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Procedure On Divisions

Volume 167: debated on Wednesday 12 December 1906

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Resolved, "That (1) If the opinion of the Speaker or Chairman as to the decision of a Question is challenged he shall direct, that the lobby be cleared. (2) After the lapse of two minutes from this direction he shall put the Question again, and, if his opinion is again challenged, he shall nominate tellers. (3) After the lapse of six minutes from this direction he shall direct that the doors giving access to the division lobbies be locked."—( Sir H. Campbell-Banner-man.)

Motion made and Question proposed—"(1) A member may vote in a division although he did not hear the Question put. (2) A Member is not obliged to vote."—( Sir H. Campbell Bannerman)

said the effect of this Standing Order would be to enable Members to vote upon any Question in the House, although they might not have been present when the Question was put. His Amendment would provide that in order to qualify to vote a Member must either be in the House itself or in one or other of the two division lobbies at the time the Question was actually put. He considered that the Amendment was a most important one. For the first time during the centuries that this House had been in existence, and for the first time in any House of representatives in the whole world, it would become possible under this new Standing Order for a Member to vote although he had not been present when the Question was put from the Chair, and had not heard a single word of discussion. Sir Erskine May laid it down that—

"Any member who desires to vote is required to be present when the Question is put from the Chair either the first or the second time."
It was only a matter of common sense that no Member should be allowed to vote unless he had heard the Question put. In the past this had been the universal practice. How could any hon. Member give an intelligent vote upon any Question if he had not had any opportunity of hearing what the Question was upon which he was voting? On one occasion the question was raised in reference to a place just outside the doors behind the Speaker's chair. The Question was asked whether a Minister who happened to be on his way from his own room when the Question was put a second time could vote, and it was decided that as he was out of the House at the time the Question was put his vote could not be recorded. There was another notable case in which, after the, numbers had been reported by the tellers, I notice was taken that several Members had voted who had not been in the House when the Question was put. They were then ordered by the Speaker to stand up, and their names were struck off the Ayes and Noes respectively and the Speaker altered the numbers reported to the House. In another instance notice was taken of a Member who had voted on the previous day without hearing the Question put, and it was decided that the Member had no right to vote and his name was struck off and the record altered In 1836 a Member admitted to the House that on the previous day he had voted although he had not heard the Question put, and Mr. Speaker ordered the record to be altered and his vote struck off. In 1855 three Members who had voted had their votes disallowed because they were outside the folding doors behind Mr. Speaker's chair when the Question was put. He could quote many other decisions in which it was held that the side lobbies and behind Mr. Speaker's chair were not considered as being within the House, and the general understanding was that it was absolutely necessary for a Member to be in the House and hear the Question put if he wished his vote to be recorded. The law of Parliament had been that whenever a breach of this; regulation had been discovered during a division it was put right immediately, and sometimes it was put right even on the following day. It was obvious that as the regulations stood to-day any one could get up and challenge the Vote of any hon. Member who had not heard the Question put, and upon that challenge being substantiated the vote must be struck off. A remedy had always existed in the case of a Member who, from an accident or otherwise, had not been able to hear the Question put. Under those circumstances the Member had a right to enter the House and whilst the division lobbies were still open he could demand from the Speaker that the Question should be put again. What had happened since this new system of taking divisions had been adopted? He had seen hon. Members over and over again coming through the doors and even in the lobby itself ask what Question they were voting upon and he had heard the reply, "Blowed if I know." Sometimes he had heard similar but somewhat stronger replies. He did not think that was a creditable state of things. It ought not to be possible for a Member to come into the House and vote when he had not heard a word of the discussion, when possibly he had been playing dominoes or something of that kind, and consequently knew nothing at all about the point which was being decided. Speakers of this House had always put the Question twice. If this Standing Order was adopted in defiance of the practice of the House for centuries, and in defiance of common sense and ordinary justice, the effect would be that other assemblies which had been proud to follow the practice of the House of Commons would regard the Order on this particular point as a piece of nonsense. What had the Government got to gain by it? They had everything to gain by it, because when a division was to be taken on some of the pernicious legislation which they brought forward they would be able to rely on a battalion of Radicals from the outside, who did not know and did not care what the question was, who would be driven—and even, it might be, personally threatened by their whips—into one or other of the division lobbies. He objected to the new Standing Order in the preposterous shape in which it was proposed.

The Amendment of the hon. Member is really a direct negative of the Standing Order proposed by the Prime Minister, and therefore, is not in order, although the hon. Member is perfectly entitled to speak against the Standing Order.

said he gathered from the information which had reached him during the session that the House was satisfied with the new system of divisions and not anxious to return to the old one. The circumstances which the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool had outlined as to Members passing into the division lobbies without hearing the Question put was not one peculiar to the new system of procedure. It was a system with which he himself had been long familiar, though the hon. Member had been so assiduous in his attendance that he had probably never missed the putting of the Question.

Under the former practice the doors were locked, and after the doors were locked the Question was put a second time, and, therefore, every Member either actively or constructively knew what the Question was.

said he remembered the fact, and he also remembered that Members continually passed into the lobbies without hearing the Question put. The method of "constructive" hearing was one with which he was not acquainted, but he did not think it was one which would enable Members to have a clear appreciation of the Question. He believed that under the new rules hon. Members had every advantage which they had under the old rules, and some which they did not formerly possess. Every word which the hon. Member had said was a justification of the new procedure.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, "That these Resolutions be Standing Orders of the House."

Resolved, "That Standing Orders 28, 29, and 90 be repealed."—( Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)