The College Historical Society has hosted debates since its inception in 1770. The style is derived from the House of Commons in Westminster with speeches delivered from the ballot box.
Debates occur every Wednesday night of term. Each debate comprises private and public Business.
From time to time, guests of note are invited to give lectures to the Society on a particular theme. A recent addition is the Robert Emmett Memorial Address. Occasionally, individual guests may also be invited for interviews.
Private Business usually occurs at 7.10pm in the Chamber and in it the internal matters of the Society that relate to the Ordinary Members are dealt with.
In the past it would usually have been held after a Public Business Meeting with it continuing until well after midnight.
The procedure is as follows:
The Auditor and Committee take their place at the table in the centre of the Chamber.
The Auditor calls the House to Order and calls on an ordinary member to take the chair.
The Record Secretary reads the minutes of the last private business meeting and if there are no objections they are duly signed by the chair.
Then the Auditor asks the Treasurer if there are any fines for the first time. In the past there would have been fines for unruly behaviour, late return of books to our library, damage to property and other items.
Next the Record Secretary is asked if there are any Motions on Notice or off notice.
This operates as follows:
If a motion has been placed on the Society notice board in advance of the meeting with a proposer and seconder, it is considered on notice and may be debated if there are objections. Otherwise it is declared carried once spoken on. If a debate ensues there will be a division of tellers and a vote taken.
A motion is considered not on notice if it has not been on display but has been given to the Record Secretary before the meeting. It will be announced to the meeting and debated in the following week as above.
Next, any reports will be presented.
Then the meeting progresses to General Business once the Librarian has asked if there are any questions. They can be asked for the next ten minutes and are usually enquires on the conduct of an officer and must be asked through the chair.
In General Business, the Auditor outlines any announcements and news of note.
At this stage Priviliged Motions must be mentioned. These are motions that do not require a week’s notice and must be debated on the night of their movement. They include motions of sympathy, congratulations, regret, adjournment of the meeting, remission of fines and the appointment of a sub-committee, amongst others. (The full list is included in the Laws of the Society)
After General Business the Treasurer is asked if there any fines for the second time, and the meeting then adjourns.
After a brief interlude (depending on how late some of the guests are), the meeting re-adjourns for the main part of the evening, the debate. That night’s guest Chairperson takes the chair and following some timely prompting from the Auditor or reading from a hastily scribbled set of instructions, asks the Record Secretary to read out the minutes of the last public business meeting.
These tend to be more entertaining than the private business minutes, as they usually involve some slanderous slights on the character of the previous week’s distinguished guests and some general mockery of people who deserve it (in many cases the Auditor).
The Chair then calls on the first speaker to propose the motion. Average speech length can vary from 5 to 7 minutes, depending on the number of speakers on the order paper, but particularly exalted guests are given leeway to ramble on longer.
If you have a bee in your bonnet or a fire in your loins about a particular topic or speaker, just sign the order paper before the debate or pass your name up to the table during it and the floor is yours. Speeches should start with the address; “Mr. Chairman, Mr. Auditor, Ladies and Gentlemen of the College Historical Society, Ladies and Gentlemen”. And then fire ahead.
If it’s your first speech in the house you are entitled to Maiden Speaker’s Rights, which preclude any points of information or heckling from the audience (you may waive these if you wish, usually a crowd pleaser). Between the first and second bells of every speech (apart from those of maiden speakers), any member of the audience can make an interjection to the speaker by standing up and saying “On a point of information, Sir/Madam” in the most indignantly self-righteous tone of voice they can muster. Points of information do not have to be accepted.
When all the guest and student speakers have finished, the Chairperson airs his/her views on the debate and concludes by putting the motion to the house (the house usually has difficulty communicating its decision, so the audience…etc.) The Auditor then adjourns the meeting and the stampede upstairs to the reception.
There, members can partake of some of the finest brews known to studentkind, hob-nob drunkenly with the guests and attack their friends for their dodgy opinions until security chucks us out of the building.