The New Zealand Parliament has a long history of MPs casting their votes along party lines. On some issues parties do not agree on a single party view, and instead members of those parties cast their votes independently. This is often referred to as a “conscience vote”. Issues that have been treated as conscience issues include liquor licensing and gambling. The most recent conscience (personal) votes occurred at the beginning of the committee of the whole House stage of the Alcohol Reform Bill. Consideration of that bill in committee is scheduled to continue on 23 October 2012.
Questions put to the House can be determined by way of a “voice vote”, a “party vote”, or a “personal vote”. In a voice vote, members are asked to express their opinion by responding “Aye” or “No” when asked by the Speaker for their view. The Speaker then decides which side is in the majority. This decision is not based on the volume of the voices so much as on the Speaker’s sense of how the votes fell (usually, the assumption is that the Government is in the majority). If any of the members declared as being in the minority in a voice vote disagree with the declared result, they may call for a further vote to be held. This results in either a party vote or a personal vote in which the voting is recorded in written form.
In a party vote, the numbers from each party are counted as a block. Individuals can, however, vote differently from their party if they wish. Those individuals are then counted separately. Alternatively, members of a party can all decide to vote differently from one another. In such a case, that party specifies how many of its members are voting for the motion, how many are voting against it, and how many are abstaining from voting on it. This is called a “split party” vote. If only one or two parties wish to exercise a “conscience vote”, this may therefore occur through a split party vote.
Most votes are party votes, but in some circumstances the Speaker permits a personal vote to be held. This is usually on conscience issues. In a personal vote, members are counted individually; those voting “Aye” go out the door on the right-hand side of the Speaker and assemble in the Ayes Lobby to record their votes, and those voting “No” go out the left-hand door to the Noes Lobby. Those abstaining go to the Clerk at the Table in front of the Speaker.
The lobbies are locked during personal votes, and all members locked in have to cast a vote or abstain. The Speaker’s vote is generally cast as a proxy vote when a personal vote takes place.