An Elaborate Rubber Stamp? The Impact of Parliament on Legislation
April 2011 - May 2013
Conventional wisdom holds that the British parliament is a
relatively non-influential, and perhaps even peripheral, institution with
respect to policy. The House of Commons in particular is widely criticised,
being described in the media as ‘a legislature on its knees’ or ‘an elaborate
rubber-stamp’. It might be expected that such widespread criticism would be based
on clear and incontrovertible evidence. But in fact there is remarkably little
evidence, and remarkably little study, on parliament’s policy influence. Our research assesses whether this picture is accurate by taking a closer look at the passage of bills through the Commons and the Lords.
The project will involve detailed tracking of all amendments to 10 case study bills in the 2005 and 2010 parliaments including identifying ‘policy strands’: amendments at different legislative stages which concentrate on the same issue. This will allow us to track influence between party groups and between chambers. This analysis, collectively covering thousands of amendments, will enable us to quantify the visible influence of different actors in the process, and connections between them.
This detailed amendment analysis will be complemented by interviews with key actors involved in each bill, drawn from both chambers, from government and outside groups. Interviews will be used to verify conclusions from the quantitative analysis, and to collect evidence of less visible behind-the-scenes influence and relationships. This includes the power of ‘anticipated reactions’, in terms of government tailoring its policy in order to avoid parliamentary dissent.
The current Nuffield-funded project builds on a smaller pilot project examining the impact of parliament (both Commons and Lords) on legislation. This traced all amendments to the Identity Cards Bill 2005-06 to determine their ultimate success, including picking up subtle forms of influence such as where the government moves amendments in response to backbench and opposition concerns. See paper Bicameral Parliamentary Scrutiny of Government Bills: A Case Study of the Identity Cards Bill.
All of the additional case studies for the 2005 parliament have been chosen and mostly completed. The bills are:
- Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill 2006-07
- Health Bill 2005-06
- Further Education and Training Bill 2006-07
- Employment Bill 2007-08
- Saving Gateway Accounts Bill 2008-09
- Energy Bill 2009-10
A number of the case studies for the 2010 parliament have also been selected and are in progress or have been completed.
- Identity Documents Bill 2010
- Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill 2010
- Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill 2010
- Public Bodies Bill 2010
- Welfare Reform Bill 2011
If you have any information about the selected bills which you think might be relevant to our study, or if you would like to get involved in the work, please contact Daniel Gover (email@example.com) or Kristina Wollter (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- This project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and runs from April 2011 to May 2013.
- This project is headed by Dr Meg Russell, with Daniel Gover and Kristina Wollter as research assistants.
The first outputs from the project will be two conference papers in the first half of 2012, both on the 2005 parliament. Further outputs, on the 2010 parliament, and comparing the 2005 and 2010 parliaments, will follow later in the project. Please refer to the outputs tab of the Policy Impact of Parliament webpage for articles produced prior to the start of this project.
62nd Political Studies Association Annual International Conference, In Defence of Politics, Belfast, 3 - 5 April 2012
Participating in ‘Parliaments and Legislatures Specialist Group Panel 1’ (11 am, Wednesday 4 April) with ‘A Parliament That Bows and Scrapes'?: The Westminster Parliament's Impact on Government Legislation 2005-2010’.
The Inaugural General Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Parliaments, Dublin, June 24-27th 2012
Meg Russell has organised a panel, where the project team will present a paper entitled ‘A Measurable Difference: Assessing the Westminster Parliament’s Impact on Government Legislation 2005-2010’. Other participants in the panel will be Professor Philip Cowley (Nottingham University), Professor Thomas Saalfeld (University of Bamberg) and Louise Thompson (University of Hull).