Voting and decisions on TheyWorkForYou

Representatives in the UK's Parliaments and Assemblies do many things, but one of the most important is that they make decisions. These decisions shape the laws that govern us, and can affect every aspect of how we live our lives. One of the ways representatives make decisions is by voting.

On TheyWorkForYou, we list and display the individual votes of representatives, and for the UK House of Commons, we also create voting summaries that group a set of decisions together — and indicate how an MP has generally voted on a set of related votes.

This page covers:

  • Understanding votes - What you need to understand the basics of voting in the UK's Parliaments and Assemblies
  • Information we publish - Background on the information we publish on TheyWorkForYou to make voting information more accessible.

Understanding votes

Motions, debates, and votes

In most Parliamentary debates, there will be a motion, which is a statement or instruction for the chamber to consider and approve. There will be a debate on this motion, and then there will be a decision or vote.

In reality, the debate and the vote are not cleanly connected. Because many more representatives will vote than take part in the debate, a vote's success depends more on the breakdown of party power in the chamber rather than arguments made in the debate.

But they are not completely separate either: arguments made in debates may reveal tensions or problems that lead to changes to draft legislation (“amendments”) being supported, or amendments may be withdrawn and then re-introduced quietly at a later stage ( in the UK Parliament, similar amendments can appear when draft legislation gets to the House of Lords). Parliamentary debates are a bit like the top of an iceberg, reflecting a range of conversations and compromises made behind the scenes.

There are several different kinds of motions. Some motions direct the use of the powers Parliament has as a policy-making and policy-checking institution. These powers include legislation, which is the ability to create and change laws, and scrutiny, which is the ability to check the work of the government (for instance, requiring documents to be produced).

In addition to these kinds of motions, many motions are about Parliament’s internal rules on how those powers can be used. Motions about how the parliamentary timetable is allocated, for example, can in turn shape the outward-facing decisions that are made.

Some motions are best seen as attempts to have the chamber make a collective statement, rather than to take an action. Sometimes when one of these motions is proposed by the opposition, the government will abstain from these votes (meaning the motion is passed) to avoid MPs being seen to either endorse or oppose a position.

Just because a vote does nothing directly does not mean it is inherently unimportant. Some votes in substance do nothing, but in principle are politically impactful. An example of these are votes on military action. Parliament formally has no role in approving military action, and so motions talk about 'supporting' the government’s action. In practice, not having parliamentary support for action has meant that military action is then not taken.

All votes reflect a disagreement among MPs, where MPs and parties are trying to signal their views and principles to their supporters, the general public, or the international community. Some of the most politically consequential votes often have very little practical impact, but they are valuable as concrete markers of where political attitudes were at a given time.

Party and individual responsibility for decisions

In the UK, there is a mixture of individual and party responsibility for how representatives vote. Parties will usually instruct representatives how to vote (“the whip”), and representatives will usually follow these instructions. These instructions are not made public in a formal manner, but are often communicated to the press and public through informal channels.

Parties don’t always give instructions (a “free vote”), and MPs sometimes don’t follow the instructions (a “rebellion”). In general, parties don’t want to have rebellions, and MPs don’t want to rebel. Behind the scenes there may be negotiations to resolve arguments to avoid public appearances of disagreement within the party.

MPs cannot be fired from their job as MPs by their parties, but can be disciplined through closing access to positions and opportunities that the party controls (meaning, for example, that an MP may lose their position as a Minister, but is still the MP for their constituency). Parties can in extreme cases expel MPs from the party (‘losing the whip’), meaning they continue to be an independent MP, but are unlikely to retain their seat in the next election.

There are different schools of thought on what the balance should be between parties and MPs. MPs are elected as individuals, but usually as part of a party with manifesto promises. There are democratic arguments that parties should enforce discipline to fulfil their promises, but also that MPs are the ones who ultimately have to make the vote, and they should be satisfied with the process that led to that vote.

In our voting summaries we try to illustrate this mix of factors. In the long run, we want the voting instructions parties give to be public to make this balance more transparent.

Ultimately, a vote might not represent an MP’s personal opinion, but it does represent their impact in the political process. We track and highlight the votes of individual MPs because they are the ones who have been given the power to make those decisions. Even where a voting record does not differ much from the party, it reflects the consequences of electing someone from that party, rather than another.

Agreements and divisions

Sometimes when it’s time for a decision on a motion, there is no (or small) vocal opposition, and the motion is seen as having been agreed collectively without MPs individually voting for or against. In TheyWorkForYou, we call these types of decisions ‘agreements’ (as opposed to ‘divisions’). Within Parliament these are sometimes described as decisions made “on the nod”.

These kinds of decisions happen frequently: large amounts of secondary legislation (where ministers have been empowered to draft sections of laws) are approved without a division. An example of this is the 2019 resolution to adopt a zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050. Many users contacted us to ask how their MP had voted on this resolution — and we couldn’t tell them the answer, because there is no record of which MPs agreed with such decisions.

Agreements can be difficult to interpret: because something was collectively agreed without significant opposition does not mean that all individuals agreed. Decisions without a vote can also reflect the fact that the government should always have the numbers to win a vote (because as the Government, they by default should have the largest number of MPs), and so forcing a division to happen has little effect on the outcome. In some cases, it will be politically useful to have that division on the record, to see how individual MPs voted. In other cases the Opposition may be against the decision, but on balance, decide not to spend time ineffectually voting against it (a division takes around 15 minutes).

Agreements are not highlighted on the recent votes page because we do not currently have structured data for this type of decision. They can often (but not always) be identified by a search for ‘question put and agreed to’. We are experimenting with including agreements as part of our voting summaries.

How representatives vote

The Senedd (Welsh Parliament) and Scottish Parliament use electronic voting — representatives can vote from buttons on their desk. Votes are generally (but not entirely) deferred to a Decision/Voting time where many votes are held in sequence. In the UK Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, representatives vote by entering “division lobbies” (rooms connected to the debating chambers), where they are counted. Division bells (and now apps) are used to notify representatives elsewhere in the building (or nearby) that a division is being held.

A representative of both sides (a “teller”) is present in each lobby to monitor the count. Technically, tellers do not count towards the overall total, but we tend to count tellers as if they were voting for the purposes of individual voting records, as their role as tellers usually indicates their voting preference.

In general, we think it should be easier for MPs to vote. Our view is that when MPs vote, we want processes that create transparency on the votes of individuals, that help create an effective working culture, and are sensitive to the circumstances of representatives’ lives around areas such as long term sickness or parental leave.


MPs may be absent from a specific vote for many different reasons. Except where there is a narrow majority (or a minority) government, the outcome of a particular vote is generally predetermined by the government having more MPs than the opposition. As such, formal and informal mechanisms exist so that MPs can do other useful things with their time, resulting in fewer MPs voting: in practice the outcome is the same as if everyone was present.

The party managers (or ‘Whips’) collectively deal with absences by giving MPs permission to be absent, and ‘pairing’ them with someone from the other side — so while these MPs don’t vote, their absence has no effect on the result. However, this informal mechanism is not a right - and denying requests for absence (‘slips’) can be used as a form of punishment for MPs who have rebelled in other votes or are otherwise out of favour.

MPs may also be absent for longer periods during parental leave or sickness. Greater availability of ‘proxy voting’, where an MP's vote can be cast by another MP, has reduced (if not entirely solved) the problem of periods of absence in voting records that the previous informal mechanisms had created.

But MPs may also be absent deliberately as a political decision. When party instructions are to attend and vote, not attending may be a lighter form of rebellion. In the absence of information about those party instructions (and allowed absences), we cannot determine the exact meaning of a particular absence. In our voting summaries, we do not count absences because we cannot be clear on how they should be interpreted — and especially historically, long absences may reflect a period of illness or maternity leave.

Chambers using electronic voting give MPs an option to abstain on a vote (they can register that they were present without taking a side). For chambers using division lobbies, MPs can ‘abstain’ by walking through both voting lobbies.

We are in favour of MPs being given greater personal discretion for use of proxy votes — removing the arbitrary nature of slips, and giving MPs a chance to register their vote even when personal circumstance means they cannot be present.

Some MPs never vote - Speakers and the three Deputy Speakers do not, unless a deciding vote is needed. Convention here is that when they do, they vote to leave things as they are - this ensures that change only happens when there is a majority. This group is collectively balanced by party, and so their absence does not affect decisions in most cases.

Information we publish

Individual votes

Our Recent Votes page always shows the 30 most recent votes that have taken place in the House of Commons, House of Lords, Public Bill Committees, Senedd, and the Scottish Parliament. This can be narrowed down to just one of these institutions through the link in the right sidebar.

These votes link to the debates they were part of, and a graphic that shows the party breakdown.

Example division: UK Withdrawal from the European Union — Leaving Without an Agreement

By default for House of Commons votes, we use the description drafted by the House of Commons votes team, but we sometimes adjust this to plain English description for more significant votes (especially when the content of the vote may not be clear from the title).

What votes are about can be contested, with different sides often using different terms for the same issue to present it in positive or negative ways, eg “bedroom tax” vs “under occupancy charge”. We want to strike a balance between providing a factual and neutral description, and helping people find a vote with the name they may have seen in the press or online. For instance:

“[This MP] voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the "bedroom tax")”

Votes generally appear on TheyWorkForYou by around 9:00 am the next day. If you need the information earlier than this, the House of Commons voting app updates the night before (there are sometimes small differences between this and the final voting list).

  • If you know the date of the vote, you can locate it by defining the date in Advanced Search. This approach also allows you to add keywords or the name of someone who spoke in the debate.
  • If you have a quote from the debate that the vote was part of, you can search for that (in quotation marks if you know it’s the precise wording).

If you know your MP voted (or you want to see how they voted) you can visit their page and check the ‘recent votes’ tab. For older votes, you may also check the policies in your MP’s ‘voting record’ tab - but this does not cover all votes, just those that contribute to each policy.

Voting summaries

For UK Parliament MPs we produce a summary of their stances on important policy areas.

For each policy, we compile a list of votes that are relevant to that area — and whether the vote was aligned with, or went against, the policy.

Example MP: Dianne Abbott

Within our system, votes can be “scoring votes”, meaning they contribute to the overall description of how MPs vote, or “informative votes”, meaning they are present in the “more votes” tab, but do not affect the top level description of the vote. Informative votes will be votes that are logically associated with a policy - but for various reasons do not meet our criteria to contribute to the top line summary. This is usually because the vote is only tangentially related to the policy, or it is not a “doing something” vote, and so we don’t want to present it as equivalent to a vote that has a bigger impact.

For votes that we've decided are "scoring votes" for that policy, we create a number between 0 and 100 - reflecting how much an MP has voted in line with that policy. We use this to calculate a top line summary (“consistently voted against”, etc) for each policy as follows:

  • 0 to 5 - consistently voted for
  • 5 to 15 - almost always voted for
  • 15 to 40 - generally voted for
  • 40 to 60 - voted a mixture of for and against
  • 60 to 85 - generally voted against
  • 85 to 95 - almost always voted against
  • 95 to 100 - consistently voted against

If you click ‘show votes’ beside any policy on a representative’s voting records page, you’ll see a list of votes and agreements, and how that MP voted on the votes that add up to the overall scores.

From here you can also click through to see the debate the vote was originally part of.

What kind of votes are included in TheyWorkForYou's policies

When we’re looking to include new votes in policies, we look for votes that reflect the following:

  • Votes using the powers of Parliament
  • Cohesion (we include votes that are mostly, if not completely, about the specific policy)
  • Uniqueness (limited overlap in scoring votes between different policies - we don’t want headline summaries that seem independent, when actually they’re mostly made up of the same votes )
  • Noteworthiness

The goal of these principles is to create policies where the top level summary is a good guide to the votes it summarises. When votes fulfil some but not all of these criteria, we may include them as informative votes. Including a vote as a scoring vote in one policy, and an informative one in another, is a way of drawing a connection between the two policies without implying the vote is equally important to both.

In practice, these principles have to be flexible to the reality of the parliamentary process. Big pieces of legislation often combine many different changes — but big votes approving the legislation are so central they can’t be ignored. On the other hand, votes on the government agenda (“King's speech”) similarly cover a range of policies, but can be fairly included as an informative vote.

Votes “using the power of Parliament” are broadly “votes that do things” — where this might be moving between stages of the legislative process, amendments to legislation, requests for documents, approving recommendations, allocating the timetable for a debate, etc. Votes that “don’t do things” will generally start “This house believes/regrets/welcomes/is concerned” etc. This is a flexible category, and as discussed above, votes on military action effectively count, even if they don’t reflect this through the strict wording.

We don’t believe that only “votes that do things” are important — but they are easier to summarise because the impact is clearer. Non-action votes can be very politically important, but in a way that is hard to easily sum up as being for or against something.

Our priority in these summaries is creating top-level descriptions that are mostly accurate to the overall contents of the policy. We do not want to mix action and non-action in a single policy because that makes it harder to draft a single top-level description. In principle, we might construct policies entirely of non-action votes where this is noteworthy, and where we can write a clear description.

This is a change to how we included votes prior to 2024, and we have imposed a retrospective rule to downgrade votes not using the powers of Parliament to informative votes within policies.

Comparison to parties

Because the instructions that parties give (“the Whip”) are not public, we cannot show what the instruction or strength of the instruction was.

As a substitute, we use the average vote of a party's MPs to work out what the instructions probably were. For each MP we calculate the score for a policy of the average MP of the same party on the same votes that they could participate in. The difference between the two scores helps us highlight where an MP consistently diverges from their party. Generally, this highlights rebellions well, but when many MPs rebel it has the effect of making the rebellion seem less extreme by moving what the average position is.

This is not ideal, but is what is possible with the data available. In 2021, our polling found that 60% of UK adults agreed that the instructions parties give should be public. Doing this would help make how Parliament functions more transparent and accessible - and improve analysis and public education about how it works.

Example MP: Dianne Abbott

Decisions which are agreed without a vote (agreements)

Where decisions are agreed without a vote, there is no data to add to a representative's voting record. As discussed above, this will sometimes mean there is universal agreement, but may also represent practical decisions to not force votes when the result is predictable.

Our focus on action votes means there is a case for including agreements. This way of making decisions is part of the impact of an MP during their time in Parliament.

We are experimenting with including agreements in a small number of policies. For the moment, scoring agreements are counted the same as scoring votes, and are applied to all MPs who were MPs during the time the decision was made. We are being conservative in how we apply this approach, and will review feedback. An example can be seen in the' action on climate change' section of MPs' voting records, where we have included the approval of the 2050 net zero target.

Votes are not opinions, but they matter

One complaint made about voting records is that they suggest MPs personally agree with what they are voting for. In practice, MPs may be willing to vote for issues they disagree with in the interests of being a team player who can advance and be in a position to make more decisions. MPs can see voting, the area of their work the party tries to control the most, as an unfair thing to be personally judged on, compared to the more individual interests and work they spend much of their time on.

Our focus on “votes that do things” is about being clear why we think it is important to track and highlight voting records. These are votes that matter, and change how the country works.

If MPs disagree with how they are voting, but do so anyway, from an impact point of view, it’s not interesting information. Votes cast with reluctance and votes cast with vigour are counted exactly the same in the voting lobbies, and so exactly the same on TheyWorkForYou. If MPs are elected as members of a party, and follow the party line, it is reasonable for a summary of “the impact of your local MP” to reflect what the impact of electing a member of that party has been.

We do want to draw attention to the other aspects of an MP's job — and the debates they choose to speak in can be a better guide to their personal interests. You can subscribe to your MP's speeches on their profile page, and we'll send you an email when they speak.

Data sourcing and our non-partisan stance

The voting data on the site comes from a combination of official data from the different Parliaments and Assemblies, and our own framing and grouping of votes.

Each morning, our system fetches the new data from the day before (plus any corrections to previous data that Parliament may have put out) and organises it to publish out onto TheyWorkForYou.

Describing votes clearly, and deciding which votes to group, involves an element of interpretation. Through our editorial policy (as described above) we strive to produce accessible and accurate information — that adheres to a non-partisan stance. While we have views about how UK Parliaments could function better, we are a non-partisan charity and cannot promote a particular party through our services. We aim to work with politicians and individuals of all political persuasions towards common goals of transparency, public understanding, accountability, and effective governance.


If you’ve read this far and still have a question that is unanswered (or see an error on TheyWorkForYou), please do let us know at

Suggesting votes for inclusion in voting records

We have a form you can fill out (also linked to on each ‘more votes’ page) - to suggest new votes for inclusion, or highlight problems with current votes included in a policy.

Photography credits

MP speaking at Theresa May's last Prime Minister's Questions, 24 July 2019, CC-BY-NC, Copyright UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor. Close up of one of the dials on the clock mechanism, CC-BY-NC, Copyright UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor.