E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Moving the Previous Question.
A parliamentary dodge for burking an obnoxious bill. The method is as follows:A question, or bill, is before the house, an objector does not wish to commit himself by moving its rejection, so he moves the previous question, and the Speaker moves, from the chair, that the question be not putthat is, that the house be not asked to come to any decision on the main question, but be invited to pass to the orders of the day. In other words, that the subject be shelved or burked.
N.B. A motion for the previous question cannot be made on an amendment, nor in a select committee, nor yet in a committee of the whole house. The phrase is simply a method of avoiding a decision on the question before the House.