The rules of procedure are a vital part of MUN. From determining the speaking time and the quantity of votes required to pass a resolution, to effectively aiming to simulate the UN, the rules of procedure used globally vary in complexity and purpose. However, the evolution and use of rules of procedure in MUN has resulted in significant discussions between conferences as to what is the best type of rules of procedure. 

The following articles will aim to examine the purpose of rules of procedure (herewith in referred to as RoP) along with advantages and disadvantages of certain RoPs. This article will focus on the standard parliamentary style debating found used by most conferences along with their key characteristics and ways in which they can improve.

Parliamentary debating
The first thing that needs to be stated is that the RoP used by most conferences follow parliamentary style debating usually found within Robert’s Rules of Order. This was first published in 1876 by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert who adapted the practice and rules found within the US congress to better suit non-legislative organisations. While these rules are used in some form or another by the vast majority of conferences globally, they do not follow the actual rules of debating used at the UN, resulting in key differences. For example, in the UN, there are no ‘caucuses’ which form a vital part of MUN debating today. We will look more at the official RoP of the UN, otherwise known as UN4MUN in the next article in this series. 

Start of debate
One characteristic that parliamentary style RoP have is establishing quorum then following up with a roll call. Quorum can be defined as the minimum number of participants (or in the case of MUN, delegates) required for a decision of the body to be binding. Quorum is usually expressed as a percentage, this will vary from conference to conference from 25% to 50% of delegates present.

Once quorum has been satisfied, the dais will do a roll call in which he or she will ask for delegates to be present or present and voting in alphabetical order. If a delegate is present and voting, it means that they restrict themselves to voting only in favour or against in substantive votes. Substantive votes usually describe the final vote on adopting the draft resolution of your committee. While some conferences have started including substantive votes in different circumstances, for example, in votes on amendments in the Security Council. This is important as substantive votes are typically the only vote which a permanent member of the security council can use their veto.

Setting of the agenda
Once roll call has finished and quorum has been established, most conferences ask for a motion to set the agenda to a certain topic, usually between one or two topics. While this rule is a standard for most conferences, there has been a move in some conferences to only have one topic per committee. 

The reasoning for this is that most delegates will prepare better for one topic rather than multiple, meaning that if their preferred topic is not chosen then delegates can well be excluded from debate. 

This is fairly logical in my mind, and I would like to see a larger move in this direction in future. While there are also some difficulties in committees which tend to have consensus fairly easily, mostly sustainable development focused committees will usually reach consensus pretty easily, resulting in a quick debate, this is especially true in smaller conferences. Indeed, in many occasions in which I’ve chaired, if the solutions for a topic are agreed upon quickly, then it can result in the debate finishing earlier, resulting in nothing to do for delegates. However, at the same time, this can mean that more time is spent discussing one topic in depth rather than two topics in quick succession. 

General speakers’ list
Following the setting of the agenda, the dais will open up a general speakers’ list. This list is generally only really used at the start of a conference as it enables delegates to generally discuss the topic as a whole along with their country’s position. While this period of time is initially useful in getting to know the whole committee’s stance on the topic, it makes way for more in depth discussions found in caucuses. 

Caucuses on the other hand allow for more in depth discussion on the topic. There are two main types of caucuses: moderated and unmoderated. In a moderated caucus, a more precise topic is given. For example, if you are discussing the ongoing civil war in South Sudan then an appropriate topic for a moderated caucus could be something like: human rights abuses in South Sudan. 

On the other hand, an unmoderated caucus allows for an informal discussion between delegates and is the period of time in which documents like working papers and draft resolutions are written.
Caucuses, I would argue, are the most important time during a conference under parliamentary style RoP as they enable delegates to shape the debate and solutions discussed. The effective use of these two will in many cases determine who gets the awards in the committee.

However, this does not mean that they cannot be reformed in some manner. Most conferences give an overall time limit for these type of caucuses. Usually either 20 and 30 minutes with time for only one extension. However, many conferences only enable 20 minutes for unmoderated caucuses. In my experience, it is close to pointless to only have 20 minutes per unmoderated caucus. A delegate will always request more time in order to perfect their draft resolutions. While 20 minutes is usually more than enough for a moderated caucus, unmoderated caucuses simply require more time as they deal with the precise details of draft resolutions. 

For all of the above to take place, RoPs enable what is known as a “motion”. The chair will ask for motions which then enable the debate to move in a certain manner through the proposal of caucuses. The voting for motions will typically go in the following manner:
  • The chair asks for motions
  • Delegates propose motions after being recognised by the chair
  • The chair will start the voting procedure in the order of disruptiveness
  • The chair will ask for seconds and objections for one motion at a time
  • If there are objections, then there will be a procedural vote in which delegates are not allowed to abstain.
  • If there is a simple majority then the motion is accepted by the committee and the chair will proceed with the motion.

  • While this structure for accepting motions is fine in my eyes, some conferences allow for bizarre rules which render this process either pointless or more complicated than it has to be. 

    One trend throughout many conferences is regarding the disruptiveness of motions. The disruptiveness of motions refers to the order in which they should be voted on. For example, an extension to a caucus should be voted on first instead of another caucus, a perfectly logical decision. However, lots of conferences make the total time of a caucus or even the speaker’s time, a key indicator on how disruptive a motion is.
    In practice, this means that a moderated caucus which is 11 minutes should be voted on first instead of a caucus that is 10 minutes long. Or even, that a motion that has 2 minutes per speaker should be voted on first instead of a motion with 1 minute per speaker. 

    This is entirely illogical to me. This system does not take into consideration the topic of the motion and simply results in an auction in which delegate after delegate proposes longer and longer motions in order to have their motion voted on first. Indeed, in my eyes, this does not promote consensus and advances competition between delegates, something which is entirely against the spirit of the UN. I sincerely hope that this rule is abolished at all conferences. 

    Instead, the same motions should simply be voted on in the order in which they were introduced, or if a chair believes that a certain motion should be looked at first, then enable the chair to use their discretion to allow this. 

    Another peculiar thing that I have seen regarding the above process is either the complete removal of seconds and objections or the removal of just objections. The removal of objections to a motion is another entirely illogical decision. How can a delegate express their disapproval of a motion if objections are not allowed? This results in a situation in which all motions are accepted, regardless of how good or bad they might be and removes all decision making authority from delegates who are ultimately representing sovereign countries who have the right to object to such decisions. 

    Ultimately, the main objective of the committee is to pass a draft resolution. While the structure of draft resolutions in parliamentary RoP is similar to the resolutions created by the UN, there are some issues within the structure of the resolutions that can often cause massive arguments between delegates. Most RoP require a maximum number of sponsors and a minimum number of signatories. 

    However, these rules are in many cases against the principles of the UN, especially in a General Assembly setting in which all member states have an equal vote. While there are usually multiple co-sponsors to a draft resolution, this is not a requirement. On the other hand, in MUN RoP, there is usually a limit on the number of sponsors. But I need to ask, why? In the 25+ conferences that I have chaired at, this artificial limit on the number of sponsors only causes difficulties and results in the friendliest of blocs having arguments with each other on who should be the sponsor of a draft resolution, even if they have all put an equal amount of work in the draft resolution. 

    There have been multiple occasions in which I have told delegates in my committee that I do not care who is a sponsor or signatory and I have used my discretion to allow as many sponsors as they like. This limit of sponsors just creates unnecessary conflict as delegates automatically correlate the likelihood of them winning an award to whether or not they are a sponsor to a draft resolution or not. Therefore, I would like to suggest that there should not be any limit on the quantity of sponsors.

    Closure of debate
    The final element of the rules of procedure in this type of debating focuses on the closure of debate and then final vote on draft resolutions. Motions to accept the closure of debate can usually cause some controversy within the committee. Firstly, at some conferences, if there are objections to the closure of debate, a speaker’s list is opened with delegates speaking in favour and against the closure of debate.
    Another issue regarding the closure of debate revolves around the order in which resolutions are voted upon. Most conferences do not necessarily describe the order in which resolutions should be voted upon. When they do, they often specify that they should be ordered in the order in which they were introduced: namely, draft resolution 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc. 

    However, in my experience this is not the best way to order the voting of resolutions. In this example, imagine that we have two opposing blocs in the committee. Each bloc comes up with a draft resolution. Draft resolution 1.1 for bloc A and draft resolution 1.2 for bloc B. However, what if these two blocs are able to merge their two resolutions into draft resolution 1.3?

    Logic would dictate that this resolution has the support of the committee as both blocs have come together to form one resolution. Therefore, why is it that in most conferences, the standard order of voting is to vote on the first resolution when a compromise draft resolution has already been submitted and is going to be voted upon anyway? The RoP should be changed so that the standard order of voting focuses on the most recently passed draft resolution. 

    The standard RoP found within most conferences which base themselves on Robert’s Rules have certain advantages. While they allow for a degree of flexibility from conference to conference, this can also result in confusion as delegates may not be familiar with the certain rules used within a region. 

    However, with this being said, Robert’s Rules are very simple to understand and adapt depending on the size of the conference that you may organise. This along with the common usage of these rules makes this style of parliamentary debating very popular globally. The suggestions in this article are here to ensure an easier procedure while encouraging consensus and diplomacy, an aspect of MUN that is commonly ignored by these set of RoP. 

    In the next article, we will be analysing the second main type of RoP found within MUN conferences: UN4MUN.