Once the Speaker has ordered that the Members be called in for a recorded vote (division), the division bells are rung and the party Whips assemble their Members in preparation for the vote. Depending on whether the vote is scheduled or unscheduled, division bells can normally ring for a maximum of either 15 or 30 minutes.
In 2010, the House of Commons began to make use of a new facility for committee meetings located at 1 Wellington, at some distance from the House. Because of the additional time needed for Members to make their way from the new facility to the House for recorded divisions, the House Leaders considered the advisability of modifying the duration of division bells. Consequently, on October 5, 2010, unanimous consent was given in the House of Commons to make a temporary modification in the matter of ringing division bells, namely: that for the remainder of 2010, when a recorded division was to be held on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, except recorded divisions deferred to the conclusion of oral questions, the bells to call in the Members were to be sounded for a maximum of 30 minutes. On January 31, 2011, the House gave unanimous consent for this modification to be maintained for the remainder of the Third Session of the Fortieth Parliament. During the First Session of the Forty-First Parliament, the House gave unanimous consent to maintain the change for the remainder of 2011. Similar motions were adopted by unanimous consent in 2012 and 2013 to maintain the practice for the remainder of the Forty-First Parliament.
A recorded division, if demanded, need not be held immediately. At the request of the Chief Government Whip or the Chief Opposition Whip, it may be deferred to a later time pursuant to various provisions of the Standing Orders or by a special order of the House.
If two or more recorded divisions are to be held successively without intervening debate, the division bells are sounded only once to call in the Members.
When the Government and Chief Opposition Whips conclude that their respective Members are ready to vote, the Whips make a ceremonial return to the House, and the bells stop ringing. The Speaker calls the House to order, reads the motion, adding, “All those in favour of the motion will please rise”. The “yeas” are recorded first. As each Member rises and bows to the Speaker, his or her name is called by the Table Officers recording the votes. When the “yeas” have voted, the Speaker says, “All those opposed to the motion will please rise”. The “nay” votes are taken in the same manner as the “yea” votes.
Recorded divisions may be conducted in one of two ways: as a party vote or as a row-by-row vote. In a party vote, Members’ votes are taken by party, in the order relative to each party’s strength in the House, starting with the party leaders. The calling of a recorded division row by row proceeds along seating rows in the Chamber, starting with the back row, regardless of party affiliation. Generally, a recorded division on Government business is conducted as a party vote, and a recorded division on Private Members’ Business is conducted as a row-by-row vote.
There are no rules defining what constitutes a free vote in the House of Commons. A free vote takes place when a party decides that, on a particular issue, its Members are not required to vote along party lines. In such circumstances, the recorded division would be held either as a row -by -row vote or in the normal manner of a party vote. The Speaker cannot be asked to rule on decisions taken by parties as to whether or not a matter should be decided in a free vote.
When the votes have been recorded and the “yeas” and “nays” counted, the Clerk rises and reports the result of the vote to the Speaker. The Speaker then declares the motion or amendment carried or lost.
In the event of a tied vote, the Speaker has a deciding or casting vote. It should be noted that the casting vote is not an expression of the Chair’s opinion on the matter but a procedural mechanism used to ensure that the business of the House is not obstructed. When using the casting vote, the Speaker may briefly explain the reasons for voting in a given manner. The reasons are then entered in the Journals.
When Members are prepared to vote on more than one question, the House proceeds immediately to the next question after the taking of the first vote. In some cases, the results of one vote are applied to other votes. Normally, the Chief Government Whip will request the unanimous consent of the House to have the results of one vote directly applied—or on occasion applied in reverse—to subsequent divisions and to be recorded separately. If the House gives its consent, the Speaker then declares the motions either carried or defeated.
Another practice has developed in concert with applied voting when there are several motions to vote on at one sitting. The Chief Government Whip will rise to request that unanimous consent be given to record the names of Members who voted on the previous motion as having voted on the next motion, with government Members being recorded under the “yeas” or “nays”. The Whips of the other parties then rise and declare how their parties wish to be recorded as having voted for the motion; finally, Members without party affiliation indicate how they wish to be recorded. Any Member wishing to vote differently from his or her party may rise on a point of order to state how he or she wants to be recorded as having voted. Once the new voting pattern has been tabulated by the Table Officers, the Clerk rises and reports the results to the Speaker who will then declare the motion carried or defeated.
Pairing is a practice whereby the party Whips arrange for two Members from opposite sides of the House to agree that they will abstain from voting on a particular occasion to permit one or both to be absent from the House. In this way, their votes are effectively neutralized and the relative strength of their parties in the House maintains its balance.
The Standing Orders provide for the establishment of a Register of Paired Members, which is kept at the Table. To indicate that they will not take part in any recorded divisions held on a particular date, Members have their names entered together in the Register by their respective Whips. Independent Members sign for themselves. The names of Members so paired are printed in the Debates and in the Journals immediately following the entry for any recorded division held on that day.
The Standing Orders are silent on the question of a broken pair, which occurs when one paired Member votes. Still, agreements to pair are private arrangements between Members and not matters in which the Speaker or the House can intervene. Members who inadvertently vote when paired must seek the unanimous consent of the House to rescind their votes.
When Members have been called in for a division, no further debate is permitted. From the time the Speaker begins to put the question until the results of the vote are announced, Members are not to enter or leave the Chamber, cross the floor of the House, or make any noise or disturbance.
Members must be in their assigned seat in the Chamber and must have heard the motion read in order for their votes to be recorded. Any Member entering the Chamber while the question is being put or after it has been put cannot have his or her vote counted. Members must remain seated until the result is announced by the Speaker.