House of Commons: Tied Divisions

This page records all occasions since the establishment of the United Kingdom Parliament that there has been an ‘equality of voices’ in a division of the House of Commons. A tie in a division is a rare thing that has happened only 49 times in 200 years (taking into account errors), an average of once every 4 years 1 month. However the frequency is decreasing as more and more divisions are whipped, fewer private Bills (on which there is no whip) are introduced, and governments secure large majorities at general elections.

In the event of a tie in a division, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker has the responsibility of giving a casting vote to decide the question. In doing so there are rules as to which side should receive the casting vote. The Speaker should vote so as not to decide the question - in other words, to give the House the opportunity for further debate on an issue. Therefore, if there is a tie on a division such as a Second Reading vote, where failure would kill the Bill being debated, the Speaker will always vote to continue the Bill.

Another rule was established by Speaker Denison in 1867 on the occasion of the tie on Trinity College Fellowships. Denison, giving his casting vote against the motion, declared that any decision must be approved by the majority. The final rule is that the Speaker, in any division upon a bill, should vote to leave a bill in its existing form. This rule saved the 1974-79 Labour government from several defeats. The tie on the Regency Bill in 1910 appears to be a counter-example to this precedent, but the effect of the amendment was to replace words in the Bill which had been deleted in committee. Nevertheless this example of the casting vote has been regarded as a ‘questionable precedent’ (in the words of Erskine May).

Of the divisions listed below, some occurred on motions which were highly politically charged. The impeachment of Viscount Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1805 severely damaged William Pitt’s second government. Melville had been criticized in the tenth report of a long-running inquiry by the Naval Commissioners of Inquiry for misuse of public money when he had been Treasurer of the Navy several years before; Pitt had appointed Melville knowing the report was hanging over him, and was reduced to tears when the censure was carried. This remains the last impeachment to have taken place, though Melville was eventually acquitted.

More recently the reported tie in the vote on the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty was the culmination of a long campaign to prevent ratification by Conservative backbenchers during the government of John Major. This vote has the highest overall participation of MPs of any division resulting in a tie. The confusion which led to a Conservative teller counted one more MP voting No is rather more common than many imagine, but such a mistake is rarely corrected where the division has resulted in a substantial win for one side. The errors in the divisions on 11th July 1974 were of a different order: they were caused by the Labour whips’ misuse of the procedure whereby an ill MP who is in Parliament may be counted as voting. On this occasion one of the MPs who was ‘nodded through’ was not on the Parliamentary estate at the time and should not have been counted as voting.

In the table below the column headed ‘Speaker’ shows how the Speaker or Deputy Speaker cast their vote.

DateResultSpeakerQuestion
13th March 180137-37YMotion that Mr Speaker do leave the chair (and therefore that the House go into Committee) on the bill to relieve certain persons from the poor rates.
8th April 1805216-216YMotion to put the question on the charges against Viscount Melville.
5th June 181136-36YMotion for an inquiry into causes of delays in Suits in the High Court of Chancery.
18th May 1813104-104YMotion for leave to bring in a bill to repeal the Leather tax so far as it applies to Hides and skins.
16th May 181779-79YMotion to agree with the committee on an amendment to the Truro Roads Bill.
19th May 181760-60YMotion that the Westminster Coal-Meters Bill do now pass.
21st April 181846-46NMotion for a report on the accounts of the High Bailiff of Westminster.
3rd April 182119-19NMotion to give a second reading to the Blackfriars Bridge Bill now, and not in three months.
14th June 182126-26YMotion to consider amendments to the Cattle Ill-Treatment Bill immediately, not in three months.
26th May 182662-62YMotion to put the question in a debate on a resolution relating to the procedure for dealing with bribery at elections.
1st May 182833-33YSecond reading of the Hibernian Joint Stock Company Bill.
25th June 183435-35YAmendment to the Highways Bill.
18th July 183433-33YMotion to retain wording of the Lord’s Day (No. 2) Bill.
23rd June 183741-41YMotion to give a third reading to the Caoutchouc Company Bill now, and not in six months.
7th June 183853-53NMotion for an humble address to Her Majesty praying that she will appoint an engineer to report on the best line for a railway between Edinburgh and Glasgow and the North of England.
20th June 1838111-111NMotion to proceed with amendments to the Small Debts (Scotland) Bill, and not recommit it.
17th July 184058-58YMotion to adjourn debate on the Farnham Rectory Chapels Bill.
25th March 184158-58NMotion for a prayer to Her Majesty the Queen to urge her to consider the cases of all persons confined in England for political offences.
30th March 184347-47YMotion for leave to bring in a bill to establish a court for marriages and divorces.
9th May 184647-47NAmendment to exclude consideration of attempts to prevent evidence of bribery and treating from arising from the committee examining the Bridport election petition.
14th July 184754-54YMotion to give a second reading to the Parliamentary Electors Bill now, and not in three months.
6th May 1851159-159YMotion to go into committee on consideration of the current means of levying duty on Home-made spirits in bond.
10th May 186037-37NAmendment to the Fisheries (Scotland) Bill.
19th June 1861274-274NMotion to give a third reading to the Church Rates Abolition Bill now, and not in three months.
24th July 186253-53YMotion to disagree with a Lords Amendment to the Juries Bill.
1st July 1864170-170YThird reading of the Tests Abolition (Oxford) Bill. [After the third reading, the question that the bill do now pass was divided upon and negatived 171-173]
7th June 186646-46YMotion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair (and therefore that the House go into Committee) on the Transubstantiation Etc. Declaration Abolition Bill.
24th July 1867108-108NMotion to declare the undesirability of restricting Fellowships at Trinity College, Dublin to believers in the established church.
10th June 1868123-123YMotion to give a second reading to the Married Women’s Property Bill now, and not in six months.
15th June 1870181-181YMotion to put the question on the second reading of the Representation of the People Acts Amendment Bill.
9th August 187840-40NAmendment to a motion setting the day for the committee stage of the Blind and Deaf-Mute Children (Education) Bill.
25th July 188775-75YSecond reading of the Marriages Confirmation (Antwerp) Bill.
11th May 189740-40YSecond reading of the Vehicles (Lights) Bill.
3rd April 1905171-171NMotion for an instruction to the committee dealing with the London County Council (Tramways) Bill.
22nd July 191061-61YNew clause to the Regency Bill.
12th April 1938144-144YMotion for leave to bring in the Jewish Citizenship Bill (relating to Palestine).
22nd February 193989-89-Motion to retain wording of motion calling for co-ordination of man-power and industrial policy in order to ensure employment to able-bodied unemployed workers. There was a miscount and the Noes were reported incorrectly as 90, hence the Speaker did not give a casting vote; the next day subsequent proceedings on the motion were declared null and void.
1st May 1950278-278NMotion to reduce an estimate by 1,000 (Opposition attempt to criticize government’s policy on road haulage).
1st March 195182-82YMotion that a clause stand part of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Bill.
24th June 1952173-173YMotion for leave to bring in the Licensing at Airports Bill.
12th March 1958153-153NMotion to add a new clause to the Maintenance Orders Bill.
2nd June 1965281-281YMotion to retain wording of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.
11th July 1974291-291NAmendment to the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill. An irregularity in this division was discovered: one vote was struck off the Noes and the result reversed on 16th July 1974.
11th July 1974283-283NAmendment to the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill. An irregularity in this division was discovered: one vote was struck off the Noes and the result reversed on 16th July 1974.
27th May 1976303-303NAmendment to procedure motion on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill.
10th November 1976309-309YMotion to disagree with Lords Amendment to the Dock Work Regulation Bill.
10th November 1976310-310YMotion to disagree with Lords Amendment to the Dock Work Regulation Bill.
10th November 1976310-310YMotion to disagree with Lords Amendment to the Dock Work Regulation Bill.
11th November 1976309-309YMotion to disagree with Lords Amendment to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill.
17th July 1978286-286YMotion to disagree with Lords Amendment to the Scotland Bill.
30th January 1980201-201YMotion for leave to bring in the Televising of Parliament Bill.
22nd July 1993317-317NAmendment to motion approving government’s policy on the Social Chapter of the Treaty on European Union done at Maastricht. An error in this division was discovered: one vote was struck off the Ayes on 23rd July 1993.