HC Deb 23 November 1977 vol 939 cc1530-1
Mr. Rifkind

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Column 1402 of the Official Report which was published this morning purports to state that in the Division on the Question proposing that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill, in yesterday's debate on the Scotland Bill, the Ayes were 184 and the Noes 199. However a scrutiny of the Division List shows that two Members—the hon. Members for Paddington (Mr. Latham) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick)—voted in both Lobbies in that Division. Indeed, in the previous Division, I think that the hon. Member for Paddington voted in both Lobbies.

I suggest that the Official Report is misleading as it purports to suggest that 383 hon. Members took part in the Division, whereas it is clear that only 381 hon. Members in fact took part. Whereas on previous occasions an hon. Member has sometimes by accident voted in one Lobby, realised his mistake and voted in the other, it would appear from various reports that have been made that on this occasion the hon. Members concerned deliberately voted in both Lobbies and, according to certain reports, intend to continue doing so in future Divisions. If this is the case, Mr. Speaker, is it not necessary to ensure that the Official Report is slightly less misleading in indicating the total number of hon. Members who take part in Divisions?

Mr. Arthur Latham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be found that "Erskine May" provides for circumstances in which it is permissible for a Member to vote in more than one Lobby.

May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House to the fact that there is no voting procedure within the House for recording positive abstention? It might commend itself to the Chair and to the House that this is a novel way of recording abstention. May I further say, in response to the point of order, that as regards accidents, there are sometimes in the course of life, and certainly in the House of Commons, occasions for deliberate mistake.

Mr. Speaker

First, I have no wish to contradict the arithmetic of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). This is not the first time that hon. Members have by mistake or for some other reason found themselves in two Lobbies.

I have the permission of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to quote from a letter which my predecessor sent to him about a similar incident. On 30th April 1973 my predecessor wrote this: I do not, of course, know why the Members concerned acted as they did; but I am told that it is by no means unknown for a Member who finds that he has voted in the wrong lobby, or who has realised too late that he ought not to have voted at all because he was 'paired', to walk immediately through the other lobby in order to cancel his vote. Such action has always been regarded as permissible and in no way a breach of Order. I am quite prepared to take time to consider this matter, but I think the hon. Gentleman will find that where "Erskine May" refers to people voting in both Lobbies it is regarded as a mistake rather than a demonstration. It would be quite new in our proceedings if we were to have a separate list for Members who vote in both Lobbies because they find it difficult to decide. I had better say no more on that.