When a vote is held in the Lords, there is no means of recording abstentions. It is far from uncommon for peers who disagree with their own side to absent themselves from a division. However, when a peer’s name does not appear in the division list, it is usually impossible to know whether that peer is unavoidably absent (abroad, on a train, or whatever) or is present in the House but making a conscious decision to abstain. On occasion, the abstention may be obvious because the peer remains seated in the chamber throughout the division. Such occasions, though, are the exception and not the rule.
Formally, the same applies in the Commons, but MPs have found a way round this. An MP wishing to abstain and to put this on the record does so by voting in both lobbies. The MP’s name is published in both the Aye and the No lobby. However, in the Lords, this is not possible. If any peer does vote in both lobbies, the name is removed from the division lists.
This happened in one of the divisions last night on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill. As Hansard records: ‘The Tellers for the Contents reported 162; the Tellers for the Not Contents reported 223; the name of a noble Lord who voted in both Lobbies has been removed from the voting lists.’ I suspect it may well have been a former MP who has recently joined the House believing they could repeat the practice utilised in the Commons. Whether we should think about going down the route of allowing names to be recorded is another matter.