If the breaking news is correct,

MPs started voting on Stephen Kinnock’s amendment 6. But then, a few minutes into voting, Lindsay Hoyle, announced that the division had been called off because the amendment had been passed - because MPs opposed to it did not put up tellers. [...]

It is not clear whether this has passed by accident - or as a result of some cunning plot.

BBC's Laura Kuenssberg commented

It looks like the Kinnock amendment to put Theresa May's deal back to the Commons for another vote just went through by mistake....

Also Alex Sobel MP commented:

The amendment in the name of Stephen Kinnock didn’t have a vote as the Government didn’t provide tellers to count. This meant the amendment went through although the No Lobby was full. This wasn’t an accident you can be assured there’s some skullduggery going on

Has this sort of situation happened ever before? I.e. a law or amendment to pass because there were no tellers?

  • 2
    It's very rare, but I do recall it having happened before. It's very rare though.
    – Joe C
    Sep 4, 2019 at 19:14
  • Why or How is the more important question I think.
    – Jontia
    Sep 4, 2019 at 20:21
  • Never attribute to malice, etc., but this could be an attempt at getting a poison pill into the NoNoDeal bill. Sep 4, 2019 at 20:37
  • 4
    As entertaining as the Brexit soap opera has been, I'm beginning to think the writers are running out of ideas.
    – Kevin
    Sep 4, 2019 at 21:01
  • More explanation: newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2019/09/… Sep 4, 2019 at 21:39

1 Answer 1


To give some background as to the how and why of this question, the answer lies as always in Erskine May, the "most authoritative and influential work on parliamentary procedure and constitutional conventions affecting Parliament". Paragraph 20.62 states:

On a division being called, the Speaker or the committee Chair, as the case may be, gives the order ‘clear the lobby,’ the tellers' doors in both lobbies are locked, and the division bells are rung. After not more than two minutes from this direction, the Speaker or Chair again puts the question, and the ayes and noes must again declare themselves. If their opinion is again challenged, the Speaker or Chair directs the ayes to go into the lobby on the right, and the noes into the lobby on the left, and then appoints two tellers for each side of the question.

In practice, at the second time of asking, the only MPs who respond to the question being put are the government and opposition tellers in order to facilitate the voting process, as they can then be quickly formally assigned to their roles by the Speaker and move to their respective lobbies.

In a strictly technical sense, then, the issue was not that tellers were not put forward, but that no opposition to the amendment was put forward at this second time of asking, forcing the Speaker to amend the bill without a vote.

Technicalities aside, as far as historical precedent goes, this is an uncommon, but not a particularly rare occurrence. One example which made the news at the time was the division called to empower the Speaker to suspend the then backbencher, now shadow Chancellor John McDonnell from the house when he grabbed the ceremonial mace from the centre of the chamber in protest against the construction of a third runway at Heathrow. The initial response to the question was divided enough for the Speaker to call for a formal division, but at the second time of asking, no tellers were provided for the No lobby. The record of the debate in Hansard states:

John McDonnell, Member for Hayes and Harlington, having conducted himself in a grossly disorderly manner, was named by the Deputy Speaker.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 44), That John McDonnell be suspended from the service of the House.—(Ian Lucas.)

A Division was called, but no Members being appointed Tellers for the Noes, the Deputy Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Indeed, if we search through Hansard using this search term, we come across at least 80 occasions where this has taken place, 3 since 2015.

It should also be noted, that this is not an exhaustive list - the example in the question has no such note attached to the division.

In conclusion, this is a peculiarity of the British parliamentary system, that, while uncommon, is not unheard of. The importance of the amendment in the OP and the corresponding scrutiny of the debate in the press has, however, led to this procedure being brought to the fore.

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