Division (vote)

Division (vote)

Division of the house is a parliamentary mechanism which calls for a rising vote, wherein the members of the house literally divide into groups indicating a vote in favour of or in opposition to a motion on the floor. This was the method used to decide motions in the Roman Senate (and was occasionally used in democratic Athens), and the appropriate motion for a division of the house under "Robert's Rules of Order" is to "call for a division".

The United Kingdom

House of Commons

In the House of Commons, the Speaker states "The Question is that…", then proposing the question. Next, he says, "As many as are of that opinion say Aye." Then, following shouts of "Aye", he says, "of the contrary, No," and similar shouts of "No" follow. The Speaker then announces his opinion as to the winner, stating "I think the Ayes have it" or "I think the Noes have it."

Any member may object to the Speaker's determination. If the Speaker feels that the division is unnecessary, he may first ask those who support his determination of the voice vote to rise, and then ask those who oppose the opinion to rise. Then, the Speaker may either declare that his ruling on the voice vote stands, or proceed to a division.

If a division is to be taken, the Speaker first states, "Division! Clear the Lobbies!" The two division lobbies alongside the House Chamber are then cleared of "strangers". A few minutes into the division the Speaker shall ask the question again. The Tellers for the Ayes and Noes the only people who answer the question this time. Tellers are usually whips, but on occasions can be rebel MPs, or even frontbench spokesmen (in the case of the Liberal Democrats). Tellers oversee the counting of votes, and 'tick off' the names of MPs if they are a whip.

Whips have historically been brutal to Backbenchers to secure their vote. There have been cases where Members of Parliament were wheeled from far afield to vote for the government of crucial vote. Former MP Joe Ashton remembered a case from the dying days of James Callaghan's government-

:"I remember the famous case of Leslie Spriggs, the then Member for St. Helens. We had a tied vote and he was brought to the House in an ambulance having suffered a severe heart attack. The two Whips went out to look in the ambulance and there was Leslie Spriggs laid there as though he was dead. I believe that John Stradling Thomas said to Joe Harper, "How do we know that he is alive?" So he leaned forward, turned the knob on the heart machine, the green light went around, and he said, "There, you've lost--it's 311." That is an absolutely true story. It is the sort of nonsense that used to happen. No one believes it, but it is true."

The members then enter the Aye or No lobby, as appropriate. Originally, there was but one lobby. In "A Manual of Parliamentary Practice", Thomas Jefferson writes:

:"The one party goes forth, and the other remains in the House. This has made it important which go forth, and which remain; because the latter gain all the indolent, the indifferent and inattentive. Their general rule therefore is, that those who give their votes for the preservation of the orders of the House, shall stay in, and those who are for introducing any new matter or alteration, or proceeding contrary to the established course, are to go out."

After the fire of 1834, the House of Commons Chamber was rebuilt. At that time, a second lobby was added. [http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/p09.pdf]

The "Division Bell" is rung throughout the Palace of Westminster, Portcullis House and even some local pubs. Division bells notify any members not currently in the chamber that a vote is about to start. A recent development has been the use of pagers and mobile phones by party whips, to summon members from further afield.

When the tellers are ready, the lobbies' exit doors are opened, and the members counted by the tellers, and their names recorded by clerks, as they leave. No earlier than eight minutes after the question has been proposed, the Speaker declares, "Lock the Doors." The lobby entrances are locked, and only those within the lobby may vote.

After all members have voted in the lobbies, the vote totals are written on a card, which is read by the Speaker, who then announces the final result. The Speaker himself does not vote, except in the case of a tie. Members may signify, but not record, an abstention by remaining in their seats during the division.

It is stipulated that all Members of Parliament are required to stay in or around the premises of the House of Commons until the main business of the day has ended, however long that may be. In the unlikely event that fewer than forty members voted in the division, the division is ignored, the question at hand is postponed until the next sitting, and the House proceeds to the next business.

The nature of divisions in the House of Commons is one which traditionally could go on well into the night, sometimes past midnight. However, In 2000, the House introduced, on an experimental basis, the procedure of "Deferred Divisions." Essentially, some divisions are delayed until the next Wednesday. The procedure is used for very few matters; most divisions still occur normally.

There have been suggestions that electronic voting may be easier and quicker to do than physically going through a division lobby. However, MPs have often found that a division is the best way to interact for senior members of the government. And it can be considered a way to sort out problems for the Member's constituents.

House of Lords

In the House of Lords, the Lord Speaker proposes the question and announces the result as in the Commons, but he substitutes "Content" for "Aye" and "Not-Content" for "No". A Lord may object to the Lord Speaker's determination. The Lord Speaker then announces a division by stating, "Clear the Bar!" The Bar of the House is then cleared. Tellers are appointed as in the Commons.

Three minutes after the question was first proposed, the Lord Speaker again proposes the question as above. If his opinion is not challenged, then the question is decided without a division. But if his decision is once again disputed, the Lord Speaker may again ask the question. The question may be repeated as many times as the Lord Speaker pleases; the process is referred to as "collecting the voices". But if a single Lord maintains an objection, the Lord Speaker, not having the Speaker's power to declare a division unnecessary, must eventually announce, "The Contents to the right by the Throne, the Not-contents to the left by the Bar". Lords then vote in the lobbies, as it is done in the Commons. Unlike the Speaker, the Lord Speaker may vote during a division; he does so from his seat rather than in a lobby. In the event that the votes are equal, then the following principles apply:

* Legislation remains unchanged unless there is a majority in favour of amendment,
* Legislation is allowed to proceed to the next stage unless there is a majority in favour of rejection, and
* All other motions are rejected unless there is a majority in favour of passage.

The quorum for divisions is three Lords on a procedural vote and thirty Lords on a substantive one.


House of Commons

The procedure for a division is similar to that used in the British House of Commons, with the following differences: the Speaker reads the question aloud, and then asks, "Is it the pleasure of the house to adopt the motion?" If anyone dissents, the Speaker then states "all those in favour of the motion will please say yea." After the cries of 'yea', the Speaker says "all those opposed will please say nay," and all members opposed to the question cry out 'nay' all at once. The Speaker then announces his opinion of the outcome of the vote. If five or more MPs challenge the Speaker's opinion, a formal division follows.

A formal division is invoked by the Speaker asking to "call in the members." Bells are rung throughout the Parliament Buildings for either 15 or 30 minutes to allow all present MPs time to enter the chamber and take their seats. The division begins with the whips from both the government and the official opposition bowing to the Speaker and each other before returning to their seats.

There are no division lobbies in the Canadian House of Commons, so each member votes by simply standing up from his or her seat. "Yea" votes are recorded first, followed by the "Nay" votes, on the Speaker's order. Finally, the clerk of the house reads the result of the vote aloud to the Speaker.


House of Representatives

In the Australian House of Representatives divisions follow a form similar to that of the United Kingdom, but the requirements are generally more stringent. For instance, a Member in the Chamber when the tellers are appointed must vote, while a Member not then present may not. Furthermore, members must vote in accordance to their voice votes. The voice vote is held as in the British House of Commons. If a Member objects, then the division bells are rung. When not less than four minutes have elapsed since the question was first put, the Speaker orders that the doors to the Chamber be locked, and directs that the Ayes proceed to the right side of the Chamber, and that the Noes proceed to the left. Members then take seats on the appropriate side of the Chamber, rather than entering a lobby, and then the Speaker appoints tellers for each side, unless fewer than five Members are seated on one side, in which case the Speaker calls off the division and declares the result for the side with the greater number of Members. If the division is still on, the tellers count and record the names of the Members. The Speaker announces the result, but does not himself vote unless there is an equality of votes.


In the Australian Senate, a procedure similar to that of the House of Representatives is followed. The voice vote is taken, and, if "two" Senators object, a division is held. Senators take seats in the right or left of the Chamber as in the House, and the President of the Senate appoints one teller for each side to record the votes. The President may vote by stating to the Senate the side on which he intends to vote. If the result of the division is an equality of votes, then the motion is in all cases disagreed to.

The United States

In the United States Congress, divisions are used, but not in the same manner as in the British Parliament. In Congress, lobbies are not used, and the division is not a final determination of the question. The vote is first taken by voice vote, as is the case in Parliament. Then, any member may demand a division. If a division is demanded, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives or the President of the Senate (or President pro tempore) asks those voting "Yea" to rise and remain standing until counted, and then asks those voting "Nay" to do the same. Thereafter, a recorded vote may, under the provisions of the US Constitution, be forced upon the demand of one-fifth of the members present. In the Senate, the recorded vote is accomplished by the Clerk's call of the Roll. In the House, a Roll Call may be used, as may electronic voting devices. "(For further information, see Recorded vote.)"

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