Legislation at Westminster: Parliamentary actors and influence in the making of British law

Published date01 March 2018
AuthorOlivier Rozenberg
Date01 March 2018
Legislation at Westminster: Parliamentary actors
and influence in the making of British law
Meg Russell | Daniel Gover
Oxford University Press, 2017, 336 pp., £50 (hb), ISBN: 9780198753827
Meg Russell and Daniel Gover ask an apparently straightforward question: Does the British Parliament influence
public policies?They also offer an equally straightforward answer: yes. This question is understudied and their
answer comes as a surprise, especially as the consensus view that the Westminster Parliament is weak and as study-
ing legislative influence is empirically challenging. The authors challenge the existing literature in two ways: one
relates to their focus and the other to their strong conclusions. They consider what specialists usually neglect
including many legislative studies scholars. And their conclusions contradict the conventional viewincluding the
opinions held by most MPs.
At a time when big data and sophisticated statistical analysis tend to dominate legislative studies and public pol-
icy analysis, this book challenges such methodological choices: studying complex games of influence requires limit-
ing the sample, going deep into the cases and treating legislative amendments through human analysis. Accordingly,
the authors have developed an original methodology in order to closely analyse 12 Bills passed in Parliament from
2005 to 2012. The period covers both a Labour single-party government and a Conservative-led coalition. Mixed
methods were used to analyse these cases. First, 4,400 amendments were considered in order to assess their level
of similarity and to trace which actor was the first to propose them. The notion of legislative strands, which con-
sists in grouping together amendments sharing a similar policy end, is central to the analysis and seems especially
well suited for the nested games of parliamentary politics within which actor B may avoid signalling actor A's influ-
ence over her by making A's view her own. Second, 120 interviews were conducted with a variety of actors, includ-
ing government officials. The latter is particularly important given the research question, but is rarely practised
among scholars of legislative politics. Interestingly, the authors note that those senior civil servants who have to
deal with Westminster on a daily basis are keener to acknowledge the influence of Parliament than MPs or clerks.
The survey results are clear: Bills are modified when passed in Westminster and those modifications are
imposed on the Cabinet by backbenchers and opposition MPs. In the 12 laws, 300 legislative strands can be distin-
guished when analysing the 750 passed amendments (out of the 4,400 proposed amendments). Although regretta-
bly the authors do not illustrate which share of the final law can be traced back to the legislative stages, the book
suggests that about half of the successful legislative strands emerge from Parliament and the other half from gov-
ernment. This distribution also holds when technical amendments are excluded. Many successful legislative strands
originate from the opposition. This might be a surprising finding. However, it can be explained by the fact that MPs
from the majority party usually contribute by playing an early and indirect role, for example, by placing issues on the
agenda or contributing when consultations are launched. In addition, opposition MPs usually exploit divisions within
the governing party by proposing amendments that are likely to find support among MPs from the governing
More generally, the authors distinguish six faces of parliamentary power. Beyond responding to an amendment,
there are many ways in which a government can consider Westminster's views: going from the partly unconscious
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12395
236 © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/padm Public Administration. 2018;96:236237.

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