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Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart, "Sodomy, Slaughter, Sunday Shopping and Seatbelts: Free Votes in the House of Commons, 1979-1996," Party Politics, (January 1997), 119-130.

First Paragraph:
The cohesion of British parliamentary parties has decreased since the immediate post-war period, when Samuel Beer (rightly) declared that party cohesion 'was so close to 100 per cent that there was no longer any point in measuring it' (Beer, 1969: 350-1). Beginning around 1970, a significant behavioural change affected British MPs. They began to dissent from the party line more often and with more effect (Norton, 1975, 1980). However, cohesion remains high (Rose, 1983). The vast majority of whipped divisions still do not witness a single dissenting vote. Even when dissent does occur it is often very limited. 'The overall picture is one of relatively frequent but isolated and disparate rebellion' (Melhuish and Cowley, 1995: 60).

Figures and Tables:
Table 1: IPUs for selected free votes, 1979-95.
Table 2: Labour and Conservative divisions on free votes, 1979-96.
Table 3: IPUs for abortion votes, 1990.
Table 4: IPUs on Sunday trading votes, 1993.

Last Paragraph:
During the debate on hanging that took place in December 1990, one Conservative MP said: "...we [the supporters of capital punishment] should have waited for the next general election and an increased Conservative majority. We would then have got capital punishment through Parliament" (Hansard , 17 December 1990, c. 110). He was wrong on two counts. First, that there would be an increased Conservative majority after the election; and second, that even if there had been such a majority, the reintroduction of the death penalty would have occurred. Given the current split in Conservative voting, it would require 569 Conservative MPs - out of a Commons of 659 - to be elected for the death penalty to be reintroduced. However, his argument, albeit implicitly, contained the same argument that this report has been making. Conscience issues are not, as often described, non-party issues. They do not 'cut across party lines'. As we have shown, the dominant cleavage is that of party. These issues are more likely to cut down party lines that across them. It is, even on conscience issues, more likely that the majority of one of the major parties will be found in the 'aye' lobby facing the majority of the other in the 'noe' lobby. Similarly, it is rare to find one vote where both major parties are significantly split. Conscience issues may split some of the parties some of the time, but they do not split all of the parties all of the time. Thus British parliamentary parties are not artificial constructs, kept in line by nasty party managers. Divisions between the parties are born of genuine differences.