Voting in ParliamentFriday, May 14, 2021
In conventional Westminster parliamentary practice votes on a motion are normally determined by the Speaker after the question is put and he/she makes a judgement as to whether the “ayes” or “nays” are in the majority. This is different from the practice in the United States Congress, where votes are taken electronically with each member pressing the relevant button after inserting an encrypted identification card.
In the Westminster parliamentary system, where the Speaker is uncertain of the outcome, he/she may order a divide or roll call vote. In the British House of Commons, since the Chamber is too small to accommodate all members at the same time, they are required to gather in separate “division lobbies” where they are checked off as they enter. In our case, a division vote is taken in the Chamber by roll call.
Any member may also call for a divide, but in strict parliamentary practice this is done only if the judgement of the Speaker as to the outcome of a vote is being challenged.
In a lopsided Parliament as we now have, this is hardly likely to be credible, unless a significant number of Government members were absent from the Chamber or voted differently from their colleagues on that side. The Speaker is therefore on firm ground in claiming his or her discretion as to whether a roll call vote is taken.
There is one exception to this rule, and that is where a vote is being taken on a motion to amend the constitution. In this case, the approval of a majority of all the members of the House (not just those present and voting) or, in the case of entrenched provisions, two-thirds of all members is required and must therefore be validated by recording the votes of individual members.
That having been said, it must be acknowledged that the practice in Jamaica, and perhaps in other Commonwealth parliaments, has been for a division to be allowed once it is requested by a member. The intention usually is to ensure that the position of a member or group of members on a particular motion is clearly reflected in the records of Parliament. An alternative way of achieving the same end is for members to firmly state their position during the debate on the motion. In addition, a member can call for his or her individual vote to be recorded at the time when the motion is put. This is not within the discretion of the Speaker, and the Hansard writers would be obliged to faithfully record it.
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