Glossary of conference terms


Motions tabled for debate listed in priority order together with the timetable in the Booklet of Motions. Issued to members and delegates not later than 4 weeks before conference.


A number of briefing meetings are held at lunch time or after conference.

Card vote

Called either by the conference chairperson or demanded by at least 50 delegates. A card vote allows each branch to cast a number of votes equivalent to the number of members in their branch (as opposed to a 'show of hands' vote whereby each branch can only cast one vote per branch delegate).

Credentials badge

Issued 2 weeks before conference and to be worn at all times in order to gain access to the conference hall.

Conference chairperson

The person chairing the conference. Usually the union president or, in his/ her absence, one of the vice-presidents.

Election ballots

Delegates to the various TUC conferences, members of National Standing Orders Committee, Editorial Board, Distinguished Life Members (in accordance with Rules 6.23 and 6.24) are elected by delegates completing their branch ballot papers and inserting them in ballot boxes on the conference floor at times indicated in the conference timetable.

Emergency motions

Motions concerning issues that arise after the closing date for receipt of ordinary motions, which must be submitted to the Standing Orders Committee at least 5 days before conference (in accordance with rule A6 (a)). Further details contained in Standing Orders Report No.1.


Light displayed usually with an illuminated letter 'G' to indicate that time has run out (according to the timetable adopted as part of conference Standing Orders) for debating a particular section of the agenda.

A 'guillotine section' is inserted into the timetable at the end of the last conference section to debate some of the motions 'guillotined' earlier in the conference. Branches can suggest which motions should be in this section on the appropriate form (SOC B) available from the Standing Orders Committee located at the front of the conference floor.


System of 'traffic lights' located on the top table and each speaker's rostrum to indicate how much time a speaker has left.

  • a green light comes on as the speaker commences
  • an amber light comes on when they have only one minute left
  • a red light comes on when they have used up all their time (ie five minutes allowed for speakers who are movers of motions and three minutes for all other speakers).


Instruction to branch delegate(s) on which way to vote on motions decided by branch members at a mandating meeting held prior to conference when the Booklet of Motions and timetable has been received and distributed: for example:

  • 'for'
  • 'against'
  • 'abstain' or
  • 'listen to the debate and decide for yourself which way you think the branch members would want you to vote.'


Subjects for debate submitted by branches and the national executive committee. Motions are 'marked' in the Booklet of Motions as follows:

A - motions requiring debate to establish union policy on an issue

B - motions which confirm existing policy (and so do not require debate)
C - motions seeking to reverse existing policy as determined within the last two years (and so which cannot be debated).

D - motions which can be dealt with by correspondence with the general secretary (and are thus not debated - the motion is treated as the initial correspondence with the general secretary to which s/he is subsequently obliged to reply).

E- motions covered by composite motions in category A above (delegates from branches where these motions originated are normally called in the debate on the covering 'A' motion if they indicate they wish to speak).

X - motions which are ruled out of order (a brief reason is indicated against the motion number in the Booklet of Motions).

In addition, some motions submitted by branches are not printed if the Standing Orders Committee has decided, after taking legal advice, that the wording of the motion could lead to legal proceedings against the union (Rule 6.22(g)).


The first person to speak after a motion is called for debate by the conference chairperson. S/he will be a delegate from the branch listed at the bottom of the motion set out in the Booklet of Motions.


Speakers voicing opinions against the ideas and instructions contained in a motion.

Points and motions of order

As well as speaking on motions, delegates can also come to the rostrum at any time - even while another delegate is speaking during a debate on a motion - to raise a point of order, but only in order to prove either that:

a current speaker is using sexist, racist or abusive language or
one of the union's rules is being broken.

A 'motion of order' can be made in a similar way but only at the conference chairperson's discretion and to achieve one of the following aims:

  • that the debate be adjourned
  • that the vote in a debate be now taken
  • that conference proceed to the next item of business on the agenda
  • that conference do now adjourn.

Once moved by a speaker, these motions of order are voted on by conference without any further discussion.


The minimum number of delegates that need to be present in the conference hall in order for conference legitimately to be able to vote on a motion and thus establish a union policy. (Rule 6.8 states "The quorum shall be a majority of delegates entitled to attend.")

Reference back

Procedure by which branches can seek to change the marking of motions or the order in which they are debated at conference. See Rules A14 to A16 and Standing Orders Report No.1 for more details of this procedure.


Instead of going to the vote on a particular motion, the national executive committee (NEC) may seek to remit it. If both the moving branch and conference agree to a remit a motion its terms and instructions are discussed by the NEC but they are not bound to carry out those specific terms and instructions.


This is where delegates make their conference speeches. A raised platform (one at either side at the front of the conference hall) equipped with microphone, illuminated document-rest and lights indicating how much time delegates have left to speak.


The unions' Rules and Constitution govern everything we do. An essential document for all delegates, especially for understanding motions that seek to change the Rules.

Seconder/ withdrawing as seconder

The first speaker in a debate on a motion after the mover. The conference agenda identifies seconding branches for some motions. Where there is no such identification delegates may 'request to second' by completing a simple form {SOC A} available from the Standing Orders Committee which can also be used to withdraw as seconder to a motion.

Right of reply

Where there have been speakers calling for opposition to a motion, the mover has the right to reply to that opposition in a further three minute speech just before the vote is taken.

Standing orders

The term used to cover the agenda and timetable (and any alterations made to it in standing orders reports issued to delegates between the publication of the motions and timetable booklet and the start of conference sessions). Produced by the Standing Orders Committee.

Standing orders committee

The committee elected under Rule 6.20 who publish the motions and timetable booklet and subsequent standing orders reports.

Standing orders reports

Publications produced by the Standing Orders Committee to notify branches of the agenda of motions and the conference timetable and to notify delegates of any subsequent alterations.

Suspension of standing orders

Once standing orders have been 'adopted' (agreed) by conference they can be changed by the agreement of conference if either a delegate requests in writing to the conference chairperson (who shall decide if the suspension is admissible under the union's rules) that standing orders be 'suspended' (Rule A19) or if suspension is proposed by the conference chairperson (Rule A20).

In both instances this has to be supported by "not less than two-thirds of the votes entitled to be cast by delegates present" Rule A17.


The order in which motions are debated as decided by the Standing Orders Committee and published in the Booklet of Motions. NB The order in which sections of the agenda are debated at conference (as appears in the timetable) is rarely the order in which the motions are printed in the Booklet of Motions.


Usually by 'show of hands' whereby each branch only casts the same number of votes as they have delegates present on the conference floor at the time the vote is taken (but see also card votes above).


Branches may withdraw any of their motions from the agenda at any time but only by writing to the Standing Orders Committee who will put to conference on your behalf that the motion should be withdrawn. A motion can only be withdrawn with the consent of conference. Delegates can obtain form SOC A from the Standing Orders Committee for this purpose.

Updated 24 Jan 2017

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