Procedure on a division
This paragraph (or sub-paragraphs) have been updated, added or deleted since publication of the 2019 edition. Any sub-paragraphs updated since the 2019 edition can be highlighted by clicking ‘Highlight updates’ below. The most recent updates to this publication were made on August 2021. See the summaries and schedules for each successive update from the Home page.
20.62On a division being called, the Speaker or the committee Chair, as the case may be, gives the order ‘clear the lobby,’1 the tellers' doors in both lobbies are locked, and the division bells are rung. After not more than two minutes from this direction, the Speaker or Chair again puts the question, and the ayes and noes must again declare themselves. If their opinion is again challenged, the Speaker or Chair directs the ayes to go into the lobby on the right, and the noes into the lobby on the left, and then appoints two tellers for each side of the question. A Member is bound to act as teller for that side of the question with which they have voiced their support, when appointed by the Speaker, and refusal to do so would be reported to the House. A Member cannot act as a teller on a question for their own suspension.2
If two tellers cannot be found for either side of the question, the division cannot take place; and the Speaker forthwith announces the decision of the House. For instance, if it appears that there are no tellers, or only one teller, for the ayes, the Speaker declares ‘that the noes have it’, and vice versa.3 The fact that a division has been called but no tellers appointed is recorded in the Journal.
When there are two tellers appointed for each side of the question, they proceed at once to the doors leading from the lobbies into the House, which are then unlocked and the counting begins. One teller for the ayes and one for the noes go to each lobby, to check each other in the telling. Where the tellers, after nomination, fail to go and tell, they have been instructed by the Chair to do so.4 Until 2020 clerks were stationed at desks in each division lobby and, as the Members passed by, the clerks recorded their names (from 2016, on electronic tablets). In the summer of 2020, in order to reduce the risk from COVID-19, the use of division clerks was ended and instead Members recorded their names digitally by tapping their security passes on pass reader terminals installed in each division lobby. These pass readers were replaced in autumn 2021 by permanent pass reader terminals. At the way out from the lobby into the House, the tellers count the numbers. If any Members who are disabled by infirmity from passing through the lobby are present on the parliamentary estate and wish to vote, their names are communicated by a Whip to the Clerks and to the tellers, and are included in the numbers counted.5 When at least eight minutes have elapsed from the time at which the lobby was ordered to be cleared, the Speaker or Chairman directs the doors leading from the House into the division lobbies to be locked and they remain locked until the announcement of the numbers from the Chair.6 The Chair has discretion to increase the period which must elapse before the doors are locked.7
The method of taking divisions is the same in Committees of the whole House as in the House itself.
- 1. That is, the Members' lobby. The Speaker's order derives from an earlier procedure for taking divisions (before division lobbies had been built) under which the ayes (or noes, as directed by the Speaker) went out into the lobby and were told on re-entering the Chamber. Accordingly, the lobby had first to be cleared. See Notebook of John Clementson, Deputy Serjeant at Arms 1770–1804, annexed to P F Thorne Ceremonial and the Mace in the House of Commons (1980).
- 2. Parl Deb (1882) 268, c 1017; ibid (1882) 271, c 1128; ibid (1901) 98, c 505; Speaker's private ruling, 12 February 1981.
- 3. CJ (1842) 183, 354; ibid (1960–61) 203; ibid (1979–80) 532, etc; HC Deb (1987–88) 122, c 372; ibid (2002–03) 405, cc 956, 964–65.
- 4. HC Deb (1983–84) 58, cc 338, 343.
- 5. See written evidence by the Clerk of the House to the Procedure Committee, October 2017, paras 4–6 (see Fifth Report of the Committee of Session 2017–19, Proxy voting and parental absence, HC 825). The Chair is not concerned with who may be ‘nodded through’ in this way, but tellers must agree, see HC Deb (1989–90) 171, c 280; ibid (20 June 2018) 643, cc 351–52. For a case in which a Member was wrongly counted as having voted in this way, see para 20.82.
- 6. See SO No 38.
- 7. HC Deb (1974–75) 894, cc 1205, 1480; ibid (1979–80) 978, cc 1976–86; ibid 979, cc 27–28; ibid (1991–92) 198, c 994. In the last case, the Speaker allowed a further ten minutes because of an obstruction in the streets outside the House. Timing devices with flashing lights are used at the Table for regulating divisions and other timed business. See also ibid (27 October 2008) 481, c 622; ibid (8 November 2010) 518, c 90; ibid (14 December 2021) 705, c 1016.