Pair (parliamentary convention)
Pairing is a system whereby two members of parliament from opposing political parties may agree to abstain where one member is unable to vote, due to other commitments, illness, travel problems, etc. A party whip will usually allow this only for non-critical votes, often referred to as two-line whips.
The 1926 Canadian Election was called when Arthur Meighen's three-day old Conservative government was defeated 96-95, when an opposition MP who was paired with an absent Tory voted against the government on a motion of confidence.
According to Professor Ned Franks, "Immediately after the vote, at the same sitting and while everyone was still reeling in shock, surprise, delight or whatever, depending on party, an opposition member asked if his vote could be withdrawn because he had forgotten that he was paired and he shouldn't have voted. The Speaker refused this request, saying that the vote had already been recorded and couldn't be changed. What was written was written."
Famously, the government of James Callaghan fell by one vote, partially due to Labour deputy whip Walter Harrison suspending the unspoken obligation of his Conservative counterpart Bernard Weatherill to pair for the terminally ill Labour backbencher Sir Alfred Broughton after Weatherill was unable to find an MP in his party willing to pair on such an important vote. Pairing in the British House of Commons was suspended by a decision of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Chief Whips, Donald Dewar and Archy Kirkwood on 17 December 1996, following an incident when they claimed to find the Conservative government cheating in a vote by pairing the same three Conservative MPs with three absent Labour MPs as well as three absent Liberal Democrat MPs. The decision came into effect on 13 January 1997. It is not clear how long this protest lasted. In the 1997 general election, Labour were elected with a huge majority. Pairing is currently practiced by all three of the major parties in the British House of Commons, but only for votes that aren’t of great importance (one or two line whips).
In the United States Senate and House of Representatives, a live pair is an informal voluntary agreement between Members, not specifically authorized or recognized by House or Senate rules. Live pairs are agreements which Members employ to nullify the effect of absences on the outcome of recorded votes. If a Member expects to be absent for a vote, he or she may "pair off" with another Member who will be present and who would vote on the other side of the question, but who agrees not to vote. The Member in attendance states that he or she has a live pair, announces how each of the paired Members would have voted, and then votes "present." In this way, the other Member can be absent without affecting the outcome of the vote. Because pairs are informal and unofficial arrangements, they are not counted in vote totals; however paired Members' positions do appear in the Congressional Record.
- "Speaker casts first-of-its-kind tiebreaker vote". CTV News. 19 May 2005.
- Bevins, Anthony; Brown, Colin (18 December 1996). "Now they're getting dirty". The Independent.
- "Pairing". BBC News. BBC. 16 October 2008. Retrieved 14 December 2013.