HC Deb 30 June 1868 vol 193 cc383-7

rose to call attention to the practice of the House in not allowing Members who went by inadvertence into the wrong Lobby in divisions to have their votes recorded in the manner in which they wished to give them, and said it was his intention to move a Resolution which would enable mistakes of that kind, when made hereafter, to be corrected. He had himself, in June 1864, been the victim of the existing rule, having then gone into the wrong Lobby, and consequently had his vote recorded in the opposite sense to that which he intended. The effect of that was that, there being a majority of 1 against the view which he desired to support, a Bill of considerable interest was thrown over for that Session. A similar inadvertence in 1856 was committed by the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. P. Wykeham-Martin). There were instances of even some of the most experienced Members of the House—including Government "tellers" themselves—sometimes going into the wrong Lobby by mistake; and on the occasion of the first division taken upon the Resolution of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire respecting the Irish Church, the majority was 60; while on the second division when the Resolution was put the majority was 56; the difference between the two majorities being caused by two Scotch Members—for even Scotch Members at times made mistakes—going into the wrong Lobby. A Member, if he made a mistake by going into the wrong Lobby, ought to have an opportunity of correcting it. In the House of Lords the practice was different and although he should not wish to follow the House of Lords in all things, the Resolution which they had, at the instance of Lord Redesdale, adopted to meet the case of Members of that House going into a wrong Lobby, might, he thought, very well be made the rule of practice in the taking of divisions in the House of Commons. He begged, therefore, to move a Resolution in precisely similar terms.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That if any Member shall, by mistake, go out with the Ayes or the Noes (as the case may be), having intended to vote on the other side, he shall wait until the other Members in the same Lobby shall have passed out, and, on presenting himself to the Tellers, he shall desire that he may not be counted with them, he having entered the Lobby by mistake; and the Tellers shall thereupon come with such Member to the Table, and inform the House of the circumstance, and the Speaker or Chairman (as the case may be), shall thereupon ask such Member whether he was in the House when the Question was put, and, if he shall answer in the affirmative, the Speaker or Chairman (as the case may be), shall then ask such Member whether he desires to vote Aye or No on such Question, and the vote of such Member as then declared by him shall be taken by the Tellers in the House, and reported by them accordingly."—(Sir Colman O'Loghlen.)


said, he hoped the House would not agree to the Resolution. The only effect of such a Motion would be to point out to the country that mistakes were made from want of attention which were anything but creditable either to the individual Members or to the House. Why was not the House told the names of the Members who had been in the wrong? How they came to be in the wrong box? Whether they were in the House when the Question was put? It argued very little for the competence of Members if, when they were told "Ayes to the right, Noes to the left," they did not know which way to go. If hon. Members were asleep, or on the terrace smoking, or reading newspapers in the vicinity of the House, or, in short, doing anything except what they ought—attending to the Business of the House in their places—that was their own fault, and the matter was, in his opinion, not of such importance as to require special legislation. It would be much better to go on in the old paths, and not draw too much attention to their faults.


said, the mistake in his case had occurred on a Wednesday, when he had been in the House almost the whole morning. It was the first time he had voted in his life, and he was standing at the Bar, when the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair said the "Ayes" were to go to the right. He thereupon went to his own right, and that was the way in which the error arose. As to the Resolution of the hon. and learned Baronet, he did not think it was a matter of much importance one way or another.


said, he was astonished that any hon. Member should oppose so simple a Motion. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Hotham) was a most punctual and painstaking Member of the House himself; but that was no good reason why he should object to the adoption of a rule by which mistakes in voting might be avoided.


said, the hon. and learned Baronet must remember the legal maxim, Vigilantibus non dormientibus sub- veniunt leges. He did not think it desirable to make Resolutions to encourage mistakes. The rules and practice of the House assumed that Members knew what hey were about, understood the Questions that were put, and gave their votes intelligently. The rules and practice were simple, if hon. Members would only take the pains to comprehend them. If they endeavoured to provide for those weaker Members who made mistakes after dinner, they would be led into confusion, the proceedings of the House would be brought into ridicule, and there would be much less care taken to prevent mistakes.


said, he hoped the hon. and learned Baronet would withdraw his Motion. Its operation, if carried, would, he was afraid, be something like that which was said to have followed the invention of life buoys, when the sailors were constantly falling overboard, knowing that the means of safety were at hand.


said, he was sorry that the Leader of the House had not made any observations on a matter affecting the conduct of the Business of the House; but after what had fallen from the few hon. Members who had spoken he would not press his Resolution.


The hon. and learned Baronet has alluded to me, and as I should be very sorry to be suspected of any want of courtesy to the House, I must say that once or twice I was on the point of rising, but was prevented addressing the House by reason of the fact that other hon. Members were the first to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I should, if I had had an opportunity, have given an uncompromising opposition to the Motion of the hon. and learned Baronet, which would have, as it appears to me, produced this effect: we should have had two divisions on every subject—there would be a division and a revision of a division in each case. That practice would create many mistakes. I think it is always unwise to alter our rules of procedure without grave consideration, and I think that in this case we have not sufficient data upon which to base such considerations. I do not think we are entirely acquainted with the motives which occasion these apparent mistakes. I have sometimes ascribed them to a desire in hon. Members for change of society; and on many occasions it has been the case that hon. Members going into the wrong Lobby have been in a state of some social excitement. As I think also that an agreement with the Motion of the hon. and learned Baronet would cause Members to be more careless than they are at present, I should, if it had not been stated that the Amendment was to be withdrawn, have opposed its passage.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.