Decisions of the House

The will of the House is ascertained by means of a vote. Once debate on a motion has concluded, the Speaker puts the question and the House pronounces itself on the motion.265 A simple majority of the Members present and voting is required to adopt or defeat a question. The Constitution Act, 1867 provides that:

Questions arising in the House of Commons shall be decided by a Majority of Voices other than that of the Speaker, and when the Voices are equal, but not otherwise, the Speaker shall have a Vote.266

A decision on a motion before the House can be made with no dissenting voices, in which case the motion is adopted and no division is taken.267 When there are dissenting voices, a vote (or division) is taken. This can be either a voice vote or a recorded vote268 where the House is called upon to divide into the “yeas” and the “nays”.

Termination of Debate

When debate on a motion appears to be finished (i.e., when no Member rises to be recognized for debate), the Speaker asks if the House is ready for the question; that is, if the House is ready to come to a decision. If no Member rises to speak, the Speaker puts the question to the House for a decision.

Some Standing Orders provide for deadlines within which the Speaker can or must proceed with the putting of the question on specific matters, unless debate on the motion has already collapsed or unless there is no provision for debate. For instance:

  • motions to extend the sitting hours during the last 10 sitting days in June;269
  • subamendments, amendments and the main motion for an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne;270
  • motions for closure and closured motions;271
  • when the motion for the previous question is adopted, the question on the main motion must be put immediately without debate or amendment;272
  • motions for time allocation in the absence of agreement among the parties;273
  • votable opposition motions;274
  • opposition motions and supply motions on the last allotted day of each supply period;275
  • the main budget motion and any amendment or subamendment;276
  • votable items of Private Members’ Business;277 and
  • motions for the production of papers.278

In addition, special orders may also contain provisions for the Speaker to put a question at a specific time.

Putting the Question

When the House appears ready to proceed to a decision, the Speaker will ask, “Is the House ready for the question?”. If no Member rises to speak, the Speaker is then satisfied that the debate has concluded and puts the question to dispose of the motion. If debate terminates pursuant to a predetermined deadline, the Speaker interrupts the proceedings to put the question, in accordance with the terms of the Standing Order or the special order.

“Putting the question” means that the Speaker reads the main motion, followed by any proposed amendment or subamendment in order.279 The Speaker then asks, “Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?”. In the absence of any dissenting voice, he or she will declare the motion carried; in this way, a question can be decided without resorting to a vote. If the Speaker hears a dissenting voice, he or she may first verify whether the House wishes to have the motion declared carried or negatived simply “on division”. Alternatively, the Speaker will proceed to conduct a voice vote and then, if it is demanded, a recorded vote (see Figure 12.3, “Putting the Question”).

When a motion, an amendment, and a subamendment have been proposed, the question is put first on the subamendment:

  • If the subamendment is negatived, debate may then resume on the amendment, another subamendment may be moved and debated, or the question is put on the amendment.
  • If the subamendment is adopted, debate may then resume on the amendment as amended, another subamendment may be moved and debated, or the question is put on the amendment as amended.

The question is then put on the amendment (or the amendment as amended):

  • If the amendment (or the amendment as amended) is negatived, debate may then resume on the main motion and a new amendment and subamendment may be moved and debated, or the question is put on the main motion.
  • If the amendment (or the amendment as amended) is adopted, debate may then resume on the main motion as amended, and a new amendment and subamendment may be moved and debated, or the question is put on the main motion as amended.

When all subamendments and amendments are disposed of and debate on the main motion (or the main motion as amended) concludes, the question is put on the main motion.

Figure 12.3 Putting the Question
Image depicting, in a series of boxes linked by lines, the steps required for the House to make a decision on a question. It begins with debate concluding, followed by the Speaker putting the question, then listing options for voice votes or recorded divisions. If necessary, the Speaker casts a deciding vote. At the end, the Speaker declares that the motion has been adopted or rejected.

On Division

Members who do not wish a motion to be carried or lost unanimously, but who do not want a voice vote or a recorded division, may indicate their position by simply stating “on division” after the Speaker has asked if it is the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion. The Speaker will then declare the motion carried or negatived on division.

Voice Vote

When it is obvious that the House wishes to divide on the question (i.e., dissent is expressed when the Speaker asks if it is the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion), the Speaker will take a voice vote. He or she will ask for the decision of the House by saying, “All those in favour of the motion will please say ‘yea’ ” and then, “All those opposed will please say ‘nay’ ”. The Speaker listens to both responses, judges the voices and the sense of the House, and states his or her opinion as to the result: “In my opinion, the yeas (nays) have it”. If there is no objection, the Speaker then declares the motion carried or negatived, as the case may be; however, if five or more Members (including any Members already on their feet) rise to signal a demand for a recorded vote, the Speaker will say, “Call in the Members” (or, if the vote is automatically deferred pursuant to a Standing Order or special order of the House, the Speaker will announce the date and time at which the deferred recorded division will take place).280 If fewer than five Members rise, the Speaker concludes that the initial assessment is correct and declares the motion carried or negatived on division. It sometimes happens that, after the yeas and nays have been called, Members have said “on division” to indicate that the question was not decided unanimously, without resorting to a recorded vote.281

Requirement to Vote

There is no rule requiring a Member to vote.282 A Member may abstain from voting simply by remaining seated during the vote. Such abstentions are of an unofficial nature and are not recorded although, on occasion, Members have risen following a vote to offer an explanation as to why they had abstained,283 or how they would have voted had they been present when the question was put.284

Private Interest

No Member is entitled to take part in debate or to vote on any question in which he or she has a private interest (formerly referred to as a “direct pecuniary interest”), and any vote subsequently determined to have been cast in these circumstances would be disallowed.285 For a Member to be disqualified from voting, the monetary interest in question must be direct and personal. A Member’s personal interests would not be challenged on questions of public policy, which have a broad application. Even voting a pay increase to Members themselves does not amount to a case of direct monetary interest because it applies to all Members, rather than just one, or to certain Members but not to others.286

When a Member has a private interest in a question, he or she must disclose the general nature of the interest to the Clerk of the House and then abstain from voting.287 If the Member becomes aware of the conflict of interest after the vote, the disclosure is recorded in the Journals and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is notified.288 If a Member’s vote is questioned after the fact, it is the practice to accept his or her word.289 If the House wishes to pursue the issue, notice must first be given of a substantive motion to disallow a Member’s vote.290 While several Members have voluntarily abstained from voting or have had their votes questioned, no Member’s vote has ever been disallowed on grounds of direct monetary interest.

In a question of privilege raised in 2008, objections were raised to a finding of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner that the naming of a Member as a defendant in a libel suit was tantamount to that Member’s having a private interest.291 The Commissioner had understood the term “liability” as used in the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (Appendix I to the Standing Orders) to include the sort of contingent liability to which the defendant in a libel suit is exposed. To remove any ambiguity which might lend itself to this interpretation, the House amended the relevant section of the Code and referred the Inquiry Report back to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for reconsideration in light of the amendment.292 This led to a further report of the Commissioner which reversed the finding of private interest.293

Recorded Divisions

Once the Speaker has ordered that the Members be called in for a recorded vote, the division bells are rung and the party Whips assemble their Members.294 While the division bells ring, a Presiding Officer remains in the chair waiting for the Members to assemble for the vote. During this period, the proceedings of the House are effectively suspended; debate has ceased, and no Member can be recognized by the Chair for any reason. A point of order raised in 2007 led to a decision by the House to modify the Standing Orders to require committees to suspend their meetings to enable Members to participate in recorded divisions when summoned by the division bells, unless the Members of a particular committee unanimously agree that it continue to sit.295

Length of Bells

Depending on the type of motion being voted upon and the conditions surrounding the taking of the vote, division bells can ring for a maximum of either 15 or 30 minutes:296

  • 15-minute bells—Whenever the Speaker is required by the rules or pursuant to a special order to interrupt the proceedings in order to put a question or questions at a specific time and a recorded division has been requested, the division bells are rung for not more than 15 minutes;297
  • 30-minute bells—The bells calling in the Members for a vote on a non-debatable motion or for an unscheduled vote on a debatable motion are rung for not more than 30 minutes.298

For example, the bells ring for 15 minutes for votes scheduled to be taken during the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and during the budget debate and at the conclusion of debate on a motion subject to a time allocation order. The bells also ring for up to 15 minutes for recorded divisions demanded on opposition motions on supply days. 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.299

Appearance of the Whips

When they conclude that their respective Members are ready to vote, the Whips of the government and of the Official Opposition make a ceremonial return to the House, and the ringing of the bells ceases. The Whips enter the Chamber together, proceed up the aisle toward the Chair, bow to the Speaker and to each other and resume their seats. This convention provides a signal to the Speaker that the House is ready to proceed with the vote. Once the Whips have taken their seats, the Speaker calls the House to order and immediately puts the question.300

The party Whips may return to the Chamber before the bells are due to stop ringing. On occasion, this has occurred with the prior knowledge and consent of the House;301 at other times, the vote has been taken before the bells have rung for the maximum period of time and Members have voiced their objection by raising points of order.302 The Speaker has ruled that the Standing Orders stipulate only that the bells ring for “not more than” 15 or 30 minutes, as the case may be, and that it is therefore possible for the division bells to ring for a shorter period of time.303 In one case, a 15-minute bell lasted 30 minutes pending the arrival of the Whips and this became the subject of a point of order. On that occasion, the Chair stated that the House should maintain the delicate balance which respects the spirit of the Standing Orders with regard to the designated time of division bells, without infringing upon the traditional role of the Whips.304 On occasion, a vote has been taken even though one of the Whips had not appeared after the bells rang for the maximum prescribed length of time.305 In most cases, the Government Whip re-entered the Chamber while the Opposition Whip, as an act of protest, remained outside the Chamber (sometimes with the entire caucus).

The Speaker has also ruled that it is within the authority of the Chair to intervene during the ringing of division bells should the terms of the motion for which a recorded division has been demanded become inoperable or moot. For example, if a motion to adjourn the House, to adjourn the debate or to proceed to Orders of the Day has been moved and a recorded division demanded but not taken by the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, then the Speaker may order the bells silenced and adjourn the House since those motions are inoperable beyond the ordinary hour of adjournment.306

Deferred Divisions

When the Speaker has not interrupted debate pursuant to a Standing Order or special order, a recorded division on a debatable motion, if demanded, need not be held immediately; it may be deferred to a later time pursuant to various provisions in the Standing Orders or by a special order of the House.

A recorded division on a debatable motion (usually a government motion since the rules make specific provision for the deferral of recorded divisions on most other debatable motions) may be deferred to a designated time at the request either of the Chief Government Whip or of the Chief Opposition Whip.307 One of the Whips may approach the Speaker after the question has been put and while the division bells are ringing to ask that the vote be deferred. The Speaker orders the ringing of the bells stopped and then informs the House that the recorded vote is deferred until the time requested by the Whip—later in the same sitting or to a specific time not later than the ordinary hour of adjournment on the next sitting day that is not a Friday.308 If the two Whips request the deferral of a vote to different times, the Speaker makes the final decision.309

Alternatively, after a recorded division has been demanded and the division bells are ringing, the Chief Government Whip may, with the agreement of the Whips of all of the recognized parties, approach the chair and ask the Speaker to defer the division to an agreed-upon date and time that may even be beyond the ordinary hour of adjournment on the next sitting day.310 If the vote is on an item of Private Members’ Business, the item’s sponsor must also agree. Recorded divisions already deferred to a specific date and time may be further deferred to any other date and time in the same manner.

Recorded divisions on debatable motions demanded on a Friday are automatically deferred until the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on the next sitting day; similarly, when on Thursday, a recorded division is deferred to Friday, it is automatically further deferred to the next sitting day, usually the following Monday, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.311

On supply days, a recorded division on a votable opposition motion by a Member of a recognized party other than the Official Opposition may also be deferred at the request of the Whip of that party.312 Recorded divisions on opposition motions are deferred from a Friday to a Monday unless Friday is the last allotted day in the supply period;313 recorded divisions on votable opposition motions on the last allotted day in a supply period cannot be deferred,314 except with the agreement of the Whips of all recognized parties.315 On one occasion, the House made an exception and adopted a Special Order providing for the deferral of divisions on the business of supply on the last allotted day in the supply period which was a Friday.316

During the report stage of a bill, recorded divisions on motions in amendment may be deferred, at the Speaker’s discretion, from sitting to sitting if necessary.317 When all report stage motions have been considered, the House then proceeds to the taking of the deferred divisions; either the Chief Government Whip or Chief Opposition Whip may further defer the vote to a time no later than the ordinary hour of adjournment on the next sitting day. On Friday only, a recorded division on the motion to concur in a bill at report stage, while being a non-debatable motion, is nonetheless automatically deferred.318

At the end of the time provided for the consideration of a votable item of Private Members’ Business, if debate is concluded prior to the time provided by the Standing Orders, or if the item under consideration is a non-debatable motion for concurrence in a bill at report stage, a recorded division, if requested, is deemed deferred to the next Wednesday, immediately before the time provided for Private Members’ Business.319 It may be further deferred with the consent of the sponsor.320 A recorded division on a bill which is under a time allocation order may be deferred by the Chief Government Whip or the Chief Opposition Whip only if debate collapses prior to the time set out in the time allocation order.

The rules of the House restrict the further deferral of a deferred division,321 except with the agreement of the Whips of all the recognized parties.322 After the deferral of a vote, the House continues with the business before it.323

When the time arrives to take one or more deferred divisions, the Speaker interrupts the proceedings at the time set down in the Standing Orders or ordered by the House, informs the House that the deferred vote or votes will now be held, and orders that the Members be called in. The division bells are rung for not more than 15 minutes.324 Once the Whips have appeared, the Speaker proceeds immediately to put the question. When there are several votes to be taken, the House may first agree to the sequence in which they will be taken; otherwise, the questions are put in the order in which they came before the House and were deferred.325

In recent practice, a large percentage of recorded divisions are deferred, tending to be clustered and taken seriatim at the end of the time provided for Government Orders, immediately prior to Private Members’ Business, at the end of Oral Questions, or at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.326

Calling the Vote and Announcing the Results

When the Whips have returned to the Chamber and the division bells have stopped ringing, the Speaker rises, calls the House to order and reads the question to the House, adding, “The question is on the main motion (or on the amendment or subamendment). All those in favour of the motion (or of the amendment or subamendment) will please rise”. The “yeas” are recorded first. As each Member rises, his or her name is called by the Table Officers recording the votes. Members resume their seats after casting their votes. When all of the “yeas” have voted, the Speaker says, “All those opposed to the motion (or to the amendment or subamendment) will please rise”. The “nay” votes are cast in the same manner as the “yea” votes.

A recorded division may be conducted in one of two ways: as a party vote or as a row-by-row vote. Generally, a recorded division on an item of government business is conducted as a party vote,327 and a recorded division on an item of Private Members’ Business is conducted as a row-by-row vote.

Conducting a Party Vote

In conducting a party vote, Members’ votes are taken by party, in order relative to each party’s strength in the House (except on opposition days when votes of the sponsoring party are taken first) and in rows according to the party seating arrangements, starting with the party leaders. If a Member wishes to vote contrary to his or her party, the Member must rise when the “yeas” or “nays”, as the case may be, are called.

Conducting a Row-by-Row Vote

The calling of a recorded division row by row does not proceed by party but rather by the seating rows in the Chamber.328 In conducting a row-by-row vote, the Speaker first calls for the “yeas”. Members in the first row to the right of the Speaker and who are in favour of a motion are requested to rise. After the Table Officers call their names, starting with the Member closest to the Chair, Members resume their seats. Members in the second row who are in favour of the motion then rise. After all Members to the right of the Chair who are in favour of the motion have risen and voted, Members to the left of the Chair who are in favour rise to vote in rows regardless of party affiliation. The same procedure is followed with respect to those who oppose the motion (the “nays”).

When a recorded division is taken on an item of Private Members’ Business, the vote of the Member sponsoring the bill or motion is recorded first, if he or she is present, followed by the votes of the other Members on the same side of the House, starting with the back row, who are in favour of the bill or motion and then the Members on the other side of the House, starting with the back row, who are in favour of the item. “Nay” votes are recorded in the same order.329 Should the sponsor of a private Member’s bill disagree with a motion moved by another Member to amend the bill at report stage or to amend the motion for third reading, the sponsor of the motion, rather than the sponsor of the bill, would vote first.330

Free Votes

There are no rules or Standing Orders defining a “free vote” in the House of Commons, nor is there any requirement that free votes be identified as such in the Journals, which record merely whether Members voted “yea” or “nay”. Simply defined, a free vote takes place when a party decides that, on a particular issue, its Members are not required to vote along party lines, or that the issue is not a matter of party policy and its Members may vote as they choose. A free vote may be allowed by one or more parties or it may be allowed by all parties.331 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 decisions taken by the parties (as to whether or not a matter should be decided by a free vote) are not issues on which the Speaker can be asked to rule.

In the Canadian system of responsible government, free votes have a special relationship to the confidence convention. The principle underlying this convention is simply that the government must enjoy the support of the majority of Members of the House of Commons and be responsible for its actions to this elected body. The confidence convention holds that where a motion does not contain an explicitly worded condemnation of the government, or where the government has not declared a particular vote to be a question of confidence, or where there is no implicit vote of non-confidence (such as in a motion to adopt the budget, the Address in Reply or the granting of supply), then the government is at liberty to interpret the result of the vote in any manner it wishes.332 Consequently, when under such conditions the government declares that it will treat a matter as a free vote, the convention holds that the defeat of the item does not amount to a vote of non-confidence in the government.333

It is not clear when the first free vote was held in the House of Commons; however, since the 1946 free vote on milk subsidies,334 there have been several free votes on government business. For example, free votes have been held on the issues of the selection of a national flag,335 capital punishment,336 abortion,337 the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,338 constitutional amendments,339 same-sex marriage,340 and medical assistance in dying.341

Announcing the Results

The Clerk of the House is responsible for taking and recording all votes. The Clerk sits at the head of the Table in preparation for a vote. A Table Officer stands to the right of the Clerk, facing the House, ready to call out the names of the Members as they rise and vote. Other Table Officers sit on either side of the Clerk recording the number of Members voting “yea” or “nay”.

Regardless of how a recorded vote is conducted, the results are always announced in the same way. Any discrepancy between the tallies must be reconciled before the result of the vote is announced to the Chair by the Clerk. 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 negatived.

During a recorded division, if the Speaker’s attention is drawn to the fact that the sum of the votes and the number of Members present who did not vote (including the Speaker) do not total at least 20, then the question remains undecided; the usual quorum procedure is then triggered.342 If no objection is raised at the time the result of the vote is read to the House, the Speaker simply confirms the result and business proceeds as though there were a quorum.343

Application of Results to Votes Held Successively

Where 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.344 This usually comes about as a consequence of deferring votes to a particular time.345 In recent years, a practice was revived whereby the results of one vote are applied to others.346 Normally, the Chief Government Whip will request the unanimous consent of the House to have the results of one vote applied directly—or on occasion in reverse—to subsequent divisions and recorded separately.347 The Speaker then declares the motions as being either carried or negatived. This procedure has resulted in an appreciable saving of the time of the House.

Since the beginning of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994-97), another practice which has developed often occurs in concert with applied voting when there are several motions to vote on at one sitting. Following a recorded division which establishes the Members who are present and how they voted, 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.348 Finally, independent Members as well as Members from non-recognized parties 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 indicate this. Once the new voting pattern has been tabulated by the Table Officers, the Clerk rises and reports the results to the Speaker who then declares the motion carried or negatived. Again, this procedure has resulted in an appreciable saving of the time of the House.

Pairing of Members

Pairing is the arranging by the party Whips for two Members, one of them from the governing party and the other from one of the opposition parties,349 to agree to abstain from voting on a particular occasion in order to permit one or both to be absent from the House. Their votes are thus effectively neutralized and the relative strength of their parties in the House is maintained.350 Until 1991, pairing enjoyed no official recognition and was considered a private arrangement between Members.351

In 1991, these arrangements were somewhat formalized. The Standing Orders now provide for the establishment of a Register of Paired Members which is kept at the Table.352 To indicate that they will not take part in any recorded divisions on a particular date, Members have their names entered together in the Register by their respective Whips. Independent Members and Members from non-recognized parties enter their own names. The names of Members so paired are published in the Debates and in the Journals immediately following the entry for any recorded division held on that day.353

The Standing Orders are silent on the question of a broken pair, which occurs when a paired Member votes. As Speaker Fraser noted in 1992, notwithstanding the newly formalized way of arranging pairs, agreements to pair remain private arrangements between Members and not matters in which the Speaker or the House can legitimately intervene.354 Members who inadvertently vote when paired must seek the unanimous consent of the House if they wish to rescind their votes.

The Casting Vote

The Speaker may not participate in the debates of the House but, in the event of a tied vote (“an equality of voices”), the Speaker exercises a deciding or casting vote.355 When doing so, the Speaker may briefly explain his or her reasons for voting in a given manner. The reasons are then entered in the Journals.356

Decorum During the Taking of a Vote

When Members have been called in for a division, no further debate is permitted.357 From the time the Speaker begins to put the question until the results of the vote are announced, Members are not to enter, leave or cross the House, nor may they make any noise or disturbance.358

Members must be in the Chamber to hear the motion read and be in their assigned seats during the division in order for their votes to be recorded.359 Any Member entering the Chamber while the question is being put or after it has been put cannot have his or her vote counted.360 Members must remain seated until the result is announced by the Clerk.361 Members’ votes have been questioned because they left the Chamber immediately after voting and before the results of the vote were announced, or because they did not remain seated throughout the process.362 However, if a Member’s presence is disputed and the Member in question asserts that he or she was present when the motion was read, convention prescribes that the House accept the Member’s word.363

When breaches of decorum have been drawn to the attention of the Chair, the Speaker has reminded Members of the need for order in the House while votes are being taken.364 When there is disorder in the galleries during a division, the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings until the galleries have been cleared and then continue with the taking of the vote.365

Points of Order and Questions of Privilege

Although the Standing Orders do not expressly forbid the raising of points of order and questions of privilege during divisions, the general practice has been to proceed with the vote and to hear its result before bringing forward any points of order or questions of privilege.366 There have been occasions in which Members have attempted to bring some matter to the attention of the Speaker in the course of a vote (after the Members have been called in and before the result is declared), and the Chair has declined to interrupt the voting process in order to hear the point of order or question of privilege.367 More recently, however, points of order related to the recording of the vote have been heard and addressed during the voting process.368 Immediately after the announcement of the result of a vote, Members who were unable to be present in the Chamber for the vote sometimes rise on a point of order to explain how they would have voted had they been present.369

Corrections in a Vote

A vote once taken and recorded stands as a decision of the House; a Member’s vote cannot be changed without the unanimous consent of the House. Members have risen after a vote to indicate an error or to request a change because they inadvertently voted contrary to their intentions, voted when paired or voted twice (both “yea” and “nay”). In some instances, a vote has been changed;370 in others, the request has been denied.371 When the intention of a Member is unclear, the Speaker may ask the Member to clarify how he or she intended to vote.372

A Member whose name has been missed or called incorrectly may correct the error either before the result of the vote is announced, if the error is noted at the time the vote is taken, or as soon thereafter as the error is noted.373 If the correction is made after the Journals are published, a corrigendum appears in the Journals of the next sitting.

A Decision Once Made Must Stand

A decision once made cannot be questioned again but must stand as the judgment of the House.374 Thus, for example, if a bill or motion is rejected, it cannot be revived in the same session, although there is no bar to a motion similar in intent to one already negatived but with sufficient variance to constitute a new question.375 This is to prevent the time of the House being used in the discussion of motions of the same nature with the possibility of contradictory decisions being arrived at in the course of the same session. It is not in order for Members to “reflect” upon (i.e., to reconsider or comment upon) votes of the House, and when this has occurred, the Chair has been quick to call attention to it.376 Members have also occasionally called attention to the rule.377

The House may reopen discussion on an earlier decision (e.g., a resolution or an order of the House) only if its intention is to revoke it;378 this requires notice of a motion to rescind the resolution or discharge the order, as the case may be.379 This allows the House to reconsider an earlier resolution or order and, if the original resolution or order is in fact rescinded or discharged, the way is then clear for the House to make a second decision on the same question. A number of instances of orders of the House discharged have concerned arrangements made by the House for the scheduling of its sittings,380 or for the withdrawal of bills and motions.381

The Issue of Electronic Voting

Proposals to install a system for electronic voting in the Chamber have been made over the years with a view to improving the management of the time of the House.382 In 1985, the Second Report of the McGrath Committee recommended computerized electronic voting, but the matter was not taken up by the House.383 In 1995, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, noting that the practices of deferring several votes to the same day and time, and of applying results of votes, had “greatly speeded up the voting process”, recommended that the House not proceed at that time to a system of electronic voting.384 In 1997, the Committee briefly returned to consideration of the question of electronic voting, but did not report to the House.385 In 2003, a special committee endorsed the principle of electronic voting in the Chamber and recommended in two of its reports to the House that the necessary electronic infrastructure be installed in the Chamber during the summer of 2004.386 While the greater part of this infrastructure was installed as recommended, no further action has been taken in respect of electronic voting.