to facilitate the administration of DM please submit your LNM at the earliest opportunity. The time between submission of motions and DM gives others a chance to see and discuss what is going to be decided at conference. LNMs do not give members that time. For that reason alone, the LNM is a device that should be used sparingly.