Those following the debate on by how much the Coalition Government should increase welfare payments in the coming years, may have noticed that some Liberal Democrat MPs voted in both lobbies of the House of Commons. This was duly recorded, and stands as an ad hoc way for MPs to show an abstention in Hansard.
Their constituents will know that while they might have opted for different cuts or taxes elsewhere, or more borrowing, to fund a higher (perhaps inflationary) increase in benefits, they recognise a) that the Government is facing a very tough economic situation and b) that Liberal Democrat Ministers had worked hard to ensure that benefits were increased at all. Our Coalition partners would certainly have preferred a complete freeze.
Here in the Lords, we do not have the option to show such nuance: we must choose one side or another, or be absent. Our Companion to the Standing Orders state “if any member votes in both lobbies in one division, his name is struck off the list of those voting in that division, and his (sic) vote is disregarded.”
In many Councils around the country, and in the European Parliament, there is a formal mechanism to record an abstention. Since there are always more than two answers to every question, perhaps it’s time to introduce a similar choice for members of both Houses here in Westminster.