Pair (parliamentary convention)

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In parliamentary practice, pairing is an informal arrangement between the government and opposition parties whereby a member of a House of Parliament agrees or is designated by the party whip to abstain from voting while a member of the other party needs to be absent from the House due to other commitments, illness, travel problems, etc. A pairing would usually be arranged or approved by the party whips and will usually not apply for critical votes, such as no-confidence votes.

The member abstaining from voting is referred to as a pair. In the United States, pairing is an informal arrangement between members and the pairs are called live pairs.

An alternative method of maintaining the relative voting positions of parties in a legislative body is proxy voting, which is used, for example, in New Zealand.[1]



In Australia, following the 2010 federal election, the Gillard Government formed a minority government with the support of a number of votes from minor parties and independents, and the Opposition refused to grant automatic pairing,[2][3] leading to some embarrassment and reversals for the opposition when, for example, a pair was initially not given for a member to care for her sick baby[4] or to attend at the birth of his baby.[5] The practice also extends to minor party legislators. In the case of Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, he was given a government pair when absent from the Senate in late 2016.[6]


The 1926 Canadian election was called when Arthur Meighen's three-day-old Conservative government was defeated 96–95 on a motion of confidence, when an opposition MP who was paired with an absent Tory voted against the government, later stating that he had forgotten that he was a pair.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, 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[clarification needed]. 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.[7] It is not clear how long this protest lasted. In the 1997 general election, Labour were elected with a huge majority. Pairing is currently practised by both major parties in the British House of Commons and the Liberal Democrats, but only for votes that are not of great importance (one or two line whips).[8][9]

United States[edit]

In the United States Senate and House of Representatives, pairing is referred to as a live pair, which is an informal voluntary agreement between members, not specifically authorized or recognized by House or Senate rules. Live pairs are agreements which members make 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.


  1. ^ New Zealand House of Representatives Standing Orders, sections 155-156.
  2. ^, 28 Sept 2010: Tony Abbott gets tough on pair for Julia Gillard
  3. ^ The Australian, 29 Sept 2010: Tony Abbott puts federal ministers under virtual house arrest
  4. ^ Michelle Rowland granted pair to care for sick baby
  5. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Sept 2011:Abbott agrees to pair for Thomson
  6. ^ "Greens senator Scott Ludlam takes leave to fight depression and anxiety". Fairfax Media. 4 November 2016. Senator Ludlam will be offered a "pair" in the Senate - by which a single vote is sacrificed on the opposing side of debates to cancel out his absence - as long as is required. 
  7. ^ Bevins, Anthony; Brown, Colin (18 December 1996). "Now they're getting dirty". The Independent. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Pairing". BBC News. BBC. 16 October 2008. Retrieved 14 December 2013.