Conscience Vote Issue Ties MPs Up In Knots

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 — 10:19 PM

Parliament tied itself up in procedural knots tonight over whether there should be a conscience vote over a gambling bill.

The Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill first reading was proceeding with most parties indicating support, when Labour’s Trevor Mallard suggested prior to the end of debate that individual MPs should cast conscience votes on the issue, instead of a party vote.

He, with support from Winston Peters, argued that the bill was one of the “moral’’ or “sin’’ issues where individual MPs votes should be recorded.

The bill is part of National’s supply and confidence agreement with the Maori Party in which they have agreed to support to at least select committee consideration.

Deputy Speaker Lindsay Tisch said that the issue of conscience votes were usually discussed and agreed upon by the Business Committee and then if need be ruled upon by the Speaker.

A long debate over the issue showed that while most parties supported the bill going to select committee, some MPs were concerned that a precedent might be set around deciding what would be covered by a conscience vote and what would not be.

National Senior Whip Michael Woodhouse pointed out that if parties had wanted the issue dealt with as a conscience vote they could have raised the issue with the Business Committee anytime in the last few weeks as the bill awaited consideration.

Clearly no party had been prepared for casting individual votes on the issue as speakers indicated that no proxies had been arranged, and it appeared from debate that no party had organized a split vote (this is where MPs within a party vote for and against a bill, but it is still recorded in the party voting system).

Tisch ruled that if any one called for a personal vote, then one would be held.

This happened and as the proceedings in the House stretched past the usual 10pm closing time. The vote for the bill to proceed to the Commerce Committee for consideration was 83 to 7 in favour.

Earlier in the evening the Fair Trading (Soliciting on Behalf of Charities) Amendment Bill completed its committee stage on a voice vote.
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