by Kevin Hague
In the wake of the parliamentary vote on alcohol purchase age there are some people (the ones I have seen are people who favoured 20) who are suggesting that the voting procedure used led to a perverse outcome.
I disagree completely. This is not a post about the merits or otherwise of the various options, but an argument that while the voting procedure was highly unusual, it produced a more democratic outcome than otherwise would have occurred, and should be considered more often.
So recall that in this case the option that was in the Bill was the split age option, but that there were proposed amendments both to retain a uniform age of 18, or to raise it to a uniform 20. The ordinary House process would have seen first a vote on 18. If that had passed then the 20 proposal would have been ruled out of order. If it had failed we would have voted on the 20 option. If that had failed then the split option would have remained in the Bill.
As it happens, because of the voting procedure that was used, we do know what MPs’ top preferences were. 50 favoured 18. 38 favoured 20. 33 favoured the split option. So 18 had the most support, but no option had a clear majority.
Under the traditional voting method, what would have happened is this: the proposal for 18 would be put and fail. We would then have moved on to the 20 proposal, and this also would fail. This would leave the split age in the Bill – the option that was actually the least favoured by MPs.
Instead first preferences were canvassed and the split age option, as the least favoured excluded. Then effectively those who had favoured the split age added their support to their second preference. Hence 68 votes for 18, 53 for 20.
The voting method used ensured that the result could command a majority in the House whereas the traditional method would not have done (except by excluding this whole part of the Bill I guess).