Why Do People Bow When The Results Of Votes Are Announced In The Commons?

With all the drama in the Commons lately, there have been quite a few videos showing the moment when the results of key votes are announced to the House. They always show the same scene: four MPs line up in front of the Speaker and bow. The Speaker acknowledges their bow with a bow of his own, and the MPs advance again, bowing. Then, one of the MPs reads the result of the vote from a piece of paper before handing it to a clerk, who in turn presents it to the Speaker. The Speaker reads the result again and formally declares the outcome. The MPs bow once more before withdrawing to their seats.

This curious procedure is the result of the Commons’ unusual voting practices. Unlike their counterparts in the US Congress, MPs do not vote electronically. Instead, they register their decision by walking through either the Aye lobby or the No lobby (there are special arrangements for MPs who can’t physically enter a lobby). Within each lobby, there are two MPs who act as tellers and verify the count, assisted by clerks who mark down the names of the MPs who pass through. When the vote is over, the tellers present the results to the House in the little ceremony described above. By tradition, a teller for the winning side always reads the outcome.

Votes in the House of Lords are conducted in a similar fashion, though the tellers there are given little wands to use while counting peers. There’s also less repetition since the tellers don’t read the results to the House–they simply hand them to the Lord on the Woolsack, who makes the formal declaration.

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