Different ways of doing things

Lord Norton

Procedures in the Lords are different to those in the Commons, not least in term of the rules governing votes.  For example, if an MP votes in both lobbies during a division, his or her name is shown in the division list as being in both lobbies.  Voting in both lobbies has become a way for MPs to show that they are present but, in effect, abstaining.  If a peer votes in both lobbies, the peer’s name is removed from the division list.  There was a recent case of this happening – Hansard records when a peer has had their name removed, but without identifying who it is.  Given that, there is little point in going into both lobbies and it rarely happens.

There are also notable differences in the event of a tied vote.  The basic difference is that in the Commons the Speaker has a casting vote, whereas in the Lords the Lord Speaker, or occupant of the Woolsack, does not.  In the Commons, the Speaker can formally exercise a casting vote as he thinks fit, but in practice follows precedent built up over two centuries.   The Speaker votes for further discussion, unless no further discussion is possible in which case he votes against.  On an amendment to a Bill, he votes to leave the Bill in its existing form.  In the Lords, the basic principle is that a motion requires a majority to carry.  If the vote is tied, there is no majority for the motion and it is lost.  This afternoon, the House divided 245-245 on a motion to substitute another amendment for one made by the Commons to the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.  As there was no majority for the motion, the Deputy Speaker read out a form of words stipulated by Standing Order announcing that the amendment was not insisted on.

One other difference, less commented upon, is the fact that in the Commons, MPs bow to the tellers as they go by.  In the Lords, one does not do so. Old habits die hard.  In a division in the Lords, one can normally tell which peers are ex-MPs!


6 comments for “Different ways of doing things

  1. Daniel Olive
    28/01/2014 at 8:45 pm

    I was surprised at this as the default to conserve unless there is a majority to do likewise (what a very Lordsian rule) seemed to require that the Lords insist on their amendments (and therefore not alter what I conceptualised as a Lords text of the bill), not to accept the bill as brought from the Commons (which is, of course, to conserve the Bill as it exists). Lord Norton clarified the theory was to conserve the Bill as it came to the House (that is, with Commons amendments).

    I suppose this shows that the theory underlying the process, as well as the process, matters and shapes outcomes. A sort of Norton-ism raised to the second power.

    I must admit to having been a little dismissive in the past of studies of such theory of process, and theory of law, (in fact I may have referred to Jurisprudence as “law eating itself” and “not law”) but I have found recently it can be quite important. A rather controversial 90s case on offences against the person, a complex theoretical point of contract law, and now the content of statute (barring a loss of the bill) all turn on such seemingly abstract points.

    • Lord Norton
      06/02/2014 at 10:20 am

      Daniel Olive: Process is extremely important. The way something is handled can affect the outcome.

  2. David Boothroyd
    29/01/2014 at 10:21 am

    One of the facts in the background to the different approach is that tied votes in the Lords happen much more frequently than in the Commons. There have only been eight tied votes in the last 50 years in the Commons (plus a few more mistakenly believed to have been tied).

    • Lord Norton
      06/02/2014 at 10:19 am

      David Boothroyd: Indeed. One can never be sure about the outcome of a vote in the Lords. The Standing Order dealing with a tied vote is quite precise in stipulating the wording to be used, depending on what the vote is on.

  3. 29/01/2014 at 4:02 pm

    Lord Norton,

    I suppose that you might be one of the few peers who would check out a clip of the State of the Union addresses to joint sessions of the Congress. Things have gotten formulaic without retaining almost any tributes to our past. Oddly enough it is more rich and complex than people think. I am not saying the current system is all bad. I am rather sure that small reminders to the Peers and those watching that the House of Lords is different than the Commons are both enriching and cost effective.

    If we were to hang portraits of Washington, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette flanking the central chamber today at least two portraits would be nearly incomprehensible and the third would not be all that well received. But I do not think we are better of for abandoning that and countless other customs. The last general we had as President was Eisenhower and no conversations with veterans can replace that structure which such men added to our political life. Washington, Jackson, Taylor, Grant, Polk, Hayes, both Harrisons, Garfield, Johnson and Arthur were generals and a whole batch were colonels.

    I am sure to some abroad this is a welcome sign of the withering of our political traditions. Yet for those who must live here it is a symptom of all that larger disease eating at our homeland. So in honor of the Congressional Portraits of Marie and Louis — vive la difference! It is a tribute to Britain,respectfully acknowledged by me at least.

  4. maude elwes
    31/01/2014 at 5:02 pm

    I feel that this man’s view should be incorporated in your belief and efforts to do things differently.


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