MPs’ parliamentary duties include activities such as asking questions to Government Ministers, taking part in debates and proposing bills with the hope of creating new laws.

Our new interactive dashboard uses data collected internally to show how active individual MPs have been in Parliament.

This Insight analyses the data to see if there are any patterns in the parliamentary activities of female and male, and government and opposition MPs. It uses averages per MP and the proportion of activities per group (gender and party). It covers data from the start of the current Parliament in December 2019 to the start of summer recess (22 July 2020).

A chart to show the proportion of MPs by gender and largest political parties.

A breakdown of roles

Female MPs are underrepresented in government positions; they hold 30.9% of government posts, compared with 42.7% of opposition positions (across all opposition parties). It is worth noting though that there are proportionally more women in opposition parties; 24% of Conservative MPs are women, compared with 51% of Labour MPs.

Women were slightly underrepresented on committees, especially as chairpersons. Out of the 622 committee roles included on the Committees API, 201 are held by female MPs (32.3%) and of the 47 committee chairs, 11 (23.4%) are women.

The proportion of male and female MPs with at least one role in an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) was similar, and they also held a similar number of positions on average (6.2 for women and 6.6 for men).

There was larger variation in APPG activity across parties: the 253 Conservative MPs involved with APPGs held 5.8 positions on average, compared with 7.2 among 177 Labour MPs. The Green Party’s MP had the highest average number (26) and the two MPs of the Social Democratic and Labour Party the lowest (1.5).

Who spoke the most words?

On average, male and female MPs each took part in 28 debates, but male MPs spoke 10,722 words while female MPs spoke 9,682. Possible explanations are that men are more likely to be older MPs and Ministers, and both these groups tend to speak more in the Chamber.   

The Conservatives were responsible for 56.4% of all words in the Commons, followed by Labour with 28.5% and the SNP with 8.5%. On average, Conservative MPs spoke 10,438 words and Labour MPs 9,314.

Who said what?

The word clouds below show the top 100 words used most frequently by Labour (red) and Conservative (blue) MPs (after removing short function words and ceremonial language like “the honourable Member”). Larger words were used more frequently.

The two clouds are similar, but there are differences in the frequency words were used, and some words appear in one cloud but not the other. The words ‘crisis’, ‘families’ and ‘covid’ only appear for Labour, and ‘opportunity’, ‘economy’ and ‘world’ for Conservatives.

A wordcloud to show word spoken by Labour and Conservative MPs

The clouds below show the top 100 words most frequently used by male (orange) and female (green) MPs. The differences here appear fewer than above, although ‘crisis’, ‘covid’ and ‘women’ do not appear in the men’s top 100, and ‘economy’ does not feature in the women’s. There are also differences in the frequency with which certain words are used (for example ‘children’).

A wordcloud to show words spoken by Male and Female MPs

Who took part in divisions?

Male and female MPs took part in roughly the same number of divisions, by voting aye or no, or being a teller who counts the votes of others.

Conservative MPs had the highest average participation rate (88.7%), followed by Plaid Cymru (84.9%). This compared with 77.2% for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and 70.5% for the SNP.

Who signed Early Day Motions (EDMs)?

MPs can sign EDMs (motions submitted for debate which have no fixed date), to show their support for particular causes. Some may not sign because of their position (including Ministers), and others because they disagree with the motion, or think it will not lead to further action.

There were 331 MPs who signed at least one EDM: 129 women (39.0%) and 202 men (61.0%). Most signatories (178) were from the Labour Party (88.1% of Labour MPs), followed by 79 from the Conservative Party (21.7% of the party’s MPs) and 47 by the SNP (95.9%). Among EDM-signers, some only signed one (65 MPs) while others signed 100 or more (18 MPs). The table below shows the top 10 EDM-signers.

Early Day Motions: most frequent signatories

MP Gender Constituency Party Signatures
Jim Shannon M Strangford DUP 396
Chris Stephens M Glasgow South West SNP 312
Allan Dorans M Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock SNP 285
Jonathan Edwards M Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Ind 170
Kenny MacAskill M East Lothian SNP 168
Alison Thewliss F Glasgow Central SNP 167
Neale Hanvey M Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath SNP 167
Drew Hendry M Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey SNP 165
Chris Law M Dundee West SNP 150
David Linden M Glasgow East SNP 136

Who presented petitions?

There were 22 MPs who presented a petition on behalf of their constituents: 12 women (54.5%) and 10 men (45.5%). Six MPs, all SNP, presented more than one petition: they are listed below.

MPs presenting more than one petition

MP Gender Constituency Party Petitions
David Linden M Glasgow East SNP 8
Patricia Gibson F North Ayrshire and Arran SNP 7
Gavin Newlands M Paisley and Renfrewshire North SNP 3
Alan Brown M Kilmarnock and Loudoun SNP 3
Martyn Day M Linlithgow and East Falkirk SNP 3
Patrick Grady M Glasgow North SNP 2

Who presented Private Members’ Bills (PMBs)?

There were 56 MPs who presented a PMB, 28 (50%) of whom were women.

Most of the 56 were Conservatives (25), while 15 were Labour and 10 were Liberal Democrat MPs. Most of them presented one bill but there were seven MPs who presented more than one PMB. They are listed below:

MPs presenting more than one Private Member’s Bill

Name Gender Constituency Party Bills
Sir Christopher Chope M Christchurch Con  42
Mr Peter Bone M Wellingborough Con  15
Chris Stephens M Glasgow South West SNP 4
Sir Edward Davey M Kingston and Surbiton LD 4
Christine Jardine F Edinburgh West LD 3
Layla Moran F Oxford West and Abingdon LD 3
Caroline Lucas F Brighton, Pavilion Green 2

Who led a debate or asked an urgent question?

MPs can apply for certain types of debate and urgent questions to start discussions on a given topic in the Chamber or Westminster Hall. Here we look at successful applications.

Male MPs led 70.7% of Westminster Hall debates and 59.5% of adjournment debates. Of the 55 urgent questions granted by the Speaker, 25 (45.5%) were asked by a female MP. Most of these debates and questions were initiated by Labour MPs (64), followed by Conservative MPs (50) and SNP MPs (11).

The tables below shows the top five departments which were the subject of a debate or question put forward by a male or female MP, from Labour or the Conservatives.  

Departments responding to debates and urgent questions

Initiated by women and men, Labour and Conservative MPs.

Female MPs

Department Initiatives
Department of Health and Social Care 9
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 8
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government 8
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 7
Department for Education 7

Male MPs

Department Initiatives
Department of Health and Social Care 22
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 14
Department for Transport 14
Department for Education 11
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 11

Labour MPs

Department Initiatives
Department of Health and Social Care 16
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government 10
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 9
Department for Education 9
Home Office 9

Conservative MPs

Department Initiatives
Department of Health and Social Care 14
Department for Transport 13
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 10
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government 9

Who asked parliamentary questions?

Out of 33,653 reported questions in the Commons Chamber, 61.2% were asked by male MPs. Conservative MPs asked 29.0% of all questions, compared with 52.2% for Labour MPs.

The topics of these questions are indicated by the departments responding to them. The table below shows the top five departments responding to questions from male and female and Conservative and Labour MPs.

Departments responding to parliamentary questions

From women and men, Labour and Conservative MPs

Female MPs

Department Questions
Department of Health and Social Care  2,147 
Department for Education  1,161 
Home Office  1,046 
Treasury  917 
Department for Work and Pensions  804 

Male MPs

Department Questions
Department of Health and Social Care  2,956 
Treasury  1,693 
Home Office  1,554 
Department for Transport  1,458 
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy  1,319 

Labour MPs

Department Questions
Department of Health and Social Care  3,024 
Department for Education  1,565 
Home Office  1,402 
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government  1,184 
Treasury  1,113 

Conservative MPs

Department Questions
Department of Health and Social Care 1,359 
Department for Transport 823
Treasury 698
Home Office 686
Department for Education 617

While the Department of Health and Social Care tops the list of all groups, women and Labour MPs were more interested in areas broadly related to education than men and Conservative MPs, who prioritised areas related to finances and transport in their questions.

Find data on individual MPs

This Insight draws on the aggregate data powering the MP data: Parliamentary activities dashboard. You can explore your MP’s activities there. We are working on preparing the full data for publication.

Note on the data: The activities described above reflect individual MPs’ interests, but they are also reflections of the roles MPs hold and their party’s policies. For example, Ministers do not ask parliamentary questions, MPs are often told whether and how to vote, and party spokespersons are likely to focus their activities on their portfolio area. In addition to the activities described here, MPs also carry out a variety of other work, for example helping constituents and meeting with campaigners and Ministers. For more information see the dashboard.


About the author: Elise Uberoi specialises in data on elections and Parliament in the House of Commons Library.

Image: House of Commons Chamber 1 by UK Parliament. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 / image cropped.