Liberal Democrats

Conference standing orders - Separate Votes

Conference debates can be complex. This conference will be no different. Especially with the potential for a 'reference back' and 'votes in parts'. To tell us all, constitutional expert and longtime conference goer Will Dyer is on hand to explain.

By William Dyer, Mar 10, 2018 6:03

Lib Dem conference delegates voting.

Q: Who runs conference?

Conference is run by the Federal Conference Committee (FCC). FCC decide on what motions to debate, how long they are debated for and even where Conference is held. Members are elected every 3 years by a ballot of all party members. If ever enough members were to disagree with a decision that FCC has made, they can appeal the decision via the Federal Appeals Panel or ask members at Conference to back them.

Q: How are debates organised?

Standing Orders (no, not the type you pay in) set out how debates held in the Conference hall will be run. Standing orders are a sub section of the Lib Dem constitution and provide the basis for the day to day running of conference. They prescribe…

  • Who can be called to speak (anyone with a MEMBER pass at conference);
  • How long each speaker is entitled to on the podium;
  • In which order members will speak in a debate (FOR followed by AGAINST);
  • How amendments and/or separate votes are merged into the debate.

Standing Orders can be found in the particularly handy ‘Conference Agenda’ booklet (secret tip: in this useful guide you will also find advice on submitting a Speaker’s Card!).

Q: What if I like only part of the motion or like the spirit of the motion but not how it seeks to go about achieving those goals?

This is where 'separate votes' come in. There are two types of 'separate vote', both of which are tools in the conference goers arsenal to change the debate. 

The two types of 'separate vote' are;

  • Vote in parts - this is for when you like most of the motion but you are against a few lines. 'A vote in parts' should state which lines within the motion the proposer of the separate vote would like to remove.
  • Reference back - this type of 'separate vote' should be used when you feel that a motion has good intention but it does not tackle an issue in a way that you think is in keeping with the parties values. The motion to reference back needs to tell conference which group of Liberal Democrats (usually a Federal or State committee), they would like to be the ones that look again at the issues and come back to conference with proposals.

You need two members (with speaking rights) in the conference hall to propose and second a motion to vote in parts or reference back. Proposals to have a separate vote should be submitted to the Chair of that particular debate, this can be done by filling out one of the forms at the information desks.

Q: So a motion to have a separate vote has been submitted, what next?

The Chair will then ask conference to vote (by raising of voting passes) whether they would like to hear the debate. If the vote is the hear the debate then the chair will ask the proposer to put the argument for the separate vote and someone from the team that is prosing the policy motion to stand by to make the argument against.

Q: Wait, so there will be a debate within a debate?

Yes, it is only two short speeches. It is shorter than another full debate (promise!).

Q: Ok, I have made up my mind which side I will vote for, what happens now?

The two types separate votes produce different voting outcomes;

  • Vote in parts - If the vote fails, then the debate carries on as normal. If the vote passes, then an extra vote will be added to the vote on the motion as a whole. This will decide whether to retain or disregard the referenced lines.
  • Reference back - If the vote fails, then the debate carries on as normal. If the vote passes, the debate stops. This is because as a 'vote to reference back' provides the state group of Lib Dems to review the issue and return with a new motion at a future conference.

Q: That now makes sense, where can I find out what is being debated?

Thats the easist question thus far. You can find the agenda and directory can be found here.

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