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Pair (parliamentary convention)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In parliamentary practice, pairing is an informal arrangement between the government and opposition parties whereby a member of a legislative body agrees or is designated by the party whip to be absent from the chamber or abstain from voting while a member of the other party needs to be absent from the chamber due to other commitments, illness, travel problems, etc.

The member that needs to be absent from their chamber would normally consult with his or her party whip, who would arrange a pair with his counterpart in the other major party, who as a matter of courtesy would normally arrange for one of its members to act as the pair. A pairing would 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 not commonly used, but 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]

A pair has also been granted to minor party legislators. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, for example, was given a government pair when absent from the Senate in late 2016 because of mental health issues.[6]

The pairing system was abused in Victoria in March 2018 when the Labor Government granted pairs to two Opposition MPs in the upper house, but who then unexpectedly returned to the chamber, while the government pairs were absent, to vote down an important government bill.[7]


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. In 2005, Paul Martin's Liberal government faced a confidence vote. NDP MP Ed Broadbent, who planned to vote in support of the government, abstained from voting so that independent MP Chuck Cadman, who planned to vote against the government but was sick, could stay at home. The Liberals narrowly won the vote, with the Speaker breaking the tie.[8]


Pairing in the Swedish Riksdag is a voluntary agreement run by appointed members of most of the represented political parties, called Kvittningspersoner. The system is intended to enable MPs to abstain from votes for electorate events, study trips etc, without affecting the likely outcome of the vote.

United Kingdom

In 1976, the Conservatives broke off pairing after accusing the Labour whips of bringing in an MP who was supposed to have been paired off. Later in the Commons, Michael Heseltine removed the House of Commons mace and swung in the chamber, which led to the suspension the session and subsequently of pairing. The aftermath included Labour MP Shirley Williams being recalled from a visit to China moments after landing, turning around and getting back on to the plane. In 1979, 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.[9] 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).[10][11]

Trust in pairing was shaken again in the 2017 parliament. In June, Labour MP Naz Shah was controversially pushed through the lobby in a wheelchair, still under the impact of morphine, claiming that pairing was not offered, which was denied by the Conservative government. In July 2018, Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson was paired with Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis due to her being on maternity leave. Lewis missed the first seven votes of the session, but then voted with the government in two votes that were viewed as close, one of which was only won because four Labour members voted against the party. Conservative whip Julian Smith later admitted that Lewis had been asked to vote "in error" and Lewis apologised calling it an "honest mistake". Swinson, along with other MP's had been pressuring the government to allow MP's who were ill, recently bereaved or on maternity or paternity leave to vote "by proxy" (meaning they would be able to nominate someone to vote in their place), which would reduce the need for pairing. Calls for this to be approved gained strength in the immediate aftermath of the event.

United States

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.

An example of a live pair is the lack of vote by Steve Daines (R-MT) and Present vote of Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) during the final confirmation vote in the Senate of Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Daines was in attendance at his daughter's wedding in Montana at the time of the vote.[12]


  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. ^ Labor's fire service rejig goes pear-shaped after paired pair reappear
  8. ^
  9. ^ Bevins, Anthony; Brown, Colin (18 December 1996). "Now they're getting dirty". The Independent.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Pairing". BBC News. BBC. 16 October 2008. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  12. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 115th Congress - 2nd Session". U.S. Senate. U.S. Government Publishing Office. October 6, 2018. Retrieved October 6, 2018.
This page was last edited on 25 October 2019, at 21:55
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