Points of Information & Personal Privilege
What are they & when are they in order?
Points of Information
When I first started attending meetings, I knew nothing about parliamentary process, but I did notice certain people using the same two phrases when they wanted to get the attention of the chair so they could speak: the infamous Point of Personal Privilege and Point of Information. The meaning was unclear but a clear pattern emerged. When a member wanted to stop debate or conversation so they could "butt in" or wanted to inject information into debate without waiting their turn, invariably it was one of these two motions they resorted to. When I got my copy of Robert's Rules, I cracked it open and I found Point of Order but when I tried to find these motions, I had to do some more digging.
The simple answer is that there aren't "Points of Privilege" or "Points of Information". Bear with me...
So what are the actual motions and when are they in order? I'm going to address the Point of Information in this post:
The newest (11th) edition of Robert's Rules made some changes from the prior version and on page xxvi of the introduction, in the change list, there is this line:
"Establishment of Request for Information as the preferred name for the motion Point of Information, in an effort to reduce the common misunderstanding or misuse of this motion to give information rather than request it [294–95]." - RONR p. xxvi
So it looks like the old motion of "Point of Information" was a common stumbling block for many organizations and the writers of Robert's Rules changed the name to "Request for Information" so that its proper use would be more clear. Going to page 294-295, we find more information in section 33 entitled "Requests and Inquiries". Here we find the definition and usage of a Request for Information:
"A Request for Information (also called a Point of Information) is a request directed to the chair, or through the chair to another officer or member, for information relevant to the business at hand but not related to parliamentary procedure. It is treated like a parliamentary inquiry, as follows:
MEMBER A: Mr. President, I have a request for information. [Or, "A point of information, please."]
CHAIR: The member will state his question.
MEMBER A: Will the convention delegates report at this meeting?
MEMBER A: This motion calls for a large expenditure. Will the treasurer state the present balance?
If information is desired of a member who is speaking, the inquirer, upon rising, may use the following form instead:
MEMBER A: Madam President, will the member yield for a question?
MEMBER A: Mr. President, I would like to ask the gentleman [or "the member"] a question.
If the speaker consents to the interruption, the time consumed will be taken out of his allowed time. The chair therefore asks if the speaker is willing to be interrupted, and if he consents, directs the inquirer to proceed. Although the presiding officer generally remains silent during the ensuing exchange, the inquiry, the reply, and any resulting colloquy are made in the third person through the chair. To protect decorum, members are not allowed to carry on discussion directly with one another.
An inquiry of this kind may also be for the purpose of reminding a speaker of a point to be made in argument, or it may be intended to rebut his position; but it must always be put in the form of a question." - RONR pp 294-295
Many times when people try to use this, it is during debate when someone raises an argument that another member wants to disprove or pile onto. Instead of waiting their turn and addressing it in proper debate, the member interrupts or waits till they are done and before another can speak in debate, injects their "Point of Information". Sometimes the person with the "Point of Information" has already exhausted their own debate limits, so waiting to speak in debate isn't an option.
As a chair, our responsibility is to ensure a fair process. If any member gets to inject information into debate out of turn or more than others, it gives them an unfair advantage. So how can we best handle someone who is understandably unfamiliar with this rule? The best way is to rephrase their request before allowing them to continue:
Member A: "... So, because we don't know the position of this candidate on their favorite hamburger bun, I believe we should vote no on endorsing them."
Member B: "Point of Information!"
Chair: "I see there is a Request for Information. Before you begin, who is this a question for? The speaker or another member or officer?"
Member B: "I don't have a question, I have an answer to the last speaker's question?"
Chair: "Then you may definitely offer that information when it is your turn to speak in debate. Let's move on to the next speaker in favor of the endorsement...."
Or if the member has already spoken twice in debate (assuming you don't have different rules):
Chair: "I'm sorry, but you've already exhausted your right to speak in debate on this issue. It wouldn't be fair to the membership for me to allow you to speak more than everyone else is allowed. If you'd like, you may motion to suspend the rules and if 2/3 of the body agrees, you are more than welcome to speak again in debate."
This can serve as a valuable lesson for members not to rush to speak in debate. Often sitting back and allowing others to speak can help us to formulate a better argument. Also if you have a multiple point argument, by allowing others to make arguments ahead of you, you allow them to take items off your plate, so to speak, and then you can focus on a specific item more effectively than jumping around from point to point.