A programme motion is usually debated in the Commons immediately after a bill's second reading, setting a timetable for the rest of the bill's progress through the Commons.
Programme motions can prove to be divisive if MPs believe they are being used by the government to limit or even restrict debate.
But they ensure that MPs now avoid the prospect of regular late-night sittings that once accompanied the passage of controversial bills like the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, which enshrined the Maastricht Treaty in UK law.
Once voted on and agreed to, they are referred to as "programme orders".
MPs did not formally agree to accept the regular use of programme orders as standard practice for government bills until 2002.
The government is unable to use programme orders in the House of Lords, as peers jealously guard the principle of self-regulation.