Question

To move the previous question No one seems able to give any clear and satisfactory explanation of this phrase. Erskine May, in his Parliamentary Practice, p. 303 (9th edition), says: “It is an ingenious method of avoiding a vote upon any question that has been proposed, but the technical phrase does little to elucidate its operation. When there is no debate, or after a debate is closed, the Speaker ordinarily puts the question as a matter of course, ... but by a motion for the previous question, this act may be intercepted and forbidden. The custom [used to be] `that the question be now put,' but Arthur Wellesley Peel, while Speaker, changed the words `be now put' into `be not put.'” The former process was obviously absurd. To continue the quotation from Erskine May: “Those who wish to avoid the putting of the main question, vote against the previous (or latter question), and if it be resolved in the negative, the Speaker is prevented from putting the main question, as the House has refused to allow it to be put. It may, however, be brought forward again another day.”

Of course this is correct, but what it means is quite another matter; and why “the main question” is called the “previous question” is past understanding

Question.
When members of the House of Commons or other debaters call out Question, they mean that the person speaking is wandering away from the subject under consideration.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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