Saturday, 25 October 2014

Dicey - Hero or Villan?

This morning I'll be discussing the British doctrine of "Parliamentary Sovereignty" with my Open University W201 class in Oxford. It's an interesting doctrine (some writers refer to it as "Parliamentary Supremacy"). We'll be looking at where the idea came from; what it means; and whether it is valid in the 21st Century.

It's impossible to ignore the contribution of A V Dicey. He was a significant writer on the workings of the British Constitution - but first and foremost a teacher. He knew how to impress an idea on his students minds - and keep it there. Any student of constitutional law would spend their limited time wisely if they searched their textbooks for summaries of key UK doctrines - the Rule of Law; Parliamentary Sovereignty - by Dicey. He recognised the value of "three points". I'll talk to my students this morning about his three points on Parliamentary Sovereignty. I won't even have to glance at my notes. They are instantly memorable.

But was Dicey right? Do his three points accurately represent the doctrine? Is it a useful doctrine anyway? Is it in fact a hindrance to the development of modern constitutional law - and at the heart of Britain's problematic relationship with the EU; and various international treaties that we are subject to?

I personally think it is outdated; and the cause of unnecessary problems - BUT Dicey's three points are an excellent way of explaining - and setting out the grounds for debate. His clarity is useful for revision - and a good framework for undertaking critical analysis.

So over the next few posts I'll use the three points to explain the doctrine.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


I'm down at Westminster to attend a couple of hearings of the Education Select Committee (for some research I hope to present at next year's Political Studies Association conference). Whilst drinking a coffee at the "Despatch Box" in Portcullis House, I looked through the weekly "Select Committees: Meetings in Public in week beginning...."

And there are a number of potentially interested meetings that I might attend - though some clash, and others are on days when I will be elsewhere - thank goodness for the archive on the parliamentary website which allows people to watch the meeting at a time of their convenience.

So what tempts me?

Of course, the meetings today & tomorrow of the Education Select Committee - two ongoing inquiries, and tomorrow has the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan (no relation), appearing for the second week running - this time on the subject of Academies & Free Schools.

Also at 9-30 this morning, so I can't attend, is the Justice Committees hearing on "Impact of changes to civil legal aid under LASPO";  The Culture, Media & Sport Committee will hold a hearing on the Future of the BBC at 10-30. Former MP & and now reader in Law at Cambridge, David Howarth, will give evidence, along with Jack Straw & James Arbuthnot on "The Standards System in the House of Commons" at 13-30.

Tomorrow the Public Accounts Committee will take evidence from the leading Treasury Civil Servants on "The Whole Government of Government Accounts", not very sexy, but of key importance! In the afternoon the Procedure Committee wil hear from a Minister on "Written Parliamentary Question-answering performance in 2013-14". Finally ( in the sense of hearings that I have a particular interest in) there is an evidence session on "What next on the redrawing of parliamentary boundaries" to be held on Thursday.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Westminster Hall

In typical British fashion - changes to our political institutions come slowly. Yet in recent years there have been a number of very positive improvements to the working of Parliament. One has been the introduction of "Westminster Hall Debates". These allow for debates outside the main chamber. There is usually more light than the heat associated with Chamber debates.

Further small reforms have been proposed - and the House of Commons Procedure Committee sets out the history of the committee and the rationale for the reforms it proposes. It's a short report - and well worth reading.

The report is available here.

Despite the name - the debates are not held in the magnificent Westminster Hall itself (one of the finest and largest medieval halls in Europe), but in a committee room off the Hall.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The 1964 Elections

It will shortly be fifty years since the election of 1964. This trailer for an hour long documentary explains the significance of that election. It has also reminded me to put Theodore White's "The Making of the President, 1964" on my reading list for the next few days (I have just physically popped up to the library annex (otherwise known as the 2nd bedroom in our home) to get my copy.

Friday, 17 October 2014

A Select Committee in action

This week I attended a hearing by the Education Select Committee. The Secretary of State (the senior minister in a Government Department - and usually a member of the Cabinet) for Education, Nicky Morgan (no relation!) answered questions about the "Trojan Horse Affair" - an attempt to take over some schools in Birmingham.

The Chair is a Conservative MP, but he presses the Conservative Minister at particular points and is quite critical. There are two other Conservative MPs present; one Liberal Democrat and Four Labour MPs.

Further information about the committee can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/

The recording can be viewed here - http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=16059
(warning - you can see my arrival as the public are admitted, just after the DfE officials have entered - wearing my red tie!)