10

"This House" features a scene where a vote in the Commons is practically tied, but then the Speaker decides that one of the parties' case is stronger and says that they win by 3/4 of a vote.

I've not found references (on Google & Wikipedia) to such a possible vote in the 70's, but perhaps I don't know the right keywords. Most of the contextual events in "This House" seem to be based in history, if chronologically re-arranged, so I would have thought that this vote also happened -- though it's difficult to track down.

Did this vote -- where the Speaker 'awarded' a 3/4 vote to one of the parties -- really happen, and, if so, why did he do that?

19

The part of the play which I believe you're referring to can be read here, and refers to the actions of Walter Harrison, then a government whip in a committee stage vote, not a vote in the main Commons chamber.

Serjeant

Please. Mr Speaker, there's been a difference of opinion regarding the votes on two bills at committee stage. Amendments to the Education Bill were being voted on in Committee Room 10, while amendments to the Finance Bill were being voted on in Committee Room 14. Mr Harrison here had been the pre-selected Whip present at both committees -

Harrison

Yes, right, I voted in 14 and then I ran down the corridor to 10 to vote there and -

Serjeant

Just as I was closing the door.

Atkins

Just as the doors were being closed, and locked, as is the custom -

Weatherill

As is the law. Committee room doors must be closed and locked during a vote and -

Atkins

And he didn't make it -

Harrison

And I did bloody make it!

Serjeant

A sizeable chunk of Mr Harrison did make it, Mr Speaker.

Cocks / Harrison

See.

Speaker

Si - a 'sizeable' chunk, you say? Which chunk?

Harrison

My whole body, both arms, and my left leg, but my right leg got caught in the door as he was closing it. Look, I've got a bruise and everything -

Atkins

And then he wouldn't leave so that the doors could be closed -

Harrison

Because I'd made it into the room. Look at that, see, purple, like a peach. Ouch.

Speaker

What was the vote without Mr Harrison?

Cocks / Serjeant

22 to 22.

Speaker

Serjeant, would you say that the overwhelming majority of Mr Harrison was inside the committee room?

Serjeant

Well. Uh, yes, I suppose I would, Mr Speaker.

Speaker

Very well, I declare the vote for the government, 22 to 22 and three quarters.

The committee stage is where changes to the text of a bill are made, and happens between the second and third readings of the bill being voted on in the main Chamber. This specific instance is described further in the obituary of Walter Harrison in the Telegraph:

One day in May 1968 he was whipping on two Committees at once when a vote was called on the Finance Bill. He arrived just as the door was closing, forced his way through and voted. When the Shadow Chancellor Iain Macleod challenged his vote, Harrison said he had been three-quarters in and had pulled his leg in after him. The chairman declared the vote carried by 22¾ to 22.

So this is a fairly accurate historical account. However, in reality, the Speaker was not involved, the person who made the decision was the chairman of the bill committee, and he did so not because he thought the government's political case was strongest, but because he thought that Harrison got the majority of his body through the door before it was locked.

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  • 1
    Thanks for the answer! Good detail and knowledge! I must have missed the "Committee" part in the play, so thanks for clearing that up as well. – gktscrk May 29 at 14:43
  • 1
    That is both awesome and so very British! – CGCampbell May 30 at 0:22

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