Putting of question at close of debate
20.60When debate on a question is concluded, the question must be put. This is done by the Speaker rising from the Chair,1 and putting to the House ‘The question is, That …’. The Speaker takes the sense of the House by asking that ‘As many as are of that opinion say, “aye,”’ and ‘As many as are of the contrary opinion say, “no.”’ When each section of the House has responded, the Speaker endeavours to judge from the loudness and general character of the opposing exclamations, or from a consideration of the probabilities of the case,2 which side has the majority. As the Speaker's judgment is not final, the Speaker expresses their opinion by saying: ‘I think the “ayes” (or “noes”) have it’. If the House acquiesces in this decision, the question is said to be ‘agreed to’ or ‘negatived’ as the case may be, but if those declared to be the minority dispute the fact, they respond with further exclamations of ‘aye’ (or ‘no’). The Speaker will then say, ‘Division. Clear the lobby,’ in order to start the process of counting the numbers on each side, which is termed a division.
To save time, the Chair frequently asks the leave of the House to call a Member to move together a series of motions which are not expected to be the subject of debate or division, and then puts the questions together.3 A single objection prevents this course being followed.
On occasion, under arrangements set out in a preceding business of the House order, the House has considered in a single debate parallel motions on the same topic, in a process designed to allow the House to indicate relative degrees of support for alternative proposals in a particular policy area.4
- On 9 April 1866, the Speaker, on returning to the House after an illness, said that he should claim the indulgence of sitting while putting the questions, CJ (1865–67) 197.
- HC Deb (1955–56) 547, c 602. When, on the question being put, no Member has said either `aye’ or `no’, the Deputy Speaker has declared the question negatived, see HC Deb (1999–2000) 354, c 732; ibid (10 May 2016) 609, c 598.
- For example, HC Deb (8 November 2010) 518, c 106; ibid (4 November 2013) 570, cc 82–83.
- See for example CJ (2002–03) 165–66 and ibid (2006–07) 207 (both on House of Lords reform); and Votes and Proceedings, 27 March 2019 and 1 April 2019 (both on exiting the European Union).