In the United States, parliamentary procedure also referred to as parliamentary law, parliamentary practice, legislative procedure, or rules of order. In Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other English-speaking countries it is often referred to as chairmanship, chairing, the law of meetings, procedure at meetings, or the conduct of meetings.
At its heart is the rule of the majority with respect for the minority. Its object is to allow deliberation upon questions of interest to the organization and to arrive at the sense or the will of the assembly upon these questions. Parliamentary procedure is used in organizations of self-governing people to conduct debate with the least possible friction in order to as efficiently as possible make group decisions. These decisions are usually determined by voting.
Commonwealth countries (except for Canada) follow a somewhat similar, but distinctively different set of rules, sometimes referred to as Westminster procedure. Both sets of parliamentary procedure originate from the procedure used in the British House of Commons. Legislative assemblies in all countries, because of their nature, tend to have a specialized set of rules that in some areas differs greatly from the common parliamentary procedure used by clubs and organizations. Parliamentary procedure is based on the principles of allowing the majority to make decisions effectively and efficiently (majority rule) and ensuring fairness towards the minority, as well as giving each member or delegate the right to voice his or her opinion Voting is used to determine the will of the assembly. While each assembly may create their own set of rules, these sets tend to be more alike than different. A common practice is to adopt a standard reference book on parliamentary procedure and then modify it by adopting special rules of order that take precedence over certain rules in the adopted authority.
Business is conducted through motions, which cause actions. Members bring business before the assembly by introducing main motions, or dispose of this business (through subsidiary motions and incidental motions). Parliamentary procedure also allows for rules in regards to nomination, voting, disciplinary action, appeals, dues, and the drafting of organization charters, constitutions, and bylaws.
Mason's Manual, originally written by constitutional scholar and former California Senate staff member Paul Mason in 1935 and since his death revised and published by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), governs legislative procedures in instances where the state constitution, state statutes, and the chamber's rules are silent.
According to the NCSL, one of the many reasons that most state legislatures use Mason's Manual instead of Robert's Rules of Order is because Robert's Rules applies best to private organizations and civic groups that do not meet in daily public sessions. Mason's Manual, however, is geared specifically toward state legislative bodies.
Several organizations offer certification programs for parliamentarians, including the National Association of Parliamentarians and American Institute of Parliamentarians. Agriculture teachers who coach teams in the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America) parliamentary procedure contest can earn the title Associate Parliamentarian (AP). Parliamentarians perform an important role in many meetings, including counseling organizations on parliamentary law, holding elections, or writing amendments to the constitution and bylaws of an organization.