An Elaborate Rubber Stamp? The Impact of Parliament on Legislation
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 involves detailed tracking of all amendments to 12 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 allows us to track influence between party groups and between chambers. This analysis, collectively covering thousands of amendments, enables us to quantify the visible influence of different actors in the process, and connections between them.
This detailed amendment analysis is complemented by interviews with key actors involved in each bill, drawn from both chambers, from government and outside groups. Interviews are 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.
- This project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and runs from 2011 to 2015
- It is led by Professor Meg Russell, with Daniel Gover as research assistant.
- Kristina Wollter and Dr Meghan Benton previously worked as researchers on the project.
- Russell, M. & Gover, D. (2017) Legislation at Westminster: Parliamentary Actors and Influence in the Making of British Law, Oxford University Press.
- Russell, M. Gover, D. & Wollter, K. ‘Does the executive dominate the Westminster legislative process?: Six reasons for doubt’ Parliamentary Affairs
- Russell, M. Gover, D., Wollter, K. & Benton, M. ‘Actors, Motivations and Outcomes in the Legislative Process: Policy Influence at Westminster’ Government and Opposition
- Russell, M. & Cowley, P. 'The Policy Power of the Westminster Parliament: the 'parliamentary state' and the empirical evidence' Governance
- Russell, M. & Gover, D. (2014) 'Parliamentary Influence Beneath the Radar: Westminster Select Committees and the Legislative Process', 11th Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians, Wroxton College, Oxfordshire, 26-27 July 2014.
- Russell, M., Gover, D. & Wollter, K. (2013) 'An Elaborate Rubber Stamp?: Reassessing executive dominance of the Westminster legislative process', Political Studies Association annual conference, Cardiff, 25-27 March 2013.
- Russell, M., Benton, M., Gover, D. & Wollter, K. (2012) 'Measurable Difference: Assessing the Westminster Parliament’s Impact on Government Legislation, 2005-2010', European Consortium of Political Research parliaments and legislatures conference, Dublin, 24-27 June 2012.
- Russell, M., Benton, M., Gover, D. & Wollter, K. (2012) '"A Parliament That Bows and Scrapes"?: The Westminster parliament’s impact on government legislation 2005-2010', Political Studies Association annual conference, Belfast, 3-5 April 2012.
Please refer to the Policy Impact of Parliament webpage for articles produced prior to the start of this project.
- Case study bills
For this project we have studied 12 case study bills: seven from the 2005-10 parliament, and five from the first session of the 2010-15 parliament.
The bills from 2005-10 are:
- Identity Cards Bill 2005-06
- Health Bill 2005-06
- Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill 2006-07
- Further Education and Training Bill 2006-07
- Employment Bill 2007-08
- Saving Gateway Accounts Bill 2008-09
- Energy Bill 2009-10
The bills from 2010-12 are:
- Identity Documents Bill
- Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill
- Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill
- Public Bodies Bill
- Welfare Reform Bill
- Identity Cards Bill 2005-06
- Blog posts
Legislation at Westminster launch seminar: senior parliamentary figures discuss the impact of parliament on government bills
Friday, 24 November 2017
Meg Russell and Daniel Gover’s new book Legislation at Westminster challenges received wisdom about the UK parliament’s influence on legislation. In contrast to common portrayals of Westminster as having only weak policy influence, Russell and Gover present evidence demonstrating strong influence, exercised in a variety of subtle ways. The findings were discussed at a seminar […]
Wednesday, 23 August 2017
The Westminster parliament is famous throughout the world, but often presented as relatively non-influential when it comes to making the law. Meg Russell and Daniel Gover‘s new book Legislation at Westminster is the most detailed study of the British legislative process for over 40 years, and challenges these assumptions. Here the authors summarise their findings […]
Thursday, 24 March 2016
There is now a large body of academic research demonstrating that the Westminster parliament has considerable policy influence, yet claims that the UK has an executive-dominated political system persist. On 15 March Professor Meg Russell and Professor Philip Cowley, who between them have carried out much of the key research in this area, spoke at […]