Research shows governments now less accountable

2020-10-08 13:36:00 +0100

Research out today suggests that governments of the twenty-first century have become increasingly less accountable to parliament and the electorate.

The research has been published at a time when many MPs have become increasingly concerned that the government is pushing through Covid-related legislation without proper scrutiny. In the Lords, members are now debating legislation on Covid that has been in place for six months.

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Using data analysis of debates and votes in the House of Commons since 2001, the cross-party think-tank Compassion in Politics found that there has been a reduction in the number of times MPs are called upon to vote and a dramatic fall in the publication of legislation impact assessments.

The average number of parliamentary divisions per year has halved since 2001-2005. In that period MPs were called to vote, on average, 363 times per year. Since then the number of votes has fallen consistently, reaching 189 divisions per year in 2016-2019 [1].

Since 2011, the number of impact assessments published per year by the government has fallen by three-quarters. 664 such assessments were produced in 2011 but in 2019, following a year-on-year decrease, that figure had reached 164 [2]. 

Gabriel Moore, one of the researchers on the project, said:

“The statistical methods we used suggest that parliament has been increasingly sidelined from decision-making. While there may be certain context-specific reasons why in certain years the number of votes has been lower or the number of statutory instruments higher, the trend over the entire period has been towards less involvement from parliament and more direction from central government. The significant drop in impact assessments also means that MPs, press, and the public have had less information to use in examining, critiquing and questioning the policies being introduced.”

Baroness Warsi, Co-Chair of the All Party Group for Compassionate Politics, said:

“I know members of both houses and all parties who are concerned that the current government is refusing to subject its Covid plans to proper scrutiny. But as this important research shows - this is not a completely new phenomenon. Power has been centralised over the last couple of decades with the Lords and Commons reduced to rubber-stamps for government orders.

“Perhaps though, things will now begin to change. The extent to which policies have been rushed through - often with disastrous effects - in response to Covid has united politicians on all sides in their commitment to preserving our democracy. We will be working together to ensure that no new laws come into effect with the scrutiny they deserve and I will also be working with my colleagues in the APPG for Compassionate Politics to ensure that every government Covid-decision is made in consultation with an equalities assessment panel to ensure fair representation at the table when life and death decisions are being made.”

Debbie Abrahams, Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, said:

“Covid has exposed and exacerbated the inequalities in our society. This has happened not just because structural economic inequalities have left BAME communities, women, and disabled people more exposed to the virus - it is because politics simply does not represent them. But it’s also about inequalities in power.

“Through my work with the APPG for Compassionate Politics I want to bring an end to this; we need a truly inclusive and empowering democracy, bring new voices, views, and vision of those traditionally excluded from the decision-making process.”

Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics, said:

“Accountability is at the core of any democratic system and this research provides proof that it is being steadily eroded. At the very moment when Britain is facing three existential crises: Brexit, the climate crisis and a global pandemic we need more democratic decision making not less. We need open, honest, and transparent conversations about the difficult decisions that lie ahead not rule by diktat. If this trend continues the traditionally under-represented and under-heard will inevitably be left-behind by decision-makers who are willfully ignorant of their needs, views, and concerns. At a time like this justice, democracy, and fairness become more, not less, important.”




Divisions per year (average)













Number of impact assessments issued





















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