House of Commons Library

Free votes in the House of Commons since 1997

Published Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A list of known free (not whipped) votes in the House of Commons since 1997.

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What is a free vote?

The majority of Government business in Parliament is whipped. The primary role of the Whips Office is to get the Government’s business through Parliament and to secure the Government’s majority in votes on its legislative and policy programme. A free vote in Parliament is one in which MPs or members of the Lords are not put under any pressure as to which way to vote by their Party's Whips.

Are free votes officially recorded?

No. There is no definitive list of free votes, and they are often held without any formal announcement. In response to a request in 2013 for a list of Government Bills subject to a free vote, the Leader of the House responded: “Whipping is a matter for individual parties and not a matter that the Government can comment on.” [HC Deb 15 Jan 2013 c685W]

This list attempts to identify divisions in the House of Commons where all the main parties have allowed their MPs a free vote. Occasions, such as the vote on Heathrow expansion in June 2018, where individual parties have allowed their members a free vote are not recorded.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish definitively between whipped and genuinely free votes. The weekly whip sent to Members of Parliament is a confidential document and it is therefore not possible to identify whether every vote is whipped or not. However, Parties often let it be known when they are giving Members a free vote. Free votes reported in this note have been identified from ministerial comments or were reported as such in the media.

Feedback

Please send any comments or corrections to the lists to: Parliamentary Information Lists Editor, Parliament & Constitution Centre, House of Commons, London SW1A OAA. Suggestions for new lists welcomed.

Commons Briefing papers SN04793

Author: Sarah Priddy

Topics: House of Commons, Legislative process

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