The Eyes Have It?
When a Bill is debated in Parliament, the process is one in which the debates could go through a number of hearings. The purpose of the hearings is to allow MPs to debate the Bill at length before it is voted on. The debates are called Readings and typically, Bills will enter into a 1st Reading, followed by a 2nd Reading. Finally, when MPs are ready to vote on the Bill (which may be amended a number of times), it reaches a 3rd Reading stage. It is at this stage, that MPs will vote on the Bill. The MPs vote either “Aye” or “No” to the passing of that Bill.
Anyone can find out from Parliament UK (www.parliament.uk) which MP voted Aye and which MP voted No to a Bill. This is where Accountable UK gets its data so we can show you how many MPs votes Aye and No for the voting topics we list.
A Division is a process in which MPs will move to two separate areas on either side of the debating chambers to indicate whether they wish to vote Aye or No. This is known as Dividing The House. The areas that are designated for MPs to physically move to are called Division Lobbies. When this happens, there is a record made of which MP voted for Aye and No and this is the information that is recorded on Parliament UK.
What many people do not know, is that not all of the votes that take place in the House of Commons are recorded in a way in which the public can know which MP votes Aye and which MP voted No.
For some votes, MPs do not physically move to a Division Lobby. Instead the Speaker will address the debating chamber where all MPs are sitting and ask those who agree to the Bill to shout Aye. The Speaker will then ask those who disagree to shout No. If the Speaker (in their judgment) feels that there is a clear vote one way or another, then there is no formal Division conducted and there is no record made of which MP voted Aye and which voted No.
So how many votes in the House of Commons are conducted formally with recorded votes and which are not.
We took a look at Parliament UK and Hansard to find out. And we were very surprised with what we found.
During the period 1st January 2019 to 27th October 2021, 558 Divisions took place. Of those, 59 Bills reached Royal Assent. Of those 59 Bills, only 20 (33%) were passed by a formal Division in which the Ayes and Nos were documented per MP.
What this means, is that for two-thirds of Bills debated and voted on in the House of Commons between those dates, Royal Assent made the Bill an Act of Parliament. It becomes law. And you cannot know if your MP voted Aye or No for it.
One might wonder if the Speaker’s judgment for those two-thirds of Bills was cut and dry. Take a look at the following video of a vote that was not recorded as a formal Division.
We hear at least one MP shouting No, which is then changed to Aye mid-shout. This doesn’t look like a very cut and dry decision to us. Does it look like a proper vote to you?
And this is concerning renewing temporary powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020. An important debate and vote that affects all of our lives.
Can we really rely on the majority of Bills that pass Royal Assent and become law to be voted on in this way? Where the subjective opinion of the Speaker in a chamber where MPs shout over each other or change their vote mid-shout is how important decisions are made in the UK.
Should not all votes be formal Divisions where each MPs vote is recorded? So that you, the people can look at what is being voted for and what becomes law in your Parliament?